What to do before you have your initial visit with an attorney on a personal injury case?
Visit the web site for the State Bar of Texas. With the name of the attorney you can find the information the attorney must furnish to the Bar. If he has had any public discipline against him you will find it here.
Visit his web site and spend some time there to learn as much as you can about him. The web site for the State Bar of Texas has a link to the attorneys web site.
Talk to anyone who you know he has represented.
Ask the attorney what to bring to the meeting and if he will furnish a copy of his standard retainer agreement. If the attorney does not use a retainer agreement, look for another lawyer.
Gather all of the medical bills relating to the injury or the names, addresses and phone numbers of your doctors and where you were treated.
Gather all papers you have relating to the accident including any letters from the adverse insurance company or your insurance company and a copy of your insurance policy.
Don’t worry if you cannot get all of this information before the initial meeting, you will be able to get it later, but the more information the attorney has, the quicker he can get your case resolved.
What to ask before your hire an attorney to handle a personal injury case and why.
Does the attorney furnish a written retainer agreement?
This case may prove to be the most important thing in your life. It is going to take a great amount of time. It will involve thousands of dollars, if it doesn’t then you shouldn’t bother with it. You have not had business dealings with the attorney. The relationship must be covered by a written document.
Does the retainer agreement cover:
What the attorney agrees to do.
What you will be expected to do..
Legal fees and related expenses.
If the retainer is not a pure contingent fee agreement when will your payments be due.
The steps you must take to dissolve the professional relationship. The process if the attorney decides to dissolve the relationship.
If you do not understand the retainer agreement, request the attorney to explain it. If you still do not understand it, have it reviewed by someone that understands it or by another attorney. You should expect to pay an hourly fee for an attorney to do this, but it will be money well spent.
If the attorney will not furnish a written agreement, run for the nearest exit. You do not need to go any further on this list until you find another attorney to talk to.
Will the attorney accept your case on a contingency fee basis?
On a personal injury case if the attorney will not agree to handle the case on a contingent fee, that tells you a lot about the value of your case. If it is not worth his time, then it is not worth your time either.
Do the attorney charge a retainer fee (that’s money up front)?
Again if the attorney does, it tells you that either liability is weak or if the liability is strong, that the collectability of a judgment is small. If you have unlimited funds, this is probably the least expensive way to get a suit handled. It does require a detailed examination of liability and the collectability of a judgment. These are probably beyond your ability to emotionally or intellectually to handle. Get an independent third party, perhaps, another attorney to evaluate the case.
What is the attorney’s educational background?
All attorneys have an undergraduate degree and a law degree (J.D.) A lot of good attorneys go to not so highly ranked law schools, but where they chose to go to school may tell you something about them. First, law schools are selective. They pick their applicants on their undergraduate grades, their score on the LSAT examination, sometimes a writing on why they want to be a lawyer and a personal interview. If you do not know how law schools rank (U. S. News and World Reports), you might want to look them up especially young lawyers who may have a thin resume. With older lawyers, it probably doesn’t make much difference. A listing of the ranking of law schools is found here
Describe the continuing education courses you have taken in the past five years?
All attorneys, at least till they reach 70, must take 15 hours of CLE courses per year. Lawyers who have a specialty certification must take even more. All hours over the minimum are a plus. It shows the lawyer is trying to keep up on developments in the law. The type of courses he takes tells something about the type of law in which he concentrates. If all his courses are in real estate law, you probably don’t want to hire him on a personal injury case.
How long have you been in practice?
This gives you some idea of his experience, but the results obtained tells you more.
What is your experience as a trial attorney?
Something of a loaded question. I had an opposing attorney tell me that he had never lost a trial. My response was, “Then you must be settling cases you should have tried.” If the attorneys on both sides of a case are doing their jobs, then the results should be fifty/fifty. Granted that some attorneys are better than others, judges have estimated that lawyers affected the result in cases only ten percent of the time. Still, it helps to know whether the attorney knows what he is doing or is a newby.
What personal injury claims have you settled?
This is another question that tells you something, but must be used carefully. A lawyer who has settle a large number of cases may have done so by giving them away. A lawyer with a smaller number of settlements may be trying to get the top dollar for his clients cases. This takes time.
Do you represent insurance company or business interests?
Another question to help you decide if the lawyer will give your case the time and attention it deserves. A lawyer who represents insurance companies or business interests may not be your best choice, but some good attorneys for a plaintiff may occasionally represent an insurance company or a business.
Will you furnish a list to typical clients?
You probably will want to avoid attorneys who do not typically handle your type of case. First, they probably will want to refer it to another attorney. Second, if he plans not to handle the case, he probably will charge a higher fee to cover the referral fee, he will take on the case. Although the ethical rules require that he continue do work on the case and retain responsibility to you, the attorney who plans to handle the case to the conclusion, would probably do the same work without charging for it.
Are you the only attorney who will handle your case, or do you have an associate with whom you would share the case?
In many larger firms, the “name” attorney will hand off a smaller case to an associate or have him handle some parts of the case. There is nothing wrong with a division of duties. It often gets a better result for the client. “Two heads are better than one”, but you need to feel comfortable with all the attorneys that work on your case.
Will my case go to trial?
If the attorney is honest, he will say, probably no. A very high percentage of cases are settled without a trial and that is how it should be and is usually in the best interest of the client. However, you may want to prove a point with your lawsuit. If that is the case, you should make it clear to the attorney before he starts the case.
If I wish to avoid going to trial by accepting a lower settlement than you think we can recover, will you honor that wish?
If he will not commit to this proposition, then you should look elsewhere. Going to trial will take a great deal of your time and emotional energy. You are the best guide as to what that is worth.
If I wish to reject a settlement offer the attorney thinks is fair, will the attorney go to trial for a larger amount?
The attorney should agree to follow your wishes. He should explain in detail why he thinks you should accept the settlement. If he thinks you are being unreasonable, then he should withdraw.
Are there any additional fees or potential expenses of which you should know?
If the case is going to be handled on a contingent fee basis, then all costs and expenses should be borne by the attorney. Do not agree to pay for any of the costs or expenses, except in return for a reduced fee. You can get nickeled and dimed to death. In any event any costs or expenses for which you are responsible should be spelled out in detail with a detailed accounting for them. The ordinary contingent fee contract includes general office overhead, rent, letters, paper, phone calls, etc. Normal overhead expenses are usually included as part of the contingent fee.