Let’s say you’ve just had an accident and you need to hire a lawyer. Your first choice is to hire a personal injury lawyer, but your cousin is an employment lawyer and feels he can help you. What should you do? Before you decide, you need to ask your prospective lawyer three questions:
First Question: In which area of law do you specialize?
Whenever you hire a lawyer, you want to work with someone you trust. It can therefore be tempting to hire your cousin the corporate lawyer, even though you need a personal injury lawyer. Sure, he doesn’t specialize in personal injury per se, but he’s family and you know he’ll have your interests at heart.
The issue with this common scenario is that a lawyer who doesn’t specialize in personal injury law, regardless of how good their intentions are, are not as likely to negotiate as good a settlement as had you retained an actual personal injury lawyer.
In the legal profession, all good lawyers have a basic understanding of most areas of the law. For example, I might know a little about family law and corporate law and I might be a fair litigator. So yes, if a cousin came to me with a question about child support I could answer it on a very basic legal level. But if he or she had a lot of questions or were seeking serious legal advice, I’d refer them to a trusted family lawyer.
A lawyer who specializes in a certain area is going to be up to date on recent court outcomes, have existing relationships with others in their field (an important consideration when entering into negotiated settlements) and will have experience working through both common and rare scenarios.
So in the case of my cousin needing a family lawyer, as much as I would want to help them, I wouldn’t take the case – it’d be a disservice to them and family relationships are challenging enough!
2nd Question To Ask: Do You Have Experience With A Case Like Mine?
At this point, I’ll assume that you’ve decided to work with a personal injury lawyer (good decision) and perhaps you’ve met with a few who are willing to take your case. Before choosing with whom to work, I’d heartily recommended you take a look at their score sheet.
You want to ask them if they’ve worked on cases like yours before and, if so, what happened. You’re looking for a winning track record.
You see, even in personal injury law, there are areas of focus. For example, I focus a lot on long-term disability claims and motor vehicle accidents. I don’t do quite as much slip and fall or dog bite work, but I do know other personal injury lawyers who do nothing but slip and fall and dog bites.
If a client comes to me with, say, a spinal cord injury or a head injury suit, I’m prepared that they’re going to ask me how many of those cases I’ve worked on and won. And if they forget to ask, I offer it up anyways.
There is an element of unofficial consumer protection when it comes to personal injury lawyers who charge only when they win a case: If I don’t think I can win a case because I don’t have the experience – or any other reason – I won’t take it on. If I want to keep my practice alive, I can only take on those cases I believe will be successful. But if you’re chatting with a lawyer who works on a monthly retainer, that’s a different situation because the lawyer will make money – your money – whether you win or lose. Buyer beware.
3rd Question To Ask: Do You Know How the Defendant Thinks?
This is a tougher thing to determine. In the case of personal injury law, what you’re really asking is “Do you know how insurance companies think?”
A brand new lawyer, while heartfelt and motivated, probably won’t have a clue how insurance companies think unless they worked at an insurance company before becoming a lawyer. It takes time to develop that level of understanding.
If you’re working with a big firm and meet with a junior lawyer, you’ll want to find out if that junior lawyer is leading the case (there may or may not be a senior lawyer involved) and make your decisions accordingly.
The nice thing about a smaller firm is you only meet with the lawyer who is leading your case. In my firm, I do all the legal work so I’m the only lawyer you need to ask about.
I used to do defense for insurance firms so I know exactly how they think and what we need to provide for them to be willing to negotiate at a certain level.
Once the negotiations open, I’ve often worked with the negotiators a number of times. This is a good thing! Adversarial relationships between lawyers are the stuff of John Grisham novels, but they don’t work in real life. In real life, you want to have open lines of communications and create an environment where all sides are simply trying to do what’s right for the client and respectful of the law.
For an 8 question checklist on how to hire a person injury lawyer continue here