You’ve been injured by the careless act of someone else, whether it’s a car accident, slip and fall, or other type of personal injury, and now you need to find a lawyer to help you. Finding the right lawyer to represent you is often the most important factor to a successful recovery. But, with so many “tough,” “smart” lawyers out there who all promise that they’ll “fight for you” to get you the “money you deserve,” how can you tell the difference between the good lawyers and the bad ones? How can you tell if the lawyer you’re considering is actually an expert in personal injury cases?
Knowing what questions to ask is very important. The wrong questions will not get you useful information. On the other hand, the right questions will get you the information you need to make an informed decision about what’s in your best interest and who will be the right lawyer to represent you.
Question No. 1: Why should I hire you? What value are you going to bring to my case that’s different from the other lawyers out there?
Get ready, because you’re likely going to hear a bunch of vague answers about how they care, or the experience they have or their promises to fight for you. Don’t settle for vague answers! Press a little to see if the lawyer can provide specific examples of how they plan to work up your case that’s different from what most other lawyers will provide to you. Sure, we all want a caring lawyer who spends time on our case, who is experienced and communicates with us – but how does the lawyer specifically plan to provide you with superior value?
An important tip about value. The best, most successful personal injury lawyers in the country charge fees that are about the same as the least experienced lawyers who have no track record of success in the
. Why? Because they all get paid using a contingency fee. Almost every personal injury attorney handles injury cases on a contingent fee basis. A “contingent” fee means there is no attorney fee unless there is a money recovery and the fee is a percentage of the total amount of money recovered (usually 33.33% but often goes up to 40% depending upon the type of case and whether a lawsuit is required). What this means to you in terms of value is to understand that while both the good lawyer and the bad lawyer are likely going to charge you the same percentage – the difference between the value you get for that same percentage fee can be night and day. While no honest lawyer can ever promise you a specific result, a good lawyer can add value to your case in ways that make it far more likely that you will receive a larger recovery.
Question No. 2: Why should I trust you to represent me? What experience do you have that will allow me to trust your case decisions and legal advice?
First, ask if the attorney is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law. Only approximately 2% of Texas attorneys are Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law. Lawyers certified in Personal Injury Trial Law are considered Specialists in the field of personal injury. Those attorneys not board certified cannot claim to be specialists in the field. Board Certification is a mark of excellence and a distinguishing accomplishment within the Texas legal community. Board Certification means an attorney has substantial, relevant experience in a select field of law as well as demonstrated, and tested, special competence in that area of law. Board Certified lawyers earn the right to publicly represent themselves as an expert in a select area of the law. IN fact, they are the only attorneys allowed by the State Bar of Texas to do so. This designation sets them apart as being an attorney with the highest public commitment to excellence in their area of law. Also, Board Certification is not a one-time event. It requires ongoing involvement in the specialty area which is periodically substantiated with references from peers in that field. It also requires annual professional refreshment through continuing legal education course work to stay up-to-date with current trends in law.
There are resources you can check before deciding which lawyer to hire. One of the most reliable ways to research a lawyer’s qualifications is to check sources that rate personal injury lawyers based on reliable criteria and their reputation in the legal community – what their fellow lawyers say about them. Here are a few of the reliable resources that you should check out:
Super Lawyers is an annual listing of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. Law & Politics performs the polling, research and selection of Super Lawyers in a process designed to identify lawyers who have attained this high level. Only five percent (5%) of the lawyers in each state are named Super Lawyers. Look for attorneys who have been named repeatedly to this list.
The National Trial Lawyers – Top 100 Trial Lawyers
The National Trial Lawyers – Top 100 Trial Lawyers is an invitation-only national organization comprised of the United States’ top trial lawyers. Membership is extended solely to the select few of the most qualified attorneys from each state who exemplify superior qualifications of leadership, reputation, influence, stature, and profile as civil plaintiff or criminal defense trial lawyers.
The Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum
The Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum is one of the most prestigious groups of trial lawyers in the United States. Membership is limited to attorneys who have won multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Fewer than 1% of U.S. lawyers are members.
Question No. 3: Are you actively involved in any legal organizations?
Are you an active member (not just paying dues) to any trial lawyer associations? Lawyers, like other professionals, can simply pay dues to be a member of an organization. Simply being a member of an association really doesn’t say much. On the other hand, active participation shows a degree of concern and commitment to the profession. And, if the lawyer has served in a leadership position it indicates they have the respect from other members of their profession. Does the attorney actively participate on the Boards of trial lawyer associations? Hopefully the attorney doesn’t just finish his day at work and then just go home. Hopefully the attorney gives back to the profession, community, and has the respect of their colleagues.
Have you ever been invited to teach other lawyers about personal injury?
Lawyers who have been invited to lecture at legal education seminars (called “CLE” – or continuing legal education) had the esteem of their professional colleagues. They are asked to speak at legal education seminars because other attorneys want to hear what they have to say.
Question No. 4: What percentage of your law practice are personal injury cases? And how long have you been practicing personal injury?
What percentage of your practice is focused on personal injury cases? You may have heard the saying, “jack of all trades, master of none.” The law has become increasingly specialized, much like medicine. If you have a specific medical problem you are usually referred out to a specialist. You wouldn’t want your family doctor to perform spine surgery on you, would you? Similarly, if you have a specific type of legal cases (i.e. personal injury) you should seek out a legal specialist. While some lawyers are “general practitioners” who handle many different types of legal cases, the practice of law has become so complex that it would be highly unlikely that a general practice lawyer would have the specialized expertise in personal injury law. Also, the lawyers who work for the insurance companies to defend personal injury cases are seasoned specialists who limit their practice to the defense of personal injury cases. A general practitioner is likely to be at a major disadvantage when they go up against a law firm that specializes in the defense of personal injury cases.
Question No. 5: If my case needs to go to trial, will you be the lawyer taking it to trial? If not, why not? If so, what’s your trial experience?
Many people believe that all personal injury lawyers go to court and try cases on a regular basis. Nothing could be further from the truth. A significant percentage of lawyers who hold themselves out to be “trial lawyers” or “personal injury lawyers” have little or no jury trial experience. One of the first questions you should ask is whether the lawyer tries cases in court, and, if so, how many jury trials they’ve had and when. This is an important question that many people never think to ask.
Lawyers who defend personal injury cases, and the insurance companies they work for, know the injury lawyers who actually try cases and those who don’t. And, even more importantly, they know who tries the cases well. Insurance companies use this information to evaluate their risk. One of the first questions an insurance adjuster will ask when a personal injury claim comes in: Who is representing the plaintiff?
There is only one way to get the real value our of your case and that is for your lawyer to prepare your case to go to trial from the very beginning. The insurance company must understand and believe that your lawyer is ready, willing and able to try the case to a jury. If you hire a lawyer who always settles and never goes to court, be prepared to take a substantial discount on your case.
Question No. 6: If I hire you, what can I expect from you regarding communications about my case?
- Will you be able to look me in the eye and tell me the truth about my case and not just tell me what I want to hear? Not all attorneys are good at answering the hard questions. Some don’t want to deal well with bad facts or issues and won’t tell you “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” If after talking with an attorney you don’t have a feeling of complete trust, then it is time to find a new attorney.
- How will you be communicating with me (i.e. e-mail, phone, office visit, letter) and how often? Do you have a call back policy? IF so, what is it?
Question No. 7: What will you need from me during the case?
Beware of the lawyer who says, “I won’t need much from you at all. You just focus on getting better and let me worry about the legal case.” The attorney client relationship is a partnership. You and your attorney will be working together toward a common goal. This means that you will need to communicate and consult on numerous issues during the case.
For example, how can the lawyer possible explain how your injuries have changed your life unless the lawyer spends some time with you exploring all the ways your injuries have affected you? The lawyer needs to get to know you to learn your story. Anyone can relate the facts of an accident and the medical history. It is quite another thing to be able to tell your client’s story in a compelling and powerful way so a jury fully understands the impact this accident has had on you and your family.
Jason Franklin is founder of the law offices of The Franklin Law Firm, a Dallas Personal Injury law firm that specializes in providing Real Help for Real Injuries to accident victims injured in a car accident, truck accident, motorcycle accidents, or other personal injury cases. Because of his years of experience and record of success, Jason Franklin is frequently invited to speak to lawyer groups about Texas personal injury law. Franklin has been repeatedly recognized by Super Lawyers as being one of the best personal injury trial lawyers in the State of Texas.