If you were unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident caused by someone else, you need to hire to a Personal Injury Attorney to protect your interests. Do not represent yourself. There is an old saying that anyone who represents himself has a fool for a client and an idiot for a lawyer. Truer words have never been said. I practice law in Long Beach, California and represent victims all through Los Angeles but the following advice applies to anyone in the United States.
So how do you find a qualified, experienced, honest, hard working personal injury attorney who will treat you fairly and honestly, answer your questions, respond to your inquiries and eventually recover for you a sum of money through either settlement or Trial, that adequately compensates you for your injuries, medical care, lost earnings, future care, future pain and suffering, and lost earnings, both past and future? The following represents a check list of things you should do as part of the process:
1) Referral from a friend, colleague or family member
This is by far the best way to find any professional, whether it be an attorney, accountant or even a plumber. Personal referrals reflect solid relationships. It is also inspiring to the professional that the potential new client seeking his services was referred by someone he knows. It is one of the first questions my staff is instructed to inquire of potential new clients. I always want to know who referred them to my office. There is no greater compliment than when a prior client was so satisfied with my services that they are referring their friend or family member to me. Referrals from past clients represent about 95% of my practice.
Go to google. Go to an attorney’s web site. The web site should give you a good idea about the attorney and his experience. Look up everything you can about him. Sites such as AVVO and Martindale Hubble actually provide ratings for attorneys. Other sites such as Super Lawyers list the best attorneys in their field. The attorney you chose should have a “10” rating from AVVO and an AV Rating from Martindale Hubble. Other sites such as The Million Dollar Advocates Forum list attorneys who have obtained seven (7) figure verdicts and settlements in the past.
3) Phone Call
After you decide who to call you should make contact with the attorney. You should actually speak with the attorney on the phone if you can. If he is not available, leave your number and request a call back. If you don’t get a call back within a reasonable period of time, ie., 24 hours, you probably should look elsewhere, unless the staff tells you that the attorney is in Trial or out of town and can’t get back to you that quickly. A short call with the attorney will help you evaluate their patience, experience and desire to handle your case. If, after the call, you feel comfortable, you should make an appointment with the attorney at his office. If you are too seriously injured to make the trip to the attorney’s office then he should make arrangements to come see you as soon as possible.
4) Office Consultation
This should be free of charge. It should consist of you bringing all of your documentation that the attorney’s office requested that you bring, such as medical records, police report, declaration page of your liability policy, witness information, medical provider information, information on the defendant, a copy of your latest pay stub, photographs of injuries and of your damaged vehicle, your health insurance information as well as other items. At this consultation the attorney should be able to get an initial understanding of your case and provide you with his analysis about where he thinks it is going. The attorney should be handling this case on a contingency fee, which means that if he doesn’t get you any monetary recovery, then he doesn’t get paid. Typical charges are 33.3% of the gross recovery if settled earlier on in the case, and up to 40% as Trial approaches. The Retainer Agreement should clearly reflect what the fee structureis.
At the office visit you should feel comfortable asking the attorney for references. Discussions with previous clients is a great way to investigate how this attorney will handle your case. You also will need to determine what size Firm you want. Big, medium or small? In big firms it is unlikely that you will be dealing with the partner whose name is on the letter head. You will most likely be dealing with either a junior associate or a paralegal. In a small firm such as mine, you deal directly with me, the handling attorney. Just because a firm is small does not mean that it doesn’t have the resources to properly pursue your case. My firm regularly advances tens of thousands of dollars of costs on cases by retaining the finest experts available to properly build the most formidable case possible.
If you are confused following your accident, and need help selecting your attorney, you should bring a trusted family member or friend to your consultation. It always makes the process simpler if someone you know and trust is there with you when making such a crucial decision.
5) What if I retain an Attorney and then decide that it was not the right choice?
No problem. People terminate the services of attorneys all of the time. If you thought you liked your choice, but later realize that it was not the right choice, you are free to terminate the attorney’s services and retain a new attorney. You will not be paying twice the fees. The first attorney and the subsequent attorney must split the fees from your case. The first attorney is entitled to no more than the reasonable value of the services her performed. This is called “Quantum Meruit” and is done all of the time.
There are lots of personal injury attorneys out there. Some make all kinds of promises on radio and TV. You need to actually interview your attorney and work with the attorney handling your case for the best results. At the Law Office of Michael D. Waks we have been achieving these results for satisfied clients for over three (3) decades.
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