How to choose a personal injury attorney

Personal injury

Why you need to hire a personal injury lawyer

When you or a family member suffers an injury because of the actions or negligence of another, you cannot assume that the responsible party is going to step up to the plate and make everything right. That rarely happens. What usually happens is that the other party refuses to take responsibility for their actions and does whatever they can to avoid having to pay you anything at all.

This is almost always the case whether you are dealing with another individual, a company, an insurance agency, or even a government agency.

A personal injury attorney has the experience and knowledge to prove to a judge and jury that your injuries could have been avoided if the other person had been more responsible.

Unless you do not own a television you cannot possibly have missed all of the television commercials urging you to call some law firm or another in case you or a loved one has been injured through accident, negligence, or an unsafe or defective product. The lawyers and law firms that run these ads are collectively known as "Personal Injury Attorneys". And, as you might expect, they specialize in representing people who have been injured.

While these commercials are all very moving, dramatic, and compelling, choosing a law firm for something as serious as representing you in personal injury litigation isn't as easy as choosing the lawyer with the best television commercial. It takes a good amount of time and research to choose the right lawyer for the particular circumstances of your case.

In most cases you don't even ever see the same layer who appeared in the television commercial. You generally work with staff-level paralegals and younger staff attorneys. They "big guns" are the ones that show up in court IF the case ends up going to court.

One of the most important steps in choosing a personal injury lawyer is determining if the firm has handled cases like yours. If you are filing a personal injury claim against the manufacturer of a defective product, for example, and your prospective law firm handles mostly automobile accident cases, then they are likely not going to have someone on their staff with the expertise that you require.

One of the best ways to find a personal injury law firm that matches your requirements is to search the local library and Internet for other cases, similar to yours, that have already gone to trial or been settled. You can then make a list of the law firms that handled each case and contact them directly. The law firm that you choose does not necessarily have to be in the same state as you. It will depend upon where the legal action is being filed. In any event most larger law forms are licensed to represent clients in multiple states.

If you are using the Internet, try to search on a phrase that most closely matches the personal injury category that you are seeking action under. For example, if you are filing a personal injury action against the manufacturer of a defective baby product, then you could search on a phrase like: "baby products personal injury law suits". This would bring up law firms that specialize in these matters as well as news articles that are related to these types of actions.

If you are going to the local library, see if the have a copy of the two volume reference book called "Best Lawyers of America" which rates law firms for their abilities to handle different types of actions including personal injury.

Another great resource is the Trail Lawyers of America web site which is located at Just click on 'find lawyer' and you can drill down to law firms that have experience in personal injury matters that match the specifics of your case.

Here are some questions that you should ask potential product liability law firms:

1. How many cases like mine have you handled?
2. How many have you won or lost?
3. What was the biggest settlement that you obtained?
4. What was the smallest settlement you obtained?
5. What are your fees and payment terms?
6. How do you handle pout-of-pocket expenses?
7. Do you prefer to litigate or reach an out-of-court settlement?

You don't want any surprises when you are dealing with something as serious as personal injury. You need to make sure that your lawyer isn't going to "learn the ropes" at your expense. You also want to make sure that they will only charge you a fee if you receive money. Make sure that all of this is spelled out in advance and in writing. Odd as it seems, you may want to hire a contract lawyer to review the agreement between you and your personal injury lawyer just to make sure that everything is on the up and up.

Keep in mind that while you are interviewing the personal injury attorney, the personal injury attorney is also interviewing you. Since they will not receive any fee unless they collect money on your behalf, they want ot make sure that you have a good case and that there is a reasonable chance of you winning either an out of court settlement or a trial. If your case seems "shaky" you may not be able to find anyone to represent you on a contingency-only basis. Contingency is the term that means that the lawyer gets paid only after they collect money for you.

The amount of the contingency fee that your lawyer can charge varies by state. It is usually between 33% and 40% of the amount that is awarded to you. However, fees for some cases, such as Workman's COmpensation Cases, are closely regulated so the fee may be smaller. If you are looking at a case that is potentially worth a very large amount then you can very likely negotiate a smaller contingency fee. "Run of the mill" personal injury case contingency fees are usually not negotiable but it never hurts to try. Keep in mind that you will most likely be responsible the law firm's out-of-pocket expenses, such as filing fees and copy charges, but that too can be negotiated.

Just remember: Take your time, do your research, and ask questions BEFORE you sign an agreement. Your personal injury case is too important to take the first lawyer that you see on television.

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