1. How Long Have You Been Practicing Law?
While this should not be used as the determining factor in whether you hire an attorney or not, it is a good place to start to ensure your attorney can handle your case. This is a baseline question you can use to assess experience and knowledge; however, it is not always the only factor that should be considered. Sometimes a new attorney who is hard-working and knowledgeable on the subject matter is better suited to handle the case than an attorney who has been practicing for 20 years.
2. How Long Have You Been Practicing Personal Injury Law and What Other Areas Do You Practice?
Generally, you want an attorney specializing primarily in personal injury law because if the case goes to court, you need someone very familiar with the law. Someone specializing in personal injury law will also know common defense tactics by insurance companies, employers, and defendants, how to negotiate specific to your needs, and how to navigate complex personal injury procedures.
If an attorney also specializes in other injury-related issues, they likely have a substantial amount of knowledge that will be helpful in your case. For example, injury topics include medical malpractice and workers' compensation.
3. Have You Litigated a Case Like Mine Before?
Experience and expertise are essential when addressing any matter professionally. For example, you wouldn't hire an electrician to build the framework of your house. In the same matter, you wouldn't hire an estate attorney to handle your personal injury case.
Moreover, you want to be sure your attorney has a relatively strong success rate. Of course, not every case will win, but it is important to know how hard they try to settle cases versus how often they take cases to trial and whether most of their cases win. A solid winning record isn't everything, but it indicates that an attorney is good at what they do.
4. What Is Your Case Load?
While you should not anticipate your case will be the only one your attorney is handling at the time, you also do not want them to be overloaded. If an attorney has too many cases at once, they likely will not have enough time to dedicate to your case, possibly allowing it to slip through the cracks.
5. What Is Your Payment Structure?
An attorney will generally use one of three pay structures: (1) flat pay structure, (2) hourly pay structure, and (3) contingency fee structure.
Flat-Rate Pay Structure
A flat-rate pay structure is uncommon in personal injury cases, but it means that the attorney will state a fixed fee upfront, and it will not change. For example, if the attorney says that it will be $5,000 plus fees, the cost will be $5,000 plus court fees, expert witness fees, and travel expenses. However, they cannot increase the rate because they put more hours into the case than anticipated.
Hourly Pay Structure
Most attorneys work at least some of their cases as billable, meaning they bill per hour depending on how many hours they put into the case. An hourly rate can range from $100 to over $1,000 an hour, depending on the city and expertise of the attorney. This fee arrangement is also unlikely for personal injury cases.
Contingency Fee Structure
A contingency fee structure is most common for personal injury cases. A contingency fee cap of 33 1/3% is placed on a settlement of up to $1 million for a personal injury case that settles before the defendant answers the complaint. For settlements that exceed $1 million in these cases, the cap is incrementally reduced by 10%.
For a personal injury case that is settled after the defendant answers the complaint, or one that goes to trial and is awarded a judgment from the court, the contingency cap is 40% on a case up to $1 million. In this scenario, the cap is reduced incrementally for settlements or judgments that exceed $1 million.
6. Do You Pay the Running Costs?
Most personal injury law firms advance the cost of litigation; however, not all do, so it is important to know if those fees will be invoiced to you monthly or not. Advanced fees include filing fees, medical records retrieval fees, expert witness costs, and travel expenses.
7. Do I Have to Pay the Advanced Costs If We Lose?
Many attorneys will stipulate that running costs advanced by the attorney are not the client's responsibility and are covered by the contingency fee. However, some attorneys will require those fees be paid even if the case is lost.
It is important to make sure you understand any agreements you are asked to enter into whenever you seek legal counsel.
8. What Is Your Assessment of My Case?
As a victim, it is common to believe that you have a slam-dunk case and deserve substantial financial compensation. Unfortunately, each accident is unique, and proving negligence is not always as easy as it seems. Your attorney will be able to tell you what your chances of winning are, approximately how much your case is worth, and whether they recommend that you pursue your case.
9. What Level of Participation Will I Have?
Depending on the facts of your case, your involvement may vary. For example, your personal injury attorney is trying to represent you in court or to the insurance company, so not only will they need your story, but they will also need to know you. This means that while they will review all the records pertinent to the case, they will also need to know you personally in order to represent you effectively.
Some lawyers want a high level of involvement from clients. Others will want to do much of the work themselves. Make sure your attorney’s desire of your involvement matches your desire of involvement in the case.
10. How Long Will a Resolution Take?
Timelines for cases are notoriously unpredictable, meaning no lawyers can give you a definite and irrevocable statement on the amount of time the case will require. However, an experienced attorney will know the local legal system and your type of case well enough to give you a general timeframe.
11. Which Attorney or Staff Will Be Handling My Case?
This may be a tricky question because large law firms have a team of many attorneys and staff members, meaning they have the benefit of many eyes and perspectives on your case. While smaller firms don't have this advantage, that does not mean they should be overlooked or thought to be less productive or efficient.
12. What Is Your Preferred Method of Communication?
Your attorney's preferred method of communication should match yours or, at a minimum, they should be willing to communicate in your preferred method of communication. You do not want to run into a situation where you want to speak on the phone to discuss your case and your attorney only communicates through email.
13. Do You Have Any Long Holidays or Breaks in Work Scheduled?
It is important to know if your potential attorney won't be in the office for a certain time. If you need someone who has no interruptions in their schedule, it is important to ask this question.
14. How Much Time Will You Devote to My Case?
This is similar to asking about the attorney's caseload because it tells you if they will be too busy to invest the necessary amount of time in your case. At the same time, a large caseload does not necessarily mean they won't have time for your case, as all cases could be at different stages and require different levels of dedication. This question will clear up any doubts about how much time your attorney and their staff will dedicate to your case.
15. What Do You Need from Me Before and During My Case?
You hire an attorney to deal with the formal legal aspects of your case, but that does not negate your participation or your need to keep track of your case. For example, if you have a follow-up medical visit, that must be noted, along with the cost, so your attorney will add that to your damages. They can't do this if they don't know about the appointment.
You will be required to have an open line of communication with your attorney about the documentation they need from you and what responsibilities are theirs versus yours.
The Watson Firm, PLLC Is Here to Help
If you have sustained an injury because of someone else’s negligence, it is essential that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney to help you navigate through the justice system. Our attorneys at The Watson Firm, PLLC will not only evaluate your case for free, but we won’t charge any fees until we’ve won the case.
Contact us today by calling (850) 607-2929 or contacting us online for a free consultation.