STEP 2 - CHOOSING THE RIGHT LAWYER
A medical professional or a police officer is generally the first contact an individual has after an accident. The next person the individual should contact is an attorney. Law students are taught in law school that many trials are won by choosing the right jury. A similar notion can be said for clients—your case can be won or lost by choosing the right attorney. The following includes a few concerns and considerations every person with a personal injury claim should be aware of when choosing an attorney.
SPECIALTY AND EXPERIENCE WITH PERSONAL INJURY
Regardless of an attorney’s practice, all attorneys come out of law school having completed nearly identical educational requirements. Therefore, an attorney must become familiar with an area of law and how that type of lawsuit works in a specific state after he or she graduates law school. Personal injury is no exception, so a lawyer with experience in personal injury cases generally knows what to do, when to do it, and how to correctly value a claim. A potential disaster could result if an attorney does not have experience in personal injuries. Thus, the question becomes, “How does a potential client make sure an attorney has personal injury experience?”
Checking an attorney’s website is a great place to start. Most websites describe the attorney or firm, include all of the practice areas the attorney or firm regularly work in and provide other useful information. Additionally, the website allows a potential client to look at the nature of the firm and truly decide if it appears like the firm knows its craft. A law firm is likely to minimize the risk of missing deadlines or being unfamiliar with a certain area of law because most firms offer multiple attorneys and support staff to litigate the claim. This type of support for a client is even stronger in firms where attorneys work closely together, rather than in units or sections that large firms often employ.
While a website can be helpful in selecting counsel, a potential client should not select an attorney on the website alone. Scheduling a meeting or arranging a telephone conference should also be done because it allows the potential client to directly talk with a representative of the firm. Since the Kansas Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 requires that an attorney have competence in the area of law the potential client is interested in pursuing, the potential client should not be hesitant to ask if the attorney has competence in the area of law. Furthermore, a potential client can also gage the attorney’s knowledge of the area of law by asking the attorney strengths and weaknesses of the claim.
Trial experience is one of the most important skills for a personal injury lawyer. A large amount of preparation and ability to act quickly is required in trials and the only way an attorney can acquire these skills is through actual trial practice. Therefore, an attorney’s experience in trying cases should be highly considered. While trial results are a good measure of strength, the number of settlements obtained by an attorney or firm is an equally good measure of strength. An attorney’s ability to effectively try cases will commonly result in opposing counsel being more willing to settle. This leads to larger settlements and verdicts. With this in mind, finding an attorney with a track record of successfully trying cases is a great advantage in settling, as well as winning at trial.
In order to be effective, a personal injury attorney must be able to clearly communicate to his or her clients and be available to them. Simple interactions are a good way of determining the communication skills of an attorney. Furthermore, the attorney’s website can be another good indicator of the attorney’s communication skills. It should be a red flag if the attorney’s website is difficult to follow, read or understand. Additionally, meeting or talking on the phone with an attorney is a way to determine the attorney’s communication skills. A good question to ask yourself is whether the attorney was able to answer all of your questions and make you feel comfortable and confident in the answers given. An attorney with good communication skills is likely to be able to convince a jury to trust the witnesses and evidence presented at trial or persuade the judge to make rulings in his or her favor. Lastly, another good indicator of communication skills is how many lines of communication the attorney provides you. If his or her business card includes multiple lines of communication (such as phone number and email), it is likely that he or she will be available when needed.
The most obvious consideration when selecting an attorney is cost. While some attorneys operate by billing per hour, confident trial attorneys generally use contingency fee agreements which allow a client to pay the attorney from the recovery the client gets from the trial. So, the bigger the recovery the more the client and the attorney make. Usually, contingency fees that yield 45% or more to an attorney are considered high. A contingency fee should be straightforward and easy to understand. Furthermore, fees which result from various costs (such as hiring an expert) should be taken out of the recovery. An attorney has to be pretty confident in his or her ability to utilize a contingent fee. This is because the attorney does not get compensated if the client does not get any recovery. Clients prefer contingency fees over hourly fees because it show confidence on the part of attorney and is the easiest way of paying for legal services.