Personal Injury

Personal Injury: Selecting a Good Lawyer

By David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

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Having the right lawyer can make a big difference in the outcome of your personal injury claim, which makes choosing the right lawyer an important decision. That's what we'll focus on in this article.

Starting Your Search

Most lawyers who specialize in personal injury law tend to represent a particular side of these kinds of cases -- either the plaintiff (the person who was injured) or the defendant (the person, business, or other entity who is alleged to have caused the plaintiff's injury) -- not both. If you've been injured, you want to hire what's called a "plaintiff's lawyer." (Learn more about Why It's a Good Idea to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer.)

Personal recommendations and word of mouth are probably the best place to start when you're looking for a lawyer. If someone you know had a good outcome with their personal injury claim, ask to be put in touch with that person's lawyer.

Online resources are also a great jumping-off point for putting together an initial list of candidates to get in touch with. You can start your search right here at lawyers.com, using the Free Personal Injury Case Evaluation tool.

Narrowing it Down

No matter what resource you use to find an initial list of personal injury lawyers, you'll want to whittle it down to three or four prospective candidates by keeping the following tips in mind:

  • Look at biographical information, including whatever you can find online. Do this lawyer appear to have expertise in connection with your particular kind of personal injury claim? Do they have any information on their website that is helpful to you?
  • The profile for the lawyer and his or her firm should give you an idea of the kinds of cases they handle (and which side they typically represent). If you can't tell, call the lawyer's office and find out.
  • Check to see if the attorney belongs to any local, state, or national trial lawyers' associations.
  • If you already have a working relationship with an attorney who practices in another area, ask him or her for the names of some good personal injury attorneys.
  • Contact your state bar association or visit their website to find out if the lawyer you are researching is in good standing.
  • Check out your local yellow pages. Does the lawyer advertise? If so, do you find the ad compelling? Helpful? Tasteful?
  • Check out the online archives of your local newspaper. Has there been any publicity about the lawyer or the cases that he or she has handled? This is particularly likely if the attorney has handled high profile cases.
  • Ask about conflicts of interest. Does the lawyer represent anyone affiliated with any of the parties you are considering suing, or anyone who may have an interest in the outcome of the case?

Consider any special needs you have and some key practicalities. For example, could you benefit from an attorney who speaks a language other than English? Is the lawyer's office close to public transportation? Unless there are special circumstances, you'll want to hire a lawyer with a local office, or in the location where your accident occurred.

Once you've narrowed your list of candidates down, ask about a consultation (if the lawyer doesn't suggest it). You shouldn't necessarily cross a lawyer off your list just because he or she doesn't have the time to meet with you on short notice. Good personal injury lawyers are busy, so they may not be able to spend as much time as they would like with prospective clients. You should also anticipate that whomever you hire may have to delegate a lot of responsibility to his or her staff. You should expect to be treated courteously and professionally by the staff and the lawyer.

Learn more: What Should I Ask a Personal Injury Lawyer at My Free Consultation?

Money Matters

In most personal injury claim scenarios, you'll be able to hire a lawyer on a "contingency fee" basis. This means that the lawyer will be paid a percentage of any settlement or court award you receive -- usually around one-third -- and if you don't receive anything from the other side, your lawyer does not get paid a fee. It's important to read the find of any contract before you sign it, and understand that you still might be on the hook for "costs" associated with your case (which are different from legal fees).

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