KEY QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN HIRING A PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY
If you have been injured because of the negligence or reckless actions of another person or party, you deserve to be compensated. But even in cases that are fairly straightforward and with facts that are pretty clear, it can be surprisingly difficult to recover compensation for your injuries. This is especially true in a state like Virginia, where they apply the “contributory negligence” legal doctrine.
Under contributory negligence, an injured party can be barred from recovering damages if they are found to be even 1% at fault for the underlying accident or event. Insurance companies and responsible parties are almost certain to use this defendant-friendly standard against you to try to avoid compensating you for your losses, and for this reason, it is important to retain the services of a personal injury lawyer as early as possible in the process.
Personal injury attorneys are not all created equal, however. Some have more experience than others, and some focus on more general areas and do not get involved in more complicated cases. To find the attorney that is best suited to represent your interests, you need to ask the right questions.
Here are six of the most important questions to ask when you are considering hiring a personal injury lawyer:
How long have you been practicing?
At one time or another, every lawyer was brand new and just out of law school. But if you have suffered a moderate to severe injury for which you are trying to recover compensation, there is too much at stake for you to be their “guinea pig”. Ideally, the lawyer you work with should have at least a decade or more of personal injury experience. With that much experience, they will have handled a lot of cases and dealt with many of the complexities that can arise. The only way you should ever consider working with a lawyer who is young and inexperienced is if they are with a firm that is headed by more experienced attorneys. Even then, you will want to clarify who exactly will be working on your case.
How much of your practice is dedicated to personal injury law?
As we touched on earlier, there are attorneys who are “general practitioners” and those who focus mainly on one or two areas of law. A general practitioner may do personal injury along with family law, criminal law, immigration, bankruptcy, and maybe some others. Personal injury is a highly complicated area of the law that covers numerous scenarios, and it takes years to learn and understand the complexities of these types of cases. Just like you would not want a general physician to perform open heart surgery, you would not want a general practitioner attorney to handle an important personal injury claim like yours.
How much experience do you have with cases like mine?
Along the same lines as the previous question, you will want to know how much experience your lawyer has successfully pursuing cases like the one you are involved in. For example, if you were injured in a commercial truck accident, you will need to work with someone who has in-depth familiarity with the laws and regulations that govern the trucking industry, and the proven ability to recover compensation from the various parties that could potentially be at fault for the accident. Someone who has never done a case like this would probably not be a great fit for your situation.
How much personal attention will you devote to my case?
There are lawyers who have the experience and knowledge, but they may not have the level of commitment you are looking for. The kind of attorney you want is one who will give each case the attention it deserves, no matter how big or small. Find out how much personal attention they will dedicate to your case, and just as importantly, what their communication policy is with their clients. Will they communicate with you regularly? Will they give you frequent updates on the progress of your case? Will they respond to your calls, texts, and emails in a timely manner? Look for an attorney who is willing to provide a high level of personalized representation.
Are you willing to take my case to trial if needed?
This is a very important question, because there are attorneys and firms out there that never litigate any of their cases. These are sometimes referred to as “settlement mills”. Essentially, their business model is to bring is many cases as they can through the door and settle them for whatever they can get. While this might be good for them, it is very bad for you. If the other side knows that you will never go to trial, they have no incentive to offer you a reasonable settlement. Although settling the case without the need for litigation is often in your best interest, your lawyer should have extensive trial experience and be willing to try the case (if necessary) in order to recover the just compensation that you deserve.
What is your fee structure?
Most people who have suffered personal injuries cannot afford a high retainer fee and expensive hourly rates, not to mention the costs associated with bringing in outside experts when needed to help substantiate a claim. Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you do not have to pay any upfront fees. Instead, the lawyer is paid a percentage of the compensation they recover on your behalf.