If you’ve set up an initial meeting with an attorney to discuss your potential personal injury claim, it’s important that you come to that appointment prepared. Bring copies of all records and other documentation related to the underlying incident, and try to anticipate the kind of information the lawyer will want to know about you and your case. Being prepared for this first meeting will get your case off to as smooth and efficient a start as possible, and it could also save you money -- your lawyer will take less time to get up to speed on your claim.
Some lawyers like to have their potential clients fill out a questionnaire before the first face-to-face meeting. If that happens, be sure to complete the questionnaire as thoroughly as possible, and write down any unrequested information that you think is pertinent to your case. If the lawyer asks you to send the completed questionnaire to the office before the meeting, be sure to also send along copies of any documents that may be requested.
Written documentation of the accident, your injuries, your medical treatment, and your damages is especially important in a personal injury case. Even if a lawyer doesn't ask for them beforehand, it's still a good idea to bring copies of all documents relevant to your case to your first meeting, including:
- copies of police reports or accident reports generated over the incident
- copies of records from all health care providers, from emergency medical services to primary care physicians and physical therapists -- including details regarding your diagnosis and prognosis, and anticipated future medical care
- copies of bills from medical care providers
- information regarding insurance coverage for your medical bills, including any notice of lien sent to you from your insurer
- details on any work you missed as a result of your injury, and documentation of any other lost income
- a calendar, with all the important dates (date of injury, dates of surgery or other treatment and so forth)
- copies of any correspondence with insurance companies (your own and the other party’s)
- copies of any claims already filed in connection with the incident
- any photographs related to the incident, including pictures of the scene, your injuries, property damage, and anything else that might be relevant
- journal entries that detail the psychological and emotional effects of the accident, your injuries, and your medical treatment, including your pain levels and the impact of your injuries on your daily life.
Questions To Ask Your Potential Lawyer
Prepare a list of questions to take with you to your first meeting. Remember that this is your case, so no question is too silly to ask. Some questions you might ask a personal injury lawyer include:
- How many personal injury claims have you handled? Have any of those claims gone to trial? Of those, how many were decided in favor of the plaintiff?
- What percentage of your practice is devoted to personal injury cases like mine?
- How long have you been in practice?
- Do you usually represent injured people or people who are being sued?
- What problems do you foresee with my case?
- What are my options as far as insurance claim versus lawsuit?
- How long will it take to bring the matter to a conclusion?
- How does the law firm/lawyer charge for services?
- What types of experts would the lawyer use to help bolster your case?
- What is the time limit (set by a law called a "statute of limitations") by which you must have the case settled the lawsuit filed?
- Would the lawyer handle the case personally or would it be passed on to someone else in the firm? If other lawyers or staff may do some of the work, can you meet them?
Feel free to ask for specifics in terms of how the lawyer will charge for his or her services, including:
- Would a contingency fee be possible? If so, what is the percentage? Is it a sliding scale?
- Who pays expert witness fees?
- What other out-of-pocket expenses does the lawyer anticipate?
- Does the lawyer advance out-of-pocket costs?
- Can the law firm financially afford to "carry" the case if it's necessary to go to trial and wait for payment on a judgment?
- Would there be a retainer payable up front? Would any unused portion of the retainer be refundable?
Ask to be provided with a copy of the lawyer's fee agreement, and have it explained to you before you make any hiring decisions. Again, this is your case, so you need to be comfortable with every aspect of how it’s handled.