In the best case scenario, you’ll already have someone in mind even if you haven’t had an accident.
Why? Because during those stressed filled minutes, hours and days following an accident, there’s a lot to do properly to ensure that any future claim you might have will go smoothly. If you already know who you want to work with on your claim, you’re halfway there.
Sure, I’m a little biased when I say this, but I’ve also got over 25 years’ experience in the industry and can share with you the best ways to ensure that you end up with the representation that works best for you.
Questions To Ask Yourself And Your Potential Lawyer BEFORE You Sign On The Dotted Line
Here are a few questions to consider when evaluating firms and individual lawyers. These apply whether your preference is a local lawyer or a larger firm with many lawyers:
- Are you being given a free consultation? Most lawyers / firms will do this, as much to see if there is a case to be made, as for you to evaluate if you feel that the lawyer would be a good fit for you. Always double-check whether the consultation is time limited, because, if you go over the allotted time, you could get a surprise bill at the end.
- Did you get examples from the lawyer of cases they’ve worked on that are similar to yours? The ability to act on your behalf and advocate for you is not simply a matter of having a degree and a work desk. You want to know that the lawyer you hire is experienced in personal injury law and, more specifically, with the kind of case you’re bringing. There’s a difference between a long term disability claim settlement and a serious injury claim following a motor vehicle accident. Find out their specialties and details of similar claims, as well as success rates.
- Can the lawyer explain things in a way that you understand them? Claims can go from a year to three years before they’re fully settled, so you want to know that the lawyer you hire is a good communicator and effective in making all the legal concepts accessible to you.
- Are you clear on the settlement / payment structure? How fees and disbursements are calculated and paid, what kind of expenses might be included (e.g. independent medical reports are a prime example of additional expenses), how much the lawyer / firm will receive and how much you will receive (as a percentage of the final settlement) should all be clearly outlined. If they aren’t and the prospective lawyer is not forthright about this, take note. Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency basis, which means that they don’t get paid until you do. They aren’t likely to take on cases that won’t come to some positive resolution, so that’s a plus for you too. To find out more about how lawyers bill in Ontario, read this post
- It’s okay to get a second opinion before signing a retainer. It’s not a slight on the lawyer with whom you’re talking, if you want to get a second opinion from another lawyer. If they take it that way, it’s probably best to move on.
One useful point to remember is that a personal injury lawyer who has experience working on behalf of the insurance companies is one who understands how the process works from both sides. I was a defense lawyer for an insurance company for years, and this experience brings a lot of value to my clients today.
Ultimately, you have to trust your instincts and make sure that you’re comfortable working with the lawyer you choose, as you’ll be in contact for quite some time to come. It must be a good working relationship. I share details on the step by step process, from initial call to your consultation in another post, so you know what to expect.
Speaking Of Good Working Relationships…
Once you and your personal injury lawyer have signed a contract to work together—also known as a retainer—there are a few things you can manage from your side, to ensure that the process is smooth and they are effective in working on your behalf.
- Always be 100% honest with your lawyer. Anything less makes it difficult for your lawyer to advocate properly on your behalf. Even if you think that something you have to say might harm your case or your chances of getting a settlement, you need to share it with your lawyer. Let them determine what the outcome is likely to be, rather than being blindsided by the defense lawyer for the insurance company.
- Do the work to get better and mitigate your claim. If you are scheduled to attend physio by your doctor, go to the appointments. Any appearance that you are malingering or avoiding the effort required to improve your health could damage your case.
- Disclose new information, even if you don’t think it’s relevant. Like the previous point, the more your lawyer knows, the more they can help you. Examples:
- Improvements or worsening in your physical or mental condition, post accident.
- A new doctor’s report that shows an improvement in your condition.
- Pre-existing medical issues or previous injuries. If you always had a bad back, it could affect your settlement, and your lawyer needs to know this up front.
- Alterations to your work situation. For example, if you at some point feel ready to return part time, you need to discuss this and share it with your lawyer, preferably even before you start.
- Any trips or life events that you plan attend where you might be photographed, and where those photos are likely to be shared on social media. If you plan to take a vacation or go to your cousin’s wedding, give your lawyer a heads up.
Say No To Social Media
One of the single best things you can do to help your case is to avoid social media.
Remember that insurance companies often use surveillance or leverage unprotected social media accounts to check into what a claimant is up to, post-accident. (For more info, I posted this video to help you protect your case from surveillance).
Consider this: A picture of you dancing at your sister’s wedding that was posted to Facebook might be taken out of context and give the appearance that you weren’t seriously injured, despite the fact that the effort put you flat on your back for three days afterwards. If your lawyer knows about this, they can defend you. If you try and hide it, it will hurt you and your claim.
The relationship between a client and a personal injury lawyer is a true partnership: we both have skin in the game, since I don’t get paid if your case doesn’t settle. It’s a win-win when all goes according to plan and an appropriate claim settlement is awarded.
For that to happen, both parties need to be active participants in the case. When everyone works together for the common goal, it’s easier to get there.