Woodland Hills personal injury lawyer Barry P. Goldberg is quizzed by prospective new clients regularly in their desperate attempt to ask the right questions which might possibly provide enough information for them to choose a personal injury lawyer. Sometimes they ask all the right questions. Sometimes they ask questions which could not possibly give them the kind of information which would lead to a wise choice. Our Woodland Hills personal injury law firm wants well informed and satisfied clients. Therefore, it is critical to help a potential new client by answering the questions they should be asking—-even if they do not!
It is true that no two cases are exactly alike and that different things are more important to one client than another. It is also true that both the client and the personal injury lawyer must be a good “fit” for the relationship and the case to be an objective success. However, personalities aside, a diligent potential client should ask a personal injury lawyer the following questions, without fail:
- Do you only practice personal injury law?
This question should be obvious, but many prospective clients are afraid to ask it. We live in an age of specialization. I have found that dissatisfied clients that are searching for a new lawyer on their case have mistakenly hired lawyers that do not have significant experience handling personal injury matters. When I look up their lawyer’s website while on the phone with the dissatisfied client, it is common that the lawyer either does not list “personal injury” as a core practice area, or that “personal injury” is down on a list of practice areas that do not necessarily fit together.
Recently, our firm took over a serious injury case against a governmental entity. The prior lawyer’s website listed that they handled “real estate” and “landlord tenant” law. Personal injury law was not even mentioned. It should not have been a surprise that the traffic collision report had not been ordered or that the required governmental claim form had not been filed.
I will probably get a lot of flack for saying this, but younger lawyers that list three or four practice areas, including personal injury, are not much better. This is usually an indicator that the attorney has either not decided to be a personal injury lawyer, or that the lawyer is willing to do (and learn on your case) anything to pay rent. While “hungry” can be good, it does not make up for the experience required to adequately handle your case.
The good personal injury lawyers are constantly interacting with other personal injury lawyers and discussing and solving nuanced issues commonly faced and developing in your jurisdiction. The good personal injury lawyers follow specific applicable case law, interact in bar associations, and participate in list serves. The good personal injury lawyers have relationships with the insurance company representative and are familiar with the local judges and recent verdicts. It is not possible to keep up with all of this while preparing estate plans or representing criminals.
Your lawyer should have an online presence and plenty of positive reviews.
- How do communications work with your personal injury firm?
Again, potential new clients seem reluctant to ask this important question. What good is it to hire a famous personal injury lawyer if you do not get to speak to him or her? More importantly, many personal injury law firms are designed in such a way that reasonable communications are next to impossible. Moreover, many personal injury lawyers actively avoid speaking to their clients. Personal injury lawyers can be an arrogant bunch. They are doing such great work, why do they need to talk to the client? Does the client not trust me?
A personal injury client should have access to speak to the handling attorney on reasonable notice and time. It is true that personal injury lawyers go to court, take depositions, and have conferences with experts. However, it is the client’s case and stringing a client out for days or weeks is inexcusable. That said, it may not be reasonable for a client to speak to a lawyer to get a copy of a document or get a phone number.
In the initial conference with our office, we explain to potential new clients that you are entitled to speak to your lawyer and are, in fact, paying for that access. The lawyer will be the one providing the direction and case strategy. The lawyer will be the one negotiating with the insurance company or defense lawyer. If you have a question about the direction of your case, you may speak to your lawyer at any mutually convenient time. However, a client should understand that our firm’s well-trained staff will be sending in documents, requesting records, and responding to insurance company requests. (I always ask the potential new client, “Is that OK?”)
Most modern and efficient personal injury lawyers can offer telephone communication, faxes, emails and text messaging. If you have a strong preference, you must ask if the lawyer will communicate with you the way you feel most comfortable.
If the personal injury lawyer cannot answer how the communications will be handled, it may create a risk and animosity.
- Who is going to actually handle my case?
Personal injury lawyers have a terrible reputation for assigning the day-to-day handling of matters to others, a paralegal, a secretary, or an associate. It is fair question to ask a personal injury lawyer. As stated before, what good is it to hire a great lawyer if he or she does not actually handle your case?
There are very acceptable answers to the question which are less than the personal injury lawyer doing everything him or herself. You do not want your personal injury lawyer answering the phones, making all the photocopies, and licking all the envelopes. Similarly, for your lawyer to be “free” to speak with you and negotiate on your case, it is fair for the lawyer to have an experienced staff to fill out forms, transmit information to clients, law firms, insurance companies and medical providers.
It is not okay for your personal injury lawyer to assign your case to someone unqualified to handle it. Worse, and this happening more and more, sending your case to an un-related law firm without your knowledge. Then, eventually receiving a referral fee. You have a right to know who will be handling your personal injury case. If the personal injury lawyer cannot answer this question, it is a red flag.
- What are the expectations for my case?
Many personal injury lawyers hate this question. Usually, the potential new client gets an answer something like “we are unable to opine on the value of your case at this stage.” Then, the line of questioning stops there. I believe that it is a perfectly fair question. An experienced personal injury lawyer should be able to tell you how he or she sees liability and a range of potential damages based on likely injuries. It is true that it is impossible to predict whether a client may have worse injuries than expected. It is also true that the availability and extent of insurance coverage may affect the outcome of the case.
An experienced personal injury lawyer should have an idea how long a case like yours will take and make it contingent upon the length of treatment required. Your lawyer should know how long it should take to get your property damage handled and when settlement negotiations should commence. If your case is likely to proceed into litigation, when are the local courts setting trials?
- Will my case go to trial?
Although personal injury lawyers do not have a crystal ball, they should know that certain types of cases are more likely to go to trial than others. They should be able to explain that only about 2% of cases go to trial and that their office experience is either higher or lower than that statistic.
An experienced personal injury lawyer should explain that the decision whether to go to trial is based upon many factors, including the client’s willingness to “go all the way.” We always tell our potential new clients that if the insurance company offers $1 and the case is worth $10, then our firm is going to recommend litigation and a possible trial.
That brings up a very important sub-question to ask; “Does your firm file lawsuits, engage in litigation and try cases?” Many unsuspecting potential clients would be alarmed to know that most personal injury lawyers will not file a lawsuit, even if necessary. Further, most personal injury lawyers are not equipped to litigate a case against well-funded insurance company lawyers. And, when push come to shove, most personal injury lawyers will never try a case!
Why is this an important question? Not surprisingly, personal injury lawyers that will file a case receive hirer settlements than those who will not. Personal injury lawyers that will litigate a case receive hirer settlements than those who will not, Finally, personal injury lawyers that will try a case receive hirer settlements than those who will not.
A potential client with a meritorious case must ask a personal injury lawyer many questions to choose a qualified lawyer that “fits” the personality of the client and the case. A client should never choose a personal injury lawyer without clearly understanding the lawyer’s experience and ability to properly handle the case.