Hiring an Attorney

WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT HIRING AN ATTORNEY?©

Written by: Mark Wolfe, Attorney at Law. The following information is provided as general advice and without charge. Questions about specific issues or situations should be directed to an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney. A portion of the following article is reprinted, with permission, from the Summer 2004 edition of Legally Speaking. NOTE: The following material is protected by all applicable State and Federal Copyright laws. Published March, 2005. As more and more lawyers and law firms utilize TV commercials to attract clients, it is important for consumers to know how to select an attorney that is right for their case. Flashy TV commercials and catchy slogans promising large monetary settlements may be enticing, but the consumer who needs to hire a personal injury attorney should consider and discuss three key areas before hiring a personal injury attorney. These areas are: the fee for services, the attorney’s trial experience with similar cases and the resources the attorney has for your claim or case.

CONTINGENCY FEES

Most people now know that attorneys who represent personal injury victims do so under a contingency fee contract. (The attorney fee is a percentage of the money recovered by the attorney.) Yet the percentage or contingency amount can vary greatly between lawyers. Also, the consumer should know exactly how the contingency fee is going to be calculated. When discussing attorney fees and representation costs, there are two areas for inquiry by the consumer. One question for consumers to ask is whether the contingency fee is going to be charged against the property damage recovery and/or medical payments (med-pay) benefits from your own insurance carrier. Many experienced attorneys do not charge fees related to property damage claims or med-pay benefits. The second area for inquiry is the amount of expenses related to the claim and/or case. Under Alabama law an attorney can advance expenses related to a client’s claim or case such as medical record expenses, filing fees, deposition expenses, etc. However, the client is responsible for reimbursing those expenses from their portion of the settlement proceeds. Most contingency fees for simple motor vehicle accident liability claims authorize a fee percentage of around one-third (33 1/3%) plus expenses.* It is important for the consumer to know how much the expenses will be for their particular claim and/or case. Sample questions that consumers should ask about a lawyer’s contingency fee:

  • Does your contingency fee apply to property damage?
  • Does your contingency fee apply to benefits recovered from my own insurance, such as med-pay benefits and/or health insurance benefits?
  • How much do you think the expenses will be for my claim and/or case?
  • How will the expenses be handled?
  • Do you have a sample distribution schedule for a similar case?
  • Will I get a copy of the fee contract?

* For more complicated and expensive cases involving defective products, contingency fees generally range from 40 to 50% of the net recovery (the amount after reimbursement of expenses).

TRIAL EXPERIENCE

You should not be afraid to ask the lawyer about his or her trial experience in handling similar legal matters. The goal in handling a personal injury claim or case is to resolve the matter for a fair amount without having to subject the client to the stress, strain and uncertainty of a trial. While it is true that most civil claims and cases settle without a trial, trial experience is critical when hiring a personal injury attorney. Insurance adjusters know and rate the experience level of the attorney representing a claimant. This is a factor in their evaluation of a claim. Talk with people in the community about their recommendations. Many healthcare professionals who treat injury victims have knowledge about the skill and trial experience of local attorneys. Sample questions that a consumer should ask about a lawyer’s trial experience:

  • How many cases similar to mine have you actually tried in Court? Tell me about the results of those cases.
  • How many cases have you litigated involving this insurance company?
  • What attorney or law firm does their insurance company use? And, how many cases have you tried against that lawyer and/or law firm?

RESOURCES

When hiring a personal injury attorney you should also consider the resources of that lawyer and law firm. This includes the financial resources necessary for the expenses of the claim or case and the general resources such as personnel and technology. A lawyer’s commitment to having skilled and qualified support personnel is reflective of an attorney who wants the best for his or her client. Likewise, attorneys who want to be efficient and effective for their clients utilize current technology and state of the art office equipment. Simply put, if the lawyer does not want to, or can not afford to, invest adequate resources into his or her own practice, what makes you think he or she will invest adequate resources in a claim or case? Sample questions a consumer should ask about the lawyer’s resources:

  • Do you have the financial resources to adequately prosecute my claim or case?
  • Who else in your office will be working on my case and what will they be doing?

CONSULTATIONS ARE FREE

So why not talk to several attorneys. Consumers should be cautious of attorneys who push too hard to have a representation agreement signed immediately. Most personal injury attorneys do not charge for consultations and this allows consumers the opportunity to talk with several different lawyers or law firms before deciding which lawyer or law firm to hire. When consulting with an attorney ask for copies of material and information they have available for potential clients. NOTE: There are situations and times when immediate legal intervention may be necessary, but the attorney should fully explain such a situation.