How do you find a good personal injury lawyer? What are some good questions to ask while deciding which personal injury lawyer to retain?
Searching for lawyers online is like taking a stroll down a cereal aisle of a grocery store. A ton of shiny labels, a lot of bold claims, and a lot of variety. Especially in 2021 as personal injury lawyers everywhere have taken to the internet in droves.
Down where I live in South Florida, there are at least 339 personal injury attorneys in West Palm Beach, 492 personal injury lawyers in Broward, and at least 560 injury attorneys in Miami-Dade. There are probably triple that many that do not list “personal injury” as one of their practice areas with the Florida Bar.
Those are huge numbers to choose from.
When someone does get in a car accident or slips and falls and is injured, finding the right injury attorney is like searching for a needle in a haystack.
So, how do you find the best personal injury attorney for a case?
NOTE: Time is critical to the outcome of a personal injury case. While you can never be certain you made the best choice of personal injury lawyers, injury victims should avoid analysis paralysis and make the decision to speak with several lawyers as soon as possible since the delay caused by lawyer shopping can end up hurting your case more than hiring the “best personal injury lawyer”.
Here are my five tips for hiring a personal injury lawyer:
1. Begin by identifying what you want out of your injury attorney.
What’s most important to you? Past results? Convenient location? Big staff?
For many injury victims in search of a personal injury attorney, communication is key.
It’s not a surprise that poor communication is the most frequent complaint about personal injury attorneys.
If good and frequent communication are important to you, look for an attorney who will give you his or her cell phone number so you can send text messages.
Texting has made everyone’s life easier.
Especially when it comes to talking with your lawyer.
Texting allows you to send and receive photos of property damage, keep your lawyer in the loop about bills you receive in the mail, send your attorney screenshots of important claim documents, etc.
Gone is the day when you only communicate with your attorney only by email or through assistants and paralegals.
If good communication is important to you, insist on speaking with the managing partner of the law firm directly before signing a contract. If you get any pushback from the law firm or its staff about speaking with the partner or owner, you may not get the level of access to a lawyer you are looking for.
Caseload is Important
Another concern is the number of cases your attorney is handling, i.e. “caseload.”
While personal injury attorneys can handle hundreds of cases at a time with the help of a large staff, are you interested in more personal service?
Not every personal injury attorney handles hundreds of cases at a time.
Consider speaking with an attorney from a smaller firm or boutique practice that prioritizes quality over quantity.
When you hire a personal injury attorney, you are hiring a professional who has gone to at least seven years of college and graduate school.
Ideally, you will be assigned an attorney who has a variety of experience handling an array of cases.
To some people, education, experience, and background are important.
You should choose the lawyer who you believe has the right qualifications for the job. That includes assessing the quality of the law school they attended.
Why do you think the Supreme Court of the United States only hires law clerks from the top 12 law schools in the country?
Because they can rely on their work to make tough decisions.
Feel Confident About Your Choice
When you hire a lawyer for your injury case, you should feel confident about your decision.
While you can switch attorneys any time in your case, many times, the work done early on in the case is critical to the outcome.
2. Know the specific type of personal injury attorney you need.
Not all personal injury cases are the same and not every personal injury attorney may be equally suited to handle your case.
For example, some lawyers have more experience handling trucking accidents versus motorcycle accidents.
Some lawyers are great at slip and fall cases and others are better with rear-end collision car accident cases.
If you are injured in a slip and fall at a grocery store, try searching for lawyers who have experience litigating slip and fall cases against that specific grocery store chain.
Or, if you were injured in a Lyft or Uber vehicle, or in a car accident in Fort Lauderdale, try searching for an attorney who has specific knowledge about ride-share car accidents.
Hit by an amazon delivery van? Consider searching for lawyers who have a plan to handle those cases.
Were you a pedestrian in Miami-Dade? What about a pedestrian or bicycle accident in Broward County? Maybe you are looking for an attorney who has experience handling trucking accidents?
Once you have found an attorney online, read their blog articles and biography pages and choose the lawyer whose message speaks to you.
3. Interview several personal injury lawyers: ask them these questions…
I have never seen a personal injury attorney in South Florida who does not offer free consultations.
There is no rule saying that you cannot get as many consultations as you want before hiring an attorney.
While I doubt anyone has the time or patience to consult with dozens of attorneys, most people have the time and energy to speak with at least three.
You should be asking these questions:
– Are you speaking with an attorney or a paralegal, investigator, or case manager?
– If you hire the lawyer, will you get their cell phone number?
– How many cases does the lawyer have?
– Will the lawyer be handling the case or a staff member?
– Where is the lawyer located (not just where they advertise their location)?
– Will the lawyer meet with you in person? If so, how often?
– Will the lawyer come to you or does he or she want you to come into their office?
– What is the lawyer’s plan for your case?
– Can you meet and speak with an attorney before signing a fee agreement?
NOTE: The most important question anyone should ask a potential personal injury lawyer is: what is their average case settlement value? It doesn’t matter what their biggest verdict or settlement is or how much money an entire firm has made over the past twenty-five years. The vast majority of cases are average and the lawyer’s average settlement value across all settled cases is the best way of taking the temperature of a lawyer’s skill. That said, good luck getting a lawyer to commit to telling you their true average settlement number.
4. Discuss fee percentages before you sign up.
The Florida Bar caps personal injury fees at 33.33% of any recovery before filing a lawsuit and 40% of any recovery after a lawsuit is filed.
Although the Bar caps the fees, there is no rule whatsoever that says attorneys can’t charge you less than 33.33%.
For many lawyers, the fee percentage may be negotiable.
While I don’t recommend lowballing every lawyer until you find one to take your case for the lowest percentage, I do recommend that you ask for a reduction in the fee percentage before you sign the fee agreement.
If your case is relatively simple, like a rear-end car accident, then you are justified in requesting a small reduction because there are likely few issues regarding liability.
However, if your case is more complex, you are less justified in requesting a fee reduction.
It never hurts to ask.
5. Remember: you have the right to a lawyer of your choice.
You may cancel any fee agreement you sign within the first three days of signing up.
After the first three days, you can still change your lawyer.
However, your lawyer may want to get paid for some of the work he or she has done.
You pay for their services, no matter how brief, when your case settles.
You will still need to pay your new attorney too.
However, most lawyers who you hire will pay the fees incurred by your previous lawyer out of his or her percentage share of the recovery.
It is important to ask a new lawyer that you hire how he or she plans on splitting the bill.
If you are unhappy with your current South Florida personal injury attorney, call and interview several other accident attorneys in South Florida and ask them if they will pay the other lawyers lien out of their share of the fees.
If you are unhappy with your attorney, you should consider hiring a new one as early in the case as possible.
Those are my 5 tips for hiring a personal injury attorney. In sum, before you hire a personal injury lawyer in South Florida, do some research and narrow a few candidates down. Call and ask for free consultations and ask to speak with the lawyer directly versus a staff member. Interview several lawyers and choose the one you feel most confident in hiring. Finally, remember that your injury lawyer is working for you and not the other way around.