When you hire a personal injury attorney, you’re hiring an ally and advocate—someone who will hopefully become a good friend. But your first meeting can still be intimidating, especially if you’ve never looked for a lawyer before. You might not know what questions to ask or how to tell if someone is a good fit for you and your case.
We believe finding the best lawyer for you is about more than credentials and firm size. Of course, you need someone with experience, ethical standards, professionalism and talent, and you should expect all of these things from your lawyer. However, finding someone you can get along with and trust is just as important as finding someone qualified.
The attorney-client relationship is a partnership, one that can last for months or even years, and it works best when each person feels comfortable with the other. Here are a few things you might ask your lawyer to find out if he or she is a good fit:
1. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
This might be the last question that comes to mind when you think about vetting an attorney, but it’s also one of the most important. You want a lawyer who is passionate about serving his clients. Whomever you meet with should be eager to tell you why he pursued law, how he chose a specialty, and why he cares about the work.
2. What happens next with my case?
Your lawyer should be able to outline the next steps in your case—from information gathering and settlement negotiations to the possibility of a lawsuit, discovery, mediation, and a trial. Pay attention to your lawyer’s tone and attitude as he describes these steps. His answer to this question tells you a lot about how patient, confident, and reassuring he is.
3. Do you typically settle out of court or go to trial?
Often, settling out of court leads to a successful resolution, but lawyers should also be willing to take cases to trial if need be. Make sure your lawyer is willing and able to do whichever is best for your case.
4. What is the likely outcome of my case?
Nobody can predict the future, but an experienced lawyer should be able to describe a few likely outcomes once he knows the details of your case. Keep in mind: If the answer sounds too good to be true, it might just be. Even the most skilled attorney can’t guarantee an outcome or anticipate every roadblock, and if one firm estimates a significantly larger settlement than others do, that estimate might not be realistic.
5. Have you handled a case similar to mine?
Just as some doctors are general practitioners while others have a specialty such as sports injuries or cancer treatment, some lawyers are generalists while others specialize in a particular practice area. You don’t have to hire a lawyer who specializes in personal injury and wrongful death cases, but you do want to work with someone who has experience with those types of cases.
6. How involved will I be in the lawsuit?
Some attorneys involve their clients heavily, while others handle most of the details themselves—some cases require more client involvement than others. Make sure your lawyer’s methods are a good match for your own, and set reasonable expectations for both parties before the lawsuit begins.
7. Do you have the time to work on my case right now?
Your case is a priority, and your lawyer should treat it like one. Unfortunately, some law firms take cases even if they don’t have time to handle them for several months. Ask about caseload and make sure your lawyer can dedicate the time it takes to efficiently reach a resolution.
Sometimes the most important part of your first conversation with a lawyer is not only what he says, but how he says it. A lawyer’s personality affects the entire case, including the attorney-client relationship, settlement negotiations, and trial. If you don’t find your lawyer likable or trustworthy, odds are a jury won’t either.
No personal injury or wrongful death case is easy, but finding a lawyer who fits your needs can take some of the weight off your shoulders. A strong, compassionate ally will help you worry less about your case and focus instead on recovery.