If you have been injured in a car accident, you are hurt in multiple ways.
You are physically hurt.
You are mentally hurt.
You are financially hurt.
And you are being bombarded with information and wondering how best to what you need to do next. Here are some questions that may be on your mind right now.
“How will I pay my medical bills?”
“Will I lose my job?”
“What do I do to fix or replace my car?”
You may even be wondering whether you need or want a lawyer to help you navigate this process.
So if you are feeling stressed and anxious about the next steps, you are not alone. Picking the right personal injury lawyer (a personal injury lawyer is the same as a car or auto accident lawyer), to help you through this process is an important decision.
Think about it. If you needed heart surgery wouldn’t you take some time to research your options, learn more about the procedure you need to have, and find the perfect doctor to operate? You wouldn’t go to the first doctor you found in the phone book who advertised “No fee unless you live!”, would you?
So why is it that this is how many people choose a lawyer?
Years ago, if you were injured in a car crash, you would pick up the phone book and look through pages upon pages of lawyer ads, almost all of which said the same things:
“No recovery unless you win!”
“We fight for YOU!”
“Tough, aggressive representation!”
What does any of that really mean, anyway?
I’ll tell you what it means… absolutely nothing.
So How Do You Go About Finding the Right Personal Injury Lawyer for Your Case?
If you are looking to hire a lawyer to represent you after your auto accident, it is important that you first educate yourself about the process of filing an auto accident claim. Just like you would educate yourself about an important medical procedure you may need, it is important that you understand all the ins and outs of filing a claim with an insurance company. And while many people would never dream to conduct even the simplest of medical procedures on themselves, it is entirely possible that you can represent yourself in your accident claim without hiring a lawyer. (Click here to read our post entitled “The Ultimate Guide to Handling Your Accident Claim Without Hiring a Lawyer”).
As you start to research the claims process and learn more about your injuries and damages, you will start to decide whether you do or don’t need a lawyer for your case. Generally speaking, if your injuries are minor (i.e. only soft tissue injuries such as sprains and strains – no breaks or significant scarring), your medical bills were less than $5,000 and you didn’t miss more than a week of work, then you may not need a lawyer.
But on the flip side, if you suffered broken bones, herniated discs, severe cuts or scarring, or worse, your medical bills are more than $5,000, and you have or will miss significant time from work, then chances are you would do better to hire a personal injury lawyer for your case.
[alert type=”warning” dismiss=”yes”]A study by the Insurance Research Council revealed that injured parties who hired lawyers would recover three and a half times more money in their settlement than injured folks who did not have lawyers.[/alert]
Assuming now that you are interested in finding a personal injury lawyer to help you, where do you start?
Let’s start with your goals and what you are looking to accomplish. You probably have two primary aims at this point:
1. Receive the largest settlement possible.
2. Making sure all your past, present and future doctors bills will be paid without negatively affecting your credit rating.
So where do you start looking for a personal injury lawyer to help you when lawyer ads are all over the place and they are all saying the same thing?
You can start by reading the lawyer websites. Review the websites of the lawyers that you are thinking about hiring and ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is this lawyer just saying the same thing as every other lawyer ad that I’ve already seen?
2. Does the website focus on the lawyer or does it focus on providing useful information to YOU?
3. Does the lawyer attempt to educate you about the claims process and offer free reports and information?
Most lawyer websites are nothing more than large brochures that talk about the lawyer or firm, and the types of cases they handle and the amount of experience they have. They will have pictures of car crashes and stock photos of grieving families.
Is that really helpful?
Look for a website that provides helpful, useful information that serves to educate you as a prospective client, and help you navigate the process whether you choose to hire that lawyer or not.
What Should You Expect From Your Personal Injury Lawyer?
Assuming you have found a lawyer that you want to call, what should you expect from that lawyer?
Here is a list of questions you should ask every lawyer you decide to call (and keep in mind, on the first call you are likely to talk to an “intake” person who will just be gathering information from you. But they should know the answers to these basic questions.)
1. Do you use a written fee agreement? And if so, what fees do you charge?
If the lawyer doesn’t use a written fee agreement, you should hang up immediately. Not only is this bad business practice, but it is unethical and a violation of the bar rules as well.
With regards to the fees that are charged, most lawyers will charge a one-third (33%) fee if your case settles before a lawsuit is filed. Once a lawsuit is filed, that fee jumps to 40%. Notice I said that this is what MOST lawyers do.
At The Hart Law Firm, we believe that in today’s technology age, lawyers no longer need to charge a ⅓ fee. That’s why we charge a 25% fee if your case settles prior to filing a lawsuit, 30% if we need to file a lawsuit, and 35% if your case settles within 90 days of trial.
2. How Often Will You Update Me on the Status of My Case?
If your lawyer isn’t providing you with monthly updates on the status of your case, they aren’t doing their job. We promise to be in touch with you at least twice a month while you are treating, and once a month thereafter.
3. Will You Provide a Written Analysis Prior to Sending Out a Demand Letter?
Most personal injury lawyers collect lots of information from you, medical providers and your employer, look through it on their own, and send out a demand package to the insurance adjuster. They may call you ahead of time to let you know what they are asking for.
We believe that your lawyer should be preparing a detailed written analysis of your case BEFORE any demand is ever sent out. We believe that you should have a full understanding of what we are asking for in terms of compensation, and what the strengths and weaknesses are in your case. We will use this analysis to help educate you and guide our decisions moving forward, including deciding whether to file a lawsuit or not.
4. Will You Let me Review and Comment on Your Demand Letter BEFORE You Send it Out?
At the end of the day, this is YOUR case, YOUR life and YOUR settlement. From an ethical standpoint, lawyers can make decisions about case strategy and analysis. But the client is the one who has the final say on all settlement decisions. We may disagree with you, but you are the one with the final say. So if your lawyer refuses or fails to allow you to review and comment on the demand letter before they send it to the insurance adjuster, then you may want to think twice about whether that is the right lawyer for you.
5. Will You Settle the Case Without Talking to Me?
It amazes me to this day that some lawyers are inclined to settle a case and then notify the client after the fact. You have a right to know what is going on with your case and make all settlement related decisions with the input of your lawyer.
What Should Your Lawyer Expect from YOU?
Ok, we’ve talked a great deal about what you should expect from your lawyer, but what should your lawyer expect from you?
We believe that clients in a personal injury setting have four main responsibilities when it comes to interacting with our firm:
1. They should be honest and forthcoming about the facts of their case, their injuries, prior claims or lawsuits, their criminal record (if any), and anything else that may have an adverse effect on their case.
2. They should follow all recommendations of their doctors and make it to their appointments on time.
3. They should provide prompt and accurate information to their lawyer when requested. The faster you provide information to us, the faster we can push your case forward.
4. They should respect their lawyers time. A good personal injury lawyer is busy… very busy. That means that if you call demanding to speak with them without having scheduled that call in advance, you should not be surprised when they are not available. But you should expect that a successful lawyer will have systems in place to get your questions answered quickly and to provide reasonable phone or email access to them. That means that you will be able to schedule a call back with your attorney within a day or two. If lawyers were busy taking every call that came in, how would they ever get anything done?
You need to decide whether you need to hire a personal injury lawyer or not. If you aren’t sure, give us a call at (919) 883-4861 and we can help you make that decision.
If your case has more than $5,000 in medical bills, or you suffered a broken bone, scarring, or herniated disk, then you need to call us. We can probably help.
If you do not expect to have more than $5,000 in medical bills, then you may be able to settle your case on your own. Check our our extensive article on how to settle your case on your own without hiring a lawyer. It will walk you, step by step, through the process of settling your case without a lawyer, and save you thousands of dollars in the process!
If you have a question for us, you can submit it confidentially online by clicking here. You can also call The Hart Law Firm at (919) 883-4861. We are happy to speak to you and answered any detailed questions you may have.