Hiring a lawyer isn't something most people think about until they need one. At that point, they may have severe injuries due to a car accident, find themselves unable to work, and feel the crushing weight of medical debt starting to pile up.
What type of lawyer do they need? How do they find one? What is the process for seeking compensation after an accident? We will address these questions and more. Finding help in the pursuit of justice after an accident is easier than you may think, and with an experienced auto accident lawyer at your side, you can focus on recovery while they do the difficult work of recovering compensation on your behalf.
Can You Afford an Attorney?
Let's get one worry out of the way immediately. One of the biggest concerns people have about hiring a personal injury attorney is that they can't afford one. Potential clients often worry about the cost of a retainer or how steep the hourly fee is, but personal injury attorneys do not usually require retainers or bill by the hour. Instead, they use a contingent fee billing method.
Contingency fee billing means that you do not have to pay for your lawyer's services until there is a positive outcome in your claim. This ensures that anyone who needs access to the services of a personal injury attorney can obtain those services, regardless of their financial status.
You and your attorney will enter into an agreement, which will spell out the services they will provide and the percentage of the recovery that will go to your attorney upon the resolution of your case. With no upfront investment from you, an attorney and their legal team can start working on your claim right away.
If You Hire an Attorney, Will You Have to Go to Court?
It is also a common belief that you will have to go to court if you hire an attorney. In reality, only about 4 to 5 percent of personal injury cases go to trial. The rest resolve outside the courtroom, most often through a negotiated settlement. In all likelihood, your claim will settle out of court too.
However, there is no guarantee that your case will settle. Litigation is a viable option to have if the at-fault party's insurer refuses to offer a settlement that reasonably compensates the expenses and impact of your injury. The attorney you hire to represent your claim should be as comfortable fighting for your right to fair compensation inside the courtroom as they are with settlement negotiations.
The Type of Attorney You Need for a Car Accident Claim
Like doctors, attorneys tend to specialize in specific parts of their field. If you have experienced an injury due to someone else's carelessness, you will need to seek the services of a personal injury attorney. Personal injury attorneys provide legal representation to individuals seeking compensation for physical and psychological harm caused by another. Motor vehicle accidents are a common type of personal injury claim.
Finding an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer to Assist You
If you perform a simple search for personal injury attorneys in your area, you are likely to have many options. You can narrow your search by looking for attorneys who focus on car accidents (or whatever your case may be). You can also search the Bar Association in your state to ensure the lawyer is licensed to practice in your state. Further, you can find out if the bar has disciplined the lawyer for any reason.
You may also consider reading online reviews and diving into the lawyer's case results page. Most successful lawyers will highlight their results and the damages they recovered for their clients, making it easier to spot firms with similar experiences.
The Free Case Evaluation
In addition to the contingent fee billing method, most personal injury attorneys also offer a free case evaluation. At this time, you will discuss your case with a personal injury attorney, obtain answers to your legal questions, seek advice about your claim, and learn about the services the firm can provide to assist you.
You are under no obligation to hire an attorney who has provided a free case evaluation, and you are certainly welcome to have evaluations with other law firms to determine the best fit for your claim.
Important Considerations When Choosing an Attorney
The free case evaluation is essentially a job interview for both you and the attorney. The attorney can use the conversation to determine whether the case is a good fit for their skills, and you can decide if you feel confident working with them. Prepare your questions in advance.
Here are some things you may want to discuss with a personal injury attorney.
- How do they charge for their services? As previously explained, most personal injury attorneys provide their services through a contingent fee billing method. The attorney should clearly explain this method to you, the services the fee pays for, and how you will pay that fee upon receiving your settlement or award.
- What happens if the case goes to trial? Does the contingent fee increase? In all likelihood, if your case goes to trial, the contingent fee increases. This is because litigation adds another layer of time and expense to the process. Discuss this question so you have a fuller understanding of how you will pay your attorney for their services.
- What is their experience with cases like yours? Not only will you want to learn about how long the attorney has been practicing law, but how many car accident cases they have successfully completed, and their success rate with both litigation and negotiated settlements in such cases. This is the time to talk about their experience with litigation and to ensure they are comfortable with that method of resolving your claim if the need should arise.
- From the attorney's view, what are the strengths and weaknesses of your case? You want an attorney who is passionate about your claim and confident in your abilities. Beware of an attorney who doesn't seem hopeful or willing to invest the time in your claim. On the other hand, an attorney who expresses confidence in their ability to help you resolve your claim but doesn't mention any specifics as to the details they would focus on is equally concerning.
- Who will work on your claim, and who is your point of contact? Some law firms arrange for the attorney who will lead your claim to conduct your consultation, while other firms have a senior attorney available if needed, but other members of their legal team do much of the work of your case. You have the right to know who will work on your case and your main point of contact. Additionally, you should learn how updates on your case are given and by whom.
- If you lose, will you need to pay for any of the costs related to the case? As previously explained, contingent fee billing means that you don't have to pay for the attorney's services unless there is a positive outcome to your claim. However, there are many case-related costs associated with personal injury claims, including the costs of filing your claim in court or obtaining documents. Your attorney should readily explain your responsibility for these costs, if any.
- How much time does the attorney have for your claim? Some personal injury firms only represent a select few claims at a time to focus on delivering personalized services to their clients, while other firms handle as many claims as they can. While you want an experienced attorney to represent you, hiring a firm with a full caseload can often result in delays, not only in communicating with you about your case but also in completing the work it requires.
- Do they have references? Remember, the case evaluation is, for all intents and purposes, a job interview. An employer can ask an interviewee for references to learn more about them, their philosophy, and how they would likely handle the job. It is equally acceptable to ask for references from past clients.
- How long will it take to resolve your claim? While an attorney can't know how long it will take to obtain a settlement or award on your behalf, this question can give you an idea of how your attorney plans to approach your claim and their feelings about the likelihood of a positive resolution.
What to Look for in a Car Accident Attorney
While the answers to the questions listed above are important in ensuring that the attorney has the experience and knowledge to handle your case, you should also observe the attorney's words and mannerisms to see if they have:
- Clear communication skills. Attorneys communicate in all phases of the claim: with you, with the at-fault party's insurance provider, and even the court. You should be able to clearly understand the guidance your attorney is providing to you. Beware of a law firm that has difficulty making an attorney available to talk to you about your claim or who cannot explain their fees in a manner that you can understand, as it can be an indication that your attorney lacks the communication necessary to assist you in resolving your case.
- Knowledge of state and federal laws that impact your claim. One of the main reasons to hire an attorney to assist you with your claim is because the legal personal injury claims process can be complex, as mistakes in the process can reduce or even eliminate the amount of compensation that is available for you.
- A legal team. Personal injury claims can require an extensive amount of investigation to determine and prove liability, as well as the organization of documentation needed to show expenses. You need a lawyer who can conduct these activities before the statute of limitations expires. This can result in a tremendous amount of legwork. An experienced personal injury attorney understands the importance of having a legal team to assist with the work of your case to protect your claim and ensure that you can meet the statutory deadline.
Need a Lawyer to Help You With Your Car Accident Claim?
The injuries sustained in car accidents can alter the entire course of your life, leaving you with expenses and impacts that extend far into the future. When seeking the maximum amount of compensation available in your case, hire an experienced personal injury attorney you can trust.