What Should I Ask Before Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer?

During your initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer, make sure all your concerns are addressed.

By , J.D. · Villanova University School of Law
Updated by David Goguen, J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you've taken any steps toward hiring a personal injury lawyer, you may have noticed that the playing field is quite crowded. With so many attorneys to choose from, it can be difficult to make a final decision.

What kinds of questions should you ask—in person, over the phone, or online—to help you find the right fit for you and your personal injury case? Let's explore a few key areas.

The Attorney's Experience With Injury Cases Like Yours

"Personal injury" is a large practice umbrella, and a number of different categories of cases can be found under it, including:

Many of the above categories can be further subdivided. For instance, medical malpractice can include birth injuries, traumatic brain injuries, surgical errors, and misdiagnosis.

Most personal injury attorneys handle several of the above-listed types of cases, but almost none will handle all of them. Some of these categories are unique and require an extra level of knowledge and experience.

So, it makes sense to look for an attorney who has experience handling your type of case. Experience means familiarity with common legal issues as well as connections with investigators and other experts who can help with your case.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Your Injury Case

When you ask these questions about the positives and negatives surrounding your case—and especially if you ask the lawyer how much your personal injury claim might be worth—don't expect a precise answer.

Remember, injury claims are unpredictable, and anything can happen, especially once a personal injury lawsuit is filed in court. However, your attorney should be able to sketch out a rough picture of how they see your case, including the obstacles you might face and the factors that might be in your favor.

Also, keep in mind that unless the attorney says otherwise, they won't take your case unless they think they can recover a significant amount of compensation for you. It's good to see outright enthusiasm from a potential lawyer, but don't jump to any conclusions about an "all business" approach either.

Who Will Be Working on Your Injury Case?

Many personal injury attorneys don't handle every single part of a client's case. They may have a legal secretary or paralegal assist in the preparation of letters and legal documents. If you hire a senior attorney, they may have a junior associate do much of the legal work, with your attorney handling things like court appearances, while overseeing the junior associate's progress.

Having an attorney farm out work to others may not sit well with you. But not only is this a very common practice, it usually helps keep legal fees down.

What Is the Personal Injury Attorney's Fee Arrangement?

The vast majority of plaintiff's-side personal injury attorneys will work under a contingency fee agreement. This means they don't get paid unless they can obtain some sort of recovery (usually that means an injury settlement). Most personal injury attorneys charge around 33% of whatever you recover. So if you win at trial or your case settles and you get $100,000, your attorney will get $33,333. But this exact amount is subject to a number of variables. Let's look at a few.

Who Pays Case "Costs" and When Are They Paid?

Besides contingency fee percentage, another major financial concern is how costs are handled. The method employed can mean having a few thousand extra dollars in your pocket when your case is over.

If you file a personal injury lawsuit, with or without an attorney, you'll incur a number of legal costs, including:

  • court filing fees
  • expert witness fees
  • administrative fees, and
  • information-gathering expenses.

If you win your case, you will pay these costs. The only question becomes when you pay them. If legal costs are paid "off the top," that will usually mean more money for you than if they are paid after your attorney gets paid. Let's use an example where your case settles for $100,000, your legal costs are $10,000, and your attorney charges you a 30% contingency fee.

If your legal costs are paid "off the top," the $10,000 is subtracted from your recovery first. So your attorney will receive $27,000 (30% of $90,000) and you will receive $63,000 ($90,000 minus $27,000).

However, if your legal costs are paid after your attorney gets paid, your attorney will take the 30% contingency fee first, then you will pay the $10,000 in legal costs. So your attorney receives $30,000 (30% of $100,000) and you will receive $60,000 ($70,000 minus $10,000).

A second consideration is who pays these costs if you lose your case. The answer will depend on your specific fee agreement with your attorney. Depending on your financial situation and the strength of your case, you should try to find an attorney who will absorb these costs even if you lose your case. But if you're willing and able to pay these costs no matter what, you might be able to negotiate a lower contingency fee with your attorney.

Learn more about costs in a personal injury case.

Your Next Steps

We've covered a lot of ground when it comes to framing the discussion when you're evaluating a personal injury lawyer to represent you. But how should you start your initial search for legal help, and what should you expect once your injury case gets rolling? Learn more about finding the right personal injury lawyer and how to be a good client during a personal injury case.

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