Finding a lawyer for a car accident case is pretty easy. There are lots of personal injury lawyers who are desperately trying to get cases, with ads on TV, on the Internet and even on the backs of buses. Sometimes these lawyers will even send someone to knock on your door if they know that you’ve been involved in a serious accident (which happens to be illegal).
The problem is that the lawyer who is most desperate to get your case is often the least capable of handling the case successfully. He has to engage in aggressive advertising techniques or unethical behavior because he is not getting cases based on his reputation in the legal community.
So the real question becomes how to find a good lawyer who can get you the best result possible in your case. Fortunately, there are some simple steps that you can take that will help you do that, and the amazing thing is that, when it comes to car accident cases, a good lawyer will not cost you any more money than a bad one!
Keep in mind that the basic purpose of your car accident case is to get you money – for your medical care, to replace your lost earnings and to compensate you for the ways in which your quality of life has suffered as a result of your injuries. You want to find a lawyer who is able to get you the most money for your case.
Insurance companies do not simply pay out money to whomever asks for it. They will, in fact, do everything they can to avoid paying you a dime for your case, no matter how serious your injuries are or how strong your case is. The only way that you can have a fair shot is to hire a good lawyer who has the experience and skill to force the insurance company to pay what your case is worth, either by taking the case all the way to trial or by showing the insurance company that they are better off paying a fair settlement than risking a trial.
You also are going to want to find a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable. A car accident case is sometimes a difficult, emotionally-draining process. Your life and medical history are on display for the other side’s lawyer to pick apart. You may be relying upon your lawyer to help provide for the financial future of you and your family.
Good lawyers understand that your case is about you and that you are the best source of information about your accident and your injuries. These lawyers take the time to listen to your story and address your concerns. They also hire a staff that understands the importance of regularly communicating with clients, treating them with respect, returning phone calls and emails, etc.
Personal injury lawyers often proclaim in their ads that they provide a free consultation and that if they don’t win your case, you won’t have to pay anything. There’s actually nothing unusual about that. Personal injury cases are almost always handled on a contingent fee basis. In other words, your lawyer will get paid a percentage of any settlement or verdict that he obtains for you, and you will not have to pay anything out of your own pocket.
In California, the typical contingent fee for an auto accident case is 33⅓% if the case settles before a lawsuit is filed and 40% if the lawyer has to file a lawsuit in court. This is the standard fee for the most successful, skilled lawyers and also for the least successful, unskilled lawyers. So the saying “you get what you pay for” really doesn’t apply here.
Personal injury lawyers typically pay for all out-of-pocket expenses that are necessary, and then if the case is successful, they get reimbursed for those expenses from out of any recovery. If a lawyer asks you to pay for those costs yourself, consider that to be a big red flag that he does not have the experience or financial resources to properly handle your case.
If you know any lawyers, ask them who the best personal injury lawyers are in your area. If you don’t know any lawyers, then ask friends and acquaintances who may have dealings with lawyers if they can recommend someone. These types of personal referrals are often the best way to find a good lawyer.
The Internet has become a useful tool for finding information about lawyers. Super Lawyers, for example, provides a list of the top lawyers in each speciality in different areas of the United States. When looking at a law firm’s website, however, be careful not to get caught up in the bold claims that many lawyers make. Look for facts that demonstrate the lawyer’s track record of success, such as descriptions of specific cases that they handled.
Use these sources to put together a list of a few lawyers, and then call the lawyers’ offices to set up interviews.
When it comes to practicing law, there is no substitute for experience. You do not want your lawyer to be using your case as a training exercise. You want to know that he or she has done this type of case many times before and has obtained good results. This is not about whether someone looks the part of a successful lawyer or “talks a good game.” This is about a proven, documented record of success.
You want your lawyer to have the ability to see the case from beginning to end. A surprising number of personal injury lawyers have little or no experience handling jury trials. They settle everything, and they often settle before having to do much work on the case. While your case may end up settling before trial, you want to know that your lawyer can see the case all the way through trial if that’s what it takes to get the defendant to pay you fair compensation.
So ask any lawyer whom you are considering hiring to show you his or her track record of handling cases that are similar to yours and getting good results. Jury verdicts and settlements are published in newspapers read by lawyers and on the Internet. If a lawyer has a list of victories, it will be no problem for him or her to show that to you while you’re sitting in the office. If he or she doesn’t have such a record, it will become obvious, and you should move on.
Avoid lawyers who seem to handle all sorts of different cases besides personal injury. While this is common in small towns, in any medium-sized to large city, the best personal injury lawyers are specialists. They have spent years learning the legal principles that apply to serious injury cases, the medical knowledge that is necessary and the subtle strategies that go into preparing these cases for trial. Just as you would insist on a brain surgeon (not your family doctor) to perform brain surgery on you, don’t settle for anything less than a legal specialist who has devoted his career to representing people with serious injuries.
Throughout the meeting, look for signs that the lawyer has a sincere interest in your case and your problems and is not simply looking for a quick payday. Ask yourself whether you trust this person and whether you would feel comfortable sharing personal details of your life with him or her. If the answer is no, then move on.