Hiring a lawyer is a lot like hiring a doctor. You know you want a good one, but unless you’re one yourself you may not know how to evaluate them.
You can find a good lawyer by asking three questions:
1. Is the Lawyer Qualified to Represent You?
Find out where the lawyer went to law school. Was it a good school? How well did he or she do in school? Did (s)he receive any academic honors? Don’t be afraid to ask. If the attorney you’re interviewing doesn’t want to provide basic information about himself or herself, look elsewhere.
You want a lawyer that specializes in representing claimants (also known as plaintiffs) in personal injury cases. The law is very specialized. You don’t want a dabbler, you want someone who dedicates their entire practice to representing claimants like you.
2. Does the Lawyer Have the Experience to Get a Successful Outcome in Your Case?
Find out how long the lawyer has been practicing. All lawyers need to start somewhere, but they do not need to start on your case. If the lawyer has been practicing for only a few years, find someone with more experience.
Bear in mind that the number of years a lawyer has been practicing does not tell the whole story. What you are looking for is the amount of the lawyer’s trial experience. Many lawyers who handle personal injury cases do not go to court. This is important because insurance companies deal with risk. A lawyer that goes to court presents a greater risk than a lawyer that never goes to court. Lawyers who have a reputation for only settling cases out of court receive below par settlement offers because they do not pose much of a risk to the insurance company. On the other hand, lawyers that have a reputation for being willing to go to trial and obtaining good results command the highest settlement offers.
Find out if the lawyer has any specialized training in trial work. A law degree alone does not give someone the expertise to be a good trial lawyer any more than a medical degree alone gives someone the expertise to be a good surgeon. Advanced training and experience are essential.
3. Can You Get Along with Them?
You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your lawyer, especially if your case goes to trial. If your personalities seem incompatible now, imagine how you might feel a year from now when you are spending large amounts of time with this person preparing for trial.
Does the lawyer communicate well? Do they listen without interrupting you? Are they patient? Do they answer your questions? Are they easy to talk to? Do they instill a sense of trust and confidence? Do they present well? Good! The lawyer is going to have to do all of that when they present your case to the insurance company adjuster, the insurance company lawyer, and ultimately (if your case goes to trial), a judge and a jury. If the lawyer cannot communicate effectively with you in his or her own office, it does not bode well for the lawyer’s ability to represent you in a more hostile setting such as a courtroom.
Where to Start?
Where should you start? Spend time learning about the lawyer’s qualifications and experience. Then call the lawyer and speak with him or her on the phone about your case. If you get a good feeling, make an appointment to meet in person.
When you sit down to meet with the lawyer, do not be afraid to ask the hard questions. This is your chance to see if the lawyer gives you the feelings of trust and confidence you will need to have in your lawyer. Take the time to be sure you are comfortable with the lawyer.