If you have recently suffered injuries as a result of a traffic accident, a slip and fall accident, or some other event, you might seek the advice of a personal injury lawyer on how to proceed with an insurance claim (or if you have grounds for a lawsuit). In the coming weeks and months, you will have to make several decisions concerning your medical treatment, your work, and how to hold the person or business who harmed you liable for their negligence.
Some decisions will affect your life more than others. Choosing the right personal injury lawyer will be one of the most consequential decisions you make. Getting the best outcome in a settlement or jury trial requires an experienced and skilled attorney who understands the law and how best to apply it to your individual circumstances.
You can do a quick internet search in your area and pick one of the personal injury lawyers that pop up, but this is unlikely to help you find the right attorney for your case, or even necessarily a good attorney. For the best chances of prevailing in your personal injury claim, you must look for specific things in a personal injury lawyer. Below, we provide tips regarding things to look for in a personal injury lawyer so you can make the best decision for your situation.
Good Online Client Reviews
You can use Google or any other search engine to find results for attorneys in your area, and many will include client reviews. Additionally, many law firms publish client testimonials on their website. This is a great way to start researching potential attorneys, but don’t depend too heavily on these methods to choose a personal injury lawyer. Even when testimonials are real clients, you likely only see the good one. Lawyers and law firms are not going to publish negative reviews or negative client testimonials.
You can look to other sources for more complete and reliable reviews, such as on avvo.com, an online directory of attorneys that includes almost every practicing attorney in the United States. You can look up personal injury lawyers by location, practice area, name, and legal topic. Each profile on the website includes contact information for the attorney and client reviews. Clients rate lawyers between one and five stars and some also include comments.
Avvo.com also includes an overall star rating for each attorney based on the totality of their client review, so you can have a broad idea of an attorney’s reputation with clients. The website also provides a wealth of professional information including the date a lawyer received his or her license, standing with the state’s licensing authority, and a list of any previous disciplinary action for poor conduct.
Each lawyer also has a score from one to ten that rates them based on all aspects of their profile. When you research online reviews for a personal injury lawyer, you want to read good reviews, see high scores, and avoid lawyers who have been disciplined by their state’s bar association.
Good Peer Reviews
Reviews from colleagues and those in the legal profession are typically more reliable than client reviews. Most lawyers will not risk their reputation by offering insincere positive or negative reviews of another lawyer. Additionally, some peer reviews remain confidential. In these cases, lawyers are more likely to offer honest and candid feedback about another attorney. Even when peer reviews are not confidential, a shining peer review often indicates a lawyer has a strong reputation within the legal community. Avvo.com offers peer endorsements, but other sites also provide peer reviews.
- Martindale-Hubbell has a registry of more than 1,000,000 practicing lawyers throughout the nation. Each profile includes a biography, contact info, and peer reviews. Attorneys who have the highest ratings by their peers in terms of professional excellence have an AV designation on their profile.
- The Best Lawyers in America publishes a list of exceptional attorneys each year. They compile the list from nominations submitted by other lawyers, who confidentially vote for the best in each category of practice. Best Lawyers typically has attorneys from about 60 practice areas on their list and renews nominations each year after a lawyer has been recognized.
- Super Lawyers is another list that recognizes professional excellence in 70 practice areas. Those who receive a Super Lawyer designation are among the top five percent of practicing lawyers in their state. They compile the list based on peer reviews and research about particular lawyers and the firms where they work.
Accolades and Awards
The legal profession, like many others, loves to give awards. Although some honors and awards are more or less credible than others, you should look for lawyers who have been recognized for their service when searching for a personal injury lawyer.
Best Lawyers awards exceptional firms and attorneys with Law Firm of the Year and Lawyer of the Year, Super Lawyers has a strict peer-review process that only recognizes the best of the best, and other organizations and associations also highlight outstanding law firms and lawyers. The National Law Journal’s Lawyer of the Year Award is among the most prestigious national awards, as well as awards that the American Bar Association (ABA) presents to attorneys.
The vast majority of personal injury cases, especially those involving traffic accidents, settle out of court. Yet, you need a personal injury lawyer who is not afraid to fight for you in the courtroom if necessary. In some cases, liable parties or their insurance companies dispute the claim or refuse to offer fair compensation for injuries. Some personal injury lawyers do not have the courtroom experience to successfully secure a favorable verdict for their clients.
You want to look for a personal injury lawyer who has gone to trial on occasion and who has been successful when doing so. Lawyers who have litigation experience also have wider professional networks that include other attorneys, expert witnesses, and judges. These relationships can benefit you during a trial and in settlement negotiations
Similar Case Experience
Personal injury lawyers are broadly trained in torts, which is a wrongful or negligent act or failure that leads to personal injury claims. Yet, many practice areas exist within personal injury law. Most personal injury lawyers can handle all types of claims, but some focus on particular practice areas. It’s in your best interest to look for a personal injury attorney who has experience with cases similar to yours.
Traffic accident injuries are common for the vast majority of personal injury lawyers, but if your injuries come from a different type of event, you might want to look a little closer at case experience. For example, if you suffered injuries in a slip and fall accident you want to look for a lawyer who has experience with premises liability cases. Similarly, if you’ve suffered injuries from a defective product or medical device, you need a lawyer who has represented clients in product liability cases.
Your personal injury lawyer should have a current caseload who is active in the legal community. If he or she is not currently representing any clients, it suggests he or she might not be highly sought after by clients. Yet, lawyers with an abundance of cases are sometimes spread too thin. Lawyers who cannot dedicate the proper amount of time to your case might not get you the most desired outcome for your claim.
A current caseload, while an important thing to look for, is not a lone indicator of whether a personal injury lawyer is a good fit. Keep in mind that some personal injury attorneys concentrate on a few high-value cases, others deal with lower-value cases, while most have a mix. The most important aspect of the caseload is that a personal injury attorney has cases and that he or she is not too overwhelmed to adequately prepare your claim for negotiation or litigation.
In some personal injury cases, liability is clear. The person or business that harmed you cannot dispute the claim. Yet, it’s not uncommon for insurance companies and legal defense teams to shift blame to avoid financial liability, or at the very least, minimize the amount they must pay out. In other personal injury cases, multiple parties, weak evidence, uncooperative witnesses, and other potential challenges make determining liability more difficult.
Building a strong case to support your claim requires thorough investigation beyond law enforcement’s narrative of events, which includes gathering police reports, medical records, and other relevant documents. In some cases, interviewing experts, securing expert witness testimony, tracking down witnesses, and taking their statements are also part of the investigative process.
Regardless of the level of investigation your case needs, these services add to the cost of your case. You want to look for a personal injury lawyer whose firm has adequate resources to conduct a thorough investigation. Some law firms have in-house investigators and specialists, while others must hire outside parties. Startup law firms and small boutique firms sometimes do not have enough cash flow to take on a massive investigation, or they might suggest you pay for these things up front. Experienced attorneys who have been building their business for years or work with an established law firm more often have the resources to best support your claim.
Exceptional Client Service
Everyone likes good customer service, but it is especially important when looking for a personal injury attorney. Poor client service can impact the outcome of your claim. Sometimes lawyers take on a case and then pass it on to a junior associate, meaning the lawyer you hired isn’t the person working on your case. Another common thing that can impact your relationship with your lawyer and potentially impact the outcome of your claim is poor communication.
You should look for a lawyer who will answer your emails or phone calls immediately or responds in a reasonable amount of time. Additionally, you want an attorney who will commit to providing you regular updates with your case, even if it’s as simple as letting you know nothing new has occurred. The claims and lawsuit process can go on for a long time.
You might feel overwhelmed, frustrated, desperate, and a host of other emotions. Look for a personal injury lawyer who is a good communicator and will keep you in the loop as your claim progresses.
If you meet with a personal injury lawyer for a free case evaluation, you should expect to hear about potential strategies he or she might use to secure a settlement or jury verdict in your favor. Learning about strategies your lawyer might employ also demonstrates their knowledge and experience, and allows you to take about any challenges or obstacles with your claim.
You want to look for a personal injury lawyer who doesn’t sugarcoat things, but instead shows a deep understanding of the good, bad, and the ugly involved with your claim. Lawyers who anticipate potential obstacles are prepared for them and have one or more strategies to overcome those obstacles, giving you the best chance of recovering damages related to your claim.
It’s industry standard for personal injury lawyers to take cases on a contingency fee basis, which means they only subtract attorney fees from any settlement or court-awarded damages they secure for their clients. Clients do not have to pay an upfront retainer fee, nor do they have to pay for additional costs out-of-pocket. In many cases, clients do not need to pay attorney fees if their lawyer cannot negotiate a settlement or secure a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
You should contact a personal injury lawyer who is willing to discuss his or her fee structure, so you understand how he or she gets paid. If an attorney refused to talk about fees or brushes off the subject, it can indicate that he or she might not be the most trustworthy choice for a personal injury lawyer.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814