How to Choose a Personal Injury Lawyer: Everything You Need to Know
175,000 of us in the United States experienced something that can wreak havoc on your mental life, as well as your finances:
If you find yourself in a new job while also seeing the fruits of the labor you reaped in your 20s — a new house, a new spouse, and a new, bouncing baby — you could stand to lose a lot if something happens at your new job. Should your luck strike in the black, then there’s a way that you can recoup your losses.
Choose a personal injury lawyer!
But the legal ocean is just as tricky to navigate as it’s vast. Let’s jump into the stormy waters so that your head isn’t submerged in fathoms of hospital fees and pounding waves of psychological scars.
First, we need to nail down some of the specific types of personal injuries, so that you are on the right boat to weather the storm.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
If you’re looking for the type of accident plaguing most workplaces, look no further. In 2020, the stats were painting a grim picture.
1,778 people’s lives were taken by motor vehicle accidents in the workplace, eating up 37.3% of all 4,764 workplace accidents.
That’s a small slice of the pie when looking at the bigger picture. Throughout all of the nation’s roads, 38,824 lives were lost in traffic crashes. That leaves a lot of wiggle room for people like you — should your car have been broadsided — to seek out this type of attorney.
There’s a crucial distinction to remember when you choose a personal injury lawyer in this field, so pay attention.
Insurance Company Attorneys vs. Personal Injury Attorneys
If you’re looking to recoup some of the damage caused to you, and your precious, sleek sports car, then remember that insurance companies have their team of attorneys on deck.
Only these are exclusively for insurance defense. So, if you’re looking to sue the “negligent” party, you’ll have to saddle up with choosing a personal injury lawyer. Here are some basic terms that you’ll have to equip yourself with so that you don’t go drowning in the mass of legal jargon.
The first term is vital to know if you have a case or not.
This term plays the fault game and assigns blame to the party who was most at fault for the damages. If you feel like the other party was responsible, then a personal injury attorney could be at play.
If you had the unfortunate luck to be sandwiched in between two vehicles, then this term weighs the fault of the two parties, and it also decides if any blame lies at your feet. This is factored out into percentages so that no party shares equal blame.
There is always someone at blame, even if the driver who crunched his car into yours wasn’t. Often, it could be the company that manufactured the brakes that gave out, or the steering wheel mechanism that locked up. We will revisit this more when we touch on the colorful world of product liability litigation.
If you’re standing there alone on the side of the road, your brain turning over how to tell your wife why their first car is trashed, then it’s rather straightforward to locate a Motor Vehicle attorney.
Dive into any of the attorney directories we will cover later to track down your partner in securing the compensation you and your mangled car deserve.
Valerie Morris was having the time of her life at the Red Rock West Saloon.
So much so that she clambered up on top of the saloon bar. But, as soon as she began dancing, her feet flew out from under her and came crashing down. She sought to bring the full might of the law crashing down unto the Red Rock Morris Saloon.
Only, it didn’t. Morris testified that she knew about one common-sense fact: people spill things on bars. Knowing that, what do you think the Judge determined in this personal injury case?
First, let’s identify what Premise Liability law determines: if the property owner is liable for any damages to other parties that occurred within the boundaries of that property.
Property, in this case, entails:
Let’s assume that you were pulling your car out of the local Chick-Fil-A, and your chicken delight turned to horror when a fellow chicken eater slammed his truck into your car.
You could very well seek the aid of a motor vehicle accident attorney and a premise liability attorney because — you guessed it — the accident occurred on company property. Lesson? Always be familiar with the surrounding premises.
This next category has a colorful track record of cases.
That crash on Chick-Fil-A property wasn’t the only wrench in the soon-to-be worst day of your life.
Your morning joe splashed down onto your bare, exposed flesh when you got hit. You didn’t know that the staff heated the coffee to 190 degrees Fahrenheit! This tale isn’t fiction. A similar thing happened to 79-year-old Stella Liebeck.
She suffered third-degree burns from a scalding McDonald’s Coffee, requiring years of skin grafts and surgeries. She headhunted for $2.9 million but settled for under $600,000. In your case, you have damages against your car caused on Chick-Fil-A property, but you also have a possible product liability case in the works!
Your day isn’t over yet.
In 1997, doctors did a number on Julie Andrews, of Mary Poppins fame. She had walked into New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital with the desire to undergo a standard routine for a singer. When she went under the knife to remove a small polyp in her throat, it had left her vocal cords ravaged.
She took the hospital to court, a death sentence for her singing career. The trial terms remain a secret to this day, but it’s a classic example of how you can seek damages related to complications from surgery.
In short, medical malpractice could fall under the following causes:
- Surgical errors
- Birth traumas
- Medical misdiagnoses
- Anesthesia errors
- Unreasonable delays in treating a diagnosed patient
- Failure to get consent from a patient
If you don’t choose a personal injury lawyer, you have a long, uphill battle if you seek compensation for any damages. Good luck wrangling together all medical experts, depositions, medical records, research, and doctor notes. It’ll make for an unscalable mountain.
So, if your coffee burns skin graft developed a severe infection due to un-sanitized medical equipment, then have some more attorneys to add to your growing list.
And with the next category, your team is set to keep growing.
A spider, a nightmare, and Siloam Springs Fire Department. What do those three things add up to?
One of the most bizarre litigation cases that you will ever hear about.
It all began in the middle of a November 5th night in 2015. Shawn Seth Hansen had fallen asleep on his 24-hour shift at the fire department’s firehouse. That’s when a violent nightmare struck, one in which waves of spiders were creeping along his bare skin. He lept from his bed in fright, injuring his foot and fracturing his metatarsal.
Is the fire department at fault? This question brings us to an essential term if you’re wondering if you can be eligible.
The word is “idiopathic,” and this term was tagged to unfortunate Mr. Hansen. As it turns out, the Fire Department wasn’t at fault for the raging spider dream, and as such, his injury wasn’t related to employment.
So, unless your workplace was directly liable for contributing to the risk of the injury, then your chances of a successful compensation could be relatively low. If your injury occurred on company property, and the company was directly liable for increasing your risk of injury, then you’d better choose a personal injury lawyer to recoup any losses.
This next category is one of the most popularized, plastering the pages of tabloids all across the nation.
One case occurred in March 1977. A man took a 13-year-old girl, drugged her, had sex with her, and even tried to follow up with another date.
The man fled the country in 1978 and, in 2003, won the Academy Award for Best Director. This is Roman Polanski, one of the most well-known directors, who has also been a US fugitive for the past 44 years.
His case falls into this category for its straightforward definition: unwanted sexual contact. Defenders of Polanksi would say that victim Samantha Gailey was willing — a claim she fiercely rejects.
While Polanski is a drop in the water of the vast ocean of abusers in the entertainment industry — ala Harvey Weinstein — the case doesn’t have to be so tragic and extreme to fall under the sexual abuse umbrella.
It could be a masseuse drifting outside the massage “zone.” If you have found yourself experiencing any form of unwanted sexual contact, then this personal injury lawyer should be on your list.
You’ve had a serving of the various categories of personal injury attorneys, but now you need a way to contact them. Fortunately for you, the internet is awash in varying directories that you can use to help you locate the ideal attorney for your case.
Tools to Help You Locate Your Attorney
We’ll start with some of the best tools to get you on your way to catching the best lawyer from the masses swimming out there. And, if in doubt, turn to the bar.
Referencing Your Official State Bar
No, this doesn’t mean that you should drown your woes at the local bar because a bottle of Jack won’t make your medical fees vanish.
Instead, turning to your official state bar’s website will be a more practical option. What is a bar when it comes to legal terms? It’s an association of certified lawyers that join the bar through legal exams.
And no matter which US state you find yourself residing in, you can rest assured that you will always have some form of legal representative waiting for you to hire them. But you must do it within your state.
If you pull in a fancy, slick lawyer from New York to mitigate your case in rural Tennessee, you might be setting yourself up for failure. That’s because each state has its statutes and regulations. So, please don’t set your lawyer off into unfamiliar waters because it could very well swamp your case.
But, you can put down that life jacket because it’s straightforward to sift through lawyers using your State Bar’s online lawyer directory.
#1: Filter It Out
Most bar websites gift you a wide range of options to narrow down your search for your lawyer.
The depth of these filters varies, but usually, you can search based on various factors. The most vital filter is for the specialty of the attorney. If you’re on the hunt for compensation for your injury, you’ll want to select that filter.
This option could look different depending on the state’s website. For example, the Texas Bar Association’s website lists “Personal Injury” as “Accidents and Injuries.” But the Florida Bar’s website lists it as “Personal Injury.”
#2: Search By Name
Suppose you have your eyes set on a particular name, wooed by their list of lengthy references and reviews. In that case, there are generally always search options for lawyers based on their contact information.
#3: Search By Law School
If you put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and want to search for lawyers bred in Harvard’s Law School’s halls, you can narrow down your search based on which law school they attended. Remember that, regardless of their school, it’s essential that their firm is based in your state.
If that’s not enough, there’s yet another option — Board certifications.
Just because a lawyer hasn’t obtained a certification, it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth their salt. It means that they have been certified in a specific specialty, which might make them more adept at litigating those healing burns from your flaming coffee. But that doesn’t mean that an “uncertified” lawyer can’t represent you better.
Yet, it does give you something to think about, as these lawyers have that added credibility factor to wave around.
These official websites could seem a little intimidating to you. Thankfully, you can breathe a little easier because some tools exist to help guide you through the process once you settle on an ideal candidate.
Be sure to take that name behind the tool shed, and peel back all of their credentials, experience, reviews, etc.
The following tool gives you just that.
Pull the name of your attorney candidate, and plug it into this fantastic vetting tool for your personal injury case needs.
And with 97% of lawyers being rated by the website, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to stack up Mr. John Doe against Mrs. Mary Jane. If you were unsure that a simple rating is enough, don’t be.
Avvo pairs that with detailed profiles, references, and reviews to make your choice with confidence. After all, this is a vital step for your wallet.
The hourly rate ranges from $100-$400 an hour. So, if you want your money to go a long way towards recouping the lost money, well-being, and relationship damages resulting from your stress-ravaged legal situation, you need to make the right choice here.
Here are some of the top factors that you need to weigh as you choose a personal injury lawyer.
Crucial Factors When You Choose a Personal Injury lawyer
“Am I the most experienced up here? No. Am I brand new? No. Do I have the experience to handle these cases? Sure.”
Those words were given by Josh McIntosh, a former civilian employee for the Defense Department who moved back to the humble, rugged trappings of his Maine hometown.
He received his license to practice law soon after, at 36. But in a state where there were no public defenders, he became part of a network of private attorneys, which led to a disturbing trend: over 2,000 major felony case assignments, from murder to children charged with felonies, were managed by ineligible lawyers such as Mr. McIntosh.
This nightmare went on for five years until it came under the watchful eyes of Superior Court Chief Justice John Mullen, who said, “That shouldn’t have happened. Period.”
And if you want your legal team to be up to snuff, then here are some basic rules to follow.
The Attorney's Level of Attention
It can be hard to put yourself in others’ shoes. Before that car slammed into you, you might’ve thought little about legal proceedings and their various nuts and bolts.
Your perspective changes when you wear the other pair of shoes for once. And according to a 2018 Legal Trends Report, clients and attorneys are at odds when it comes to communication.
55% versus 2%.
One percentage is the number of clients who wish to learn about a case’s legal aspects in person, while the other is the number of lawyers who want to do so in person. Sadly, Team Attorney lies at the shorter end of the stick.
That means that you need to analyze the commitment each of your candidates makes in providing personalized attention because, after all, you have the most on the line here.
Sadly, most attorneys dish you off to their associates for communications. That can leave a frustrating sense of disconnect from the person hired to get you out of your current mess.
Questions to Ask Yourself
When contacting and vetting your candidates, please make a point to ask or research their philosophy regarding client communication. You should be able to get a sense of their philosophy from the first few minutes of the conversation. Here are some indicators to keep your eyes peeled out for:
- Do they ask you questions
- Do they listen to you
- Do they give feedback and suggestions
If any of those indicators are off, it could be a sign that they will shove you onto someone with more interpersonal skills. This off-hand approach can make you feel like another case number in their file, especially when it comes to big law offices that deal in volume and quantity.
But Wait, There's More
There’s also the curse of the Billboard lawyer. Be careful when pairing with them, as they need a lot of client turnover to help fund their pricey marketing ventures. That may put their priority on fast money instead of sticking with you and your legal battle for the long haul.
Yet, no matter the attention that your lawyer showers you with. Those case meetings over dinner won’t amount to much if there’s no experience backing it up.
The Attorney's Experience
The legal system can be a shark, especially for the inexperienced or un-represented. Despite that, states have been seeing a disturbing trend that has yet to be broken: 80-90% of litigants are unrepresented.
As the Gideon case proved, we all have the right to an attorney, but that right doesn’t grant us access to effective attorneys.
It’s quite the opposite.
These court-appointed “lawyers” aren’t very different from lampshades used as fillers in your living room, and they spend fleeting minutes at hearings and aren’t very effective in a prolonged case. Often, it’s just a reason to get you through the courtroom doors, “fulfilling” your sacred right for representation.
The point? You — yourself — should choose a personal injury lawyer, not someone else. Vet someone with experience in your case to give you the best chance to fight back against the sharks.
You can use another tool to ensure that you don’t have a guppy in your corner.
Compare Lawyer Reviews
We think of grimy restaurants with 1-star ratings when we think of reviews. But the same concept applies to your pool of candidates. One of the best tools to weeding out the grimy from the refined is turning to the most popular search engine globally.
Google It Up
Pull out your laundry list of attorneys that you gathered from either Avvo or your State Bar’s website, and plug their name or law firm into google.
You can see everything from:
Years in operation
If you want something a little more tailored to authentic and 100% reliable ratings based on a platform geared towards lawyers and not crusty pizza shops, then this next option is for you.
The nation’s streets were broiling with rage in the south, the plains of the west were being sliced up by the railroads, and Martindale-Hubbel began its mission.
Their goal: “To provide businessmen with the address of “one reliable law firm…in every city in the United States.” Do you want a track record? Try 154 years of it.
Do you want quality? Try searching the over 1 million lawyers in its database. But what makes this website special when you choose a personal injury lawyer, apart from its ripe old age and ocean of attorneys?
Easy to Navigate
You’re going through a lot in your life. As such, you value speed and efficiency. A good thing for you, the navigation experience of Martindale-Hubbell is very user-friendly.
The search function isn’t hidden away from your sleep-deprived eyes — it’s prominently displayed on the front page—type in “personal injury,” along with your location.
Great Rating Comparison
While client reviews are great, sometimes what our peers say reflects who we are. To ensure that you get the best picture of who your candidates are, two ratings sit under the name of the attorney:
- Client Rating
- Peer Rating
It even tosses in an additional rating from Avvo so that you save time from jumping back and forth between the two platforms — giving you more time to relax and unwind from your day.
If the reviews didn’t convince you of the quality of a lawyer, then the platform dishes out another elegant feature in the form of attorney awards. Such examples of these could be:
- Martindale-Hubbell Peer-Reviewed Award
- Client Champion Award
- Avvo Clients’ Choice Award
- Avvo Top Contributor Award
- And many more
Now you can judge your candidates as you do when silently judging your best friend’s dust-ridden trophy case.
And how high their rating is could help you determine how effectively they will use their resources.
The Attorney's Resources
With the explosion of the digital age, professionals from all walks of life benefit from the buffet of digital tools at their disposal. The successful defense of your case could ride on how your lawyer utilizes these resources.
What kinds of resources could very well depend on the experience of your chosen attorney, built up from years of research, contacts, and know-how. But even a fresh, bright-faced attorney can know how to leverage the internet age to research your case masterfully.
So, you must get an idea of how your lawyer candidates operate — how they do their research, from organization to sources.
But contacts are a resource worth more than their weight in gold. Unfortunately, an inexperienced attorney is less likely to have built this up, so an experienced attorney might be your best bet for referencing contacts.
Hopefully, that experience is backed by an impressive winning record, such as our impressive team!
The Attorney's Track Record
Thankfully, there are multiple ways to see if you’re hiring a player with a goose egg or a player with a rack of championship trophies. How can you separate the Rudy’s from the losing team?
#1 Your Lawyer's State Bar Profile
While you can’t determine if your lawyer has a winning record here, you can see how they handled themselves. That’s because the State Bar holds a record of ethical violations by your candidate.
Again, it’s not saying that they’re a bad lawyer, just that they made some questionable decisions during that time. Your candidate could be the Bill Belichick of lawyers.
#2 Your Lawyer's Street Cred
Ask around your local community, and you might be surprised by the references you pull up — lawyers can hold remarkable sway over a community.
Just ask Gotham’s Harvey Dent!
Their accomplishments spreading is one of the most significant measures of the quality of their record — or the depths of its pitiful ineptitude.
Should you happen to find yourself cruising your friend’s Facebook feeds in the middle of the night, ask about some of the firms in the local area in which they are based. There are guaranteed to be scores of groups for your local community.
Now, you’re close to the finish line. You have an impeccable track record of referrals, reviews, communication philosophy, and a length of experience more storied than your granddaddy’s war tales.
But, there is one more thing to consider. And it could mean the difference in keeping your wallet from running dry.
Do They Offer Contingency Fees?
The amount that a clear-cut personal injury case can steal from your bank account is staggering! This entails a dizzying list of fees, from transportation, lawyer, transcription, copying, representation, etc.
You don’t want to spend that, nor does anyone else. There’s a way to sidestep that cost when comparing lawyer fees.
Do it with contingency fees!
This is when lawyers waive taking your money upfront, with you only paying when you win your case. While great for you, the stress-induced, cash-strapped client, it also means that lawyers have a lot more “skin in the game.”
If you’re looking for a lawyer with a contingency fee, you might be on the hunt for quite some time, as the added risk of this fee makes lawyers more selective and wary. But if you’ve found the perfect lawyer that ticks all of your requirements while still offering a contingency fee, you’ve scored representation gold!
So, Start Digging
This critical selection process doesn’t have to be stressful as you choose a personal injury lawyer.
With our professional team at your back, you can sleep easy knowing that you have over 100 years of combined experience to get you out of your current slump.
If you have incurred a personal injury, contact us today to get you back on track tomorrow.