Initial Consultation with an Injury Lawyer – Best Practice
THE INITIAL CONSULTATION
The initial consultation with an injury lawyer is similar to meeting for the first time with a doctor. The doctor takes your medical history; the lawyer reviews your legal history. The two-way communication between lawyer and client is the crucial first step in achieving a successful outcome.
Before the appointment, try to write down the details of the accident. Your notes and Checklists 1 or 2 and 3 from my book, Winning Your Personal Injury Claim, will help you to provide your lawyer with complete and thorough information. Bring your notes, all of your insurance papers, your doctor’s name and address, as well as any discharge forms you received from the hospital. If you have photographs of your car, the accident scene, and/or your injuries, bring them as well. Your attorney will very much appreciate your interest in the case. If the photographs are of good quality, it may not be necessary for your lawyer to go to the expense of having professional photos taken. This will save you a significant amount of money, since litigation costs are ultimately the client’s responsibility.
The attorney will ask you to sign medical authorizations and a fee agreement if he wants to pursue the case. The medical authorization allows the lawyer to collect your medical records. Form 8 in Appendix A is a sample medical authorization. See form 8, p.240 in my book. The fee agreement is the contract for the attorney’s fees. Immediately after the initial meeting, an attorney will often send a new client letter. A new client letter may resemble the one on p. 50.
Personal injury lawyers almost never charge for the initial consultation. You can interview as many as you like before you sign a fee agreement. However, it is a bad idea to wait too long before selecting one. A prompt investigation by your lawyer may be crucial to your case. So if you are comfortable with the first lawyer you meet, you can sign a fee agreement and let him or her begin the investigation. If you sign a fee agreement, but then change your mind, you can still fire the first lawyer and hire a new one. The first lawyer is required to turn your file over to the new lawyer. The lawyers will divide one attorney’s fee. You should not have to pay extra for changing lawyers.
Many of your questions about the process can be answered during the initial consultation. However, not all questions can be answered at that time with any degree of certainty. For example, there is no way for the lawyer to know at the initial meeting what the case is worth, how long before it will settle, or whether you will have to go to court. More questions will arise in your mind in the weeks and months to come. Do not hesitate to call your lawyer for answers-that is why he or she is there.
During the initial consultation, tell the lawyer that you want to receive copies of all letters sent out on your behalf. Many lawyers make this a practice for several reasons. First, they feel they have an ethical obligation to keep their clients informed about their cases. But further, an informed client is often a very helpful client. Clients who take an active interest in their case provide important details that might otherwise be overlooked. They can also correct mistakes made by the lawyer or his or her staff. While the lawyer has the legal expertise, no one is more aware of the factual background of the case than the client. The team approach helps the client feel involved and respected, and it helps the lawyer do a good job for the client.
Ask the lawyer who interviews you if he or she will be the one who will actually handle your file. If the lawyer you meet is one of the firm’s senior partners, it is likely that your case will be handed off to an associate. This is information you are entitled to receive before you sign a fee agreement. You should insist that the lawyer who interviews you stay actively involved with your case, if that is the lawyer with whom you are most comfortable.
Also ask the lawyer who interviews you about his or her credentials as a trial attorney. Ask how many jury trials he or she has taken all the way to verdict. Many trial lawyers are afraid to try cases in front of juries and will ultimately settle for whatever they can get. You need a lawyer who is willing to take your case all the way-if necessary. The law firm you hire should not be afraid to spend thousands of dollars getting your case ready for trial, if necessary. If medical testimony is necessary, ask for an estimate of what it is going to cost to bring the case before the jury. You should confirm clearly at the initial interview that the firm is willing to spend the money that needs to be spent.
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