When it comes to hiring an attorney for your personal injury case, more often than not you’ll need to base your decision on more than just picking up your phone and dialing the first number you see.
In this 2-part series we will cover some of the things you should know before hiring a personal injury lawyer.
Watch Paul D’Amore on Midday Maryland discuss Part 1 of “10 things you should know before hiring a personal injury lawyer”:
1. You should NOT have to pay any costs upfront to hire a personal injury lawyer
Most experienced personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. This means there is no cost to you unless there is a recovery. If there is a recovery, then a legal fee will be charged as a percentage of the gross amount recovered. These fees traditionally range from 33-45% of the gross recovery. Things like case complexity and litigation risk affect the fee percentage.
After the fee is deducted, the costs to bring the case will then be paid back to the law firm from the remainder of the recovery.
The fees are a significant percentage of the recovery because the lawyer has agreed to take all of the financial risk. If the case is not successful, he/she will not only fail to get paid, he/she will also be out the costs of the case.
Serious personal injury cases can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance. Such significant risk requires a significant return in order to make business sense. On the bright side, the contingency fee structure allows for people of limited means to obtain top notch legal representation. Only getting paid on cases that succeed also has the added benefit of giving you a highly motivated lawyer!
Always feel free to discuss the fee and cost arrangement with your lawyer. It is important you have a clear understanding of how the fees will be calculated and how the costs will be incurred.
2. Experience Matters
The more practice you have at doing something, the better you get at it. The same holds true for personal injury lawyers.
Workplace injuries usually require a lawyer with experience in workman’s compensation law. If a dangerous drug or product has caused the harm, the lawyer should have experience with products liability cases. If the harm was caused by the negligence of a doctor or nurse, the lawyer should have experience with medical malpractice cases.
But even within these broad topics there are distinctions. Has the medical malpractice lawyer handled a case involving a missed cancer diagnosis? An anesthesia error? A baby with brain damage from perinatal asphyxia? How about a car accident lawyer who has never handled a train crash, or a tractor-trailer crash? What if the lawyer has never handled a case involving serious crippling injuries? Will he/she know how to marshal to the evidence and present it so you receive full compensation?
When selecting a personal injury lawyer, ask if he/she has handled your specific type of case. Ask him/her to describe the experience(s) and how your case is similar or different. If you ask questions and pay attention to the answers, you should be able to tell very quickly if you have found the right person to represent you.
Just a quick example of the difference experience makes:
Several years ago a young woman consulted with me to discuss a possible medical malpractice case. She had been working with a far less experienced attorney for 2 years and had just gotten notified that he was unable to make a case for her.She came in with 4 enormous binders of medical records. She told us about her very complicated medical history and how it had resulted in her being paralyzed on one side of her body. She felt this should not have happened. After looking at her records for less than an hour, I agreed with her—but not for the reasons she or her prior lawyer had been investigating.The case was extremely difficult, but 18 months later we were able to reach a successful resolution on a case that another personal injury lawyer simply did not think existed.
3. Will the attorney keep or refer your case?
There are several reasons a lawyer may “refer” your personal injury case to another attorney, rather than keep the case and work on it personally.
The lawyer you originally called may not have the experience or resources necessary to properly handle a medical malpractice case.
The lawyer you called may be in the business of referring cases to other lawyers. Some law firms specialize in connecting clients with attorneys. For this service, the law allows these firms to receive a “referral fee.” The referral fee is paid to the original firm you called by the firm that ends up taking your case, and should not result in you paying a higher fee.
Law firms with “800” numbers, and fine print at the bottom of their advertisements are usually engaging in this practice. The important thing for you, as the consumer, is that you know who your actual lawyer is, their qualifications, the fee structure, and how the case responsibilities will be shared.
If you are EVER not fully satisfied with your legal representation, you are ALWAYS able to terminate your attorney and retain a new one. Your original attorney may still be entitled to recoup case expenses, and some portion of the legal fee (should the case conclude in your favor). However, you should NEVER feel like you are “stuck” with a lawyer you did not want, or do not like.
At D’Amore Personal Injury Law, we believe the law firm you called is the law firm you should get . However, our resources are not infinite. Occasionally cases come up where the involvement of another law firm is beneficial to our clients. In these cases, we partner with outside counsel to ensure we are helping the greatest number of people possible. However, we maintain direct oversight of the case, and remain ready to take instantaneous litigation and/or trial responsibility should our clients make that request.
4. Trust and confidence are critical
If you have been injured, or lost a loved one because of wrongful death, you have one chance to obtain justice. One chance to get the compensation you need for medical care; to replace lost income from a job you can no longer perform; to get the services you need to make your life whole again.
You need to be confident your personal injury lawyer has the ability to understand your story, and convey it in a way that inspires others to give you justice. If you and your lawyer do not have a trusting relationship, and you are not confident in that lawyer’s ability, sincerity and motive, your chance of success will be negatively impacted.
5. Adequate Resources
As previously discussed, most experienced personal injury lawyers work on contingency fees, and pay for the costs of the case investigation and the lawsuit. None of this money is recovered unless and until the case resolves in your favor. The investigation and litigation costs can range anywhere from $500 for a small automobile accident, to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a complicated medical malpractice, products liability, or industrial accident case.
You need to know if the lawyer you are considering has the financial resources to see your type of case all the way through. If your attorney cannot afford to fund your case, you will be faced with a new set of problems you are not prepared to address.
I have actually had people call me and ask:
“Is it ok that my attorney wants me to sell my car so that he can pay an expert witness to appear at trial?” The answer is “NO!”
Imagine, your one chance at justice is now riding on the sale of your own car… the one you need to get back and forth to the doctor, or the physical therapist, or work? The car you won’t get back if you don’t win your trial.
This should NEVER happen.
Take a look at the lawyer’s track record of cases and client reviews. Has he/she handled complex, high-stakes cases? Does he/she have a professional office, with modern technology and a well-appointed staff? Do past client reviews discuss cases like yours, and are those clients truly satisfied with the representation they received?
In next weeks post we’ll discuss:
– Case values
– Client reviews
– Third-party reviews
– Stages of your case
– What your lawyer really cares about
If you or a loved has been injured due to someone else’s negligence,
contact us immediately. We don’t just take your case. We take your