Personal Injury

What If My Personal Injury Lawyer Won't Take My Suggestions?

By David Berg, Attorney
Your personal injury lawyer is handling your case, but you've got ideas and thoughts of your own when it comes to the best way to proceed. How do you and your lawyer move forward to ensure the best outcome?

It's a fairly common question among claimants who are working with a personal injury lawyer, and another way of asking it is: What decisions does the client make, and what decisions are the province of the lawyer? The answer depends what kind of suggestions you are giving your lawyer.

Strategy Versus Facts

There is a difference between giving your lawyer suggestions on how he or she should handle or prosecute your personal injury claim (i.e., offering suggestions on legal strategy) and giving him or her suggestions (which might be more like reminders) of what the facts of the case actually are. If you think that your lawyer has forgotten an important fact, by all means remind him or her of that fact.

But if you are giving your lawyer your thoughts and ideas on legal strategy, those types of suggestions are probably not going to go over too well. When a client gives a lawyer thoughts on how to prosecute the case, most lawyers will just smile, say something neutral, and mostly ignore those kinds of suggestions. This is because, although legal strategizing sometimes doesn’t seem like much, handling a personal injury lawsuit can really be like a game of chess.

In litigation, as in chess, there can be many levels of complexity, and most clients (and some lawyers!) don’t grasp all of the complexities. A good lawyer always wants to think three or four moves ahead of the adversary. Unfortunately, because many lawyers don’t explain those types of intricacies to their clients, the clients don’t understand and can’t appreciate what the lawyer is doing. So quite often, the client offers suggestions on how to proceed, which the lawyer politely ignores, and then the client gets frustrated with the lawyer. (A common example: I Want to Take My Personal Injury Case to Trial, But My Lawyer Wants to Settle.)

Questions Might Work Better Than Suggestions

Perhaps a better way to handle a situation where the client thinks that the lawyer should be doing one thing, but the lawyer appears to be doing something else, is for the client not to offer suggestions, but to ask what the lawyer's strategy is in a certain area (whose deposition to take, for example), and why. The more the client understands, the more the client can intelligently participate in his/her case.

So, if you feel that you don’t understand what your lawyer is doing (or why), start by asking. Once you understand what your lawyer’s strategy is, you can have a more informed (and hopefully more constructive) discussion about strategies and tactics related to your case.

For example, if you think your lawyer should call John Smith as a witness in your case, it might be better not to just tell your lawyer to call John Smith as a witness. If you've gotten the impression that your lawyer wasn’t planning to call Smith at trial, the first thing that you should do is ask why. It is possible that your lawyer has a pretty good reason for not wanting to call Smith (maybe Smith's "eyewitness" account of your accident has been refuted by three other witnesses). Once you learn the reasoning behind the position, that might resolve the issue and convince you that Smith shouldn’t testify in your case. But if, after hearing your lawyer’s explanation, you still think Smith should testify, now you and your lawyer can at least have a reasonable discussion about it. The key to such a discussion is to make sure you and your lawyer are on the same page and have the same information (whether it's about calling Smith to testify or any other issue).

A Matter of Trust

Suggestions, questions, and discussions aside, it's perhaps most important to put your trust in the attorney and his or her expertise. After all, you’ve hired this lawyer for a number of good reasons, one of which is undoubtedly that he or she knows more about the law and legal tactics than you do. So perhaps your best course of action -- when it comes to being a good personal injury client, while also ensuring the best outcome for your case -- is to ask questions and have constructive discussions about case strategy, but most of all, have faith in your lawyer.

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