Who in the firm will be handling your case?
When you hire a law firm, you are also hiring a specific lawyer, or a legal team within the firm who will be dealing with your case. Don’t just ask about the firm, make inquiries about who the lawyer and other members of the firm are who will be handling your matter. Usually personal injury claims can result in a long-term relationship with this team, and you will want to do what you can to know who you’ll be dealing with throughout the process. Sometimes you may be under the impression you are hiring a named partner of the firm, but without asking these questions you may come to learn that they may not be involved in your matter at all, or sparingly. While the lawyer handling your matter may be qualified, you have a right to know who it is, and decide for yourself whether you want them handling your case.
Make certain that you know when and if your case will be referred to another firm!
Recently the media has brought attention to what are referred to as “brokerage houses”. These are firms that advertise extensively within a particular practice area of law but actually intend to refer your case out to another firm. They make their money by charging “referral fees” to the lawyer they refer you to. It’s generally a good idea to be wary of such firms as you may not get the lawyer you think you are hiring. Referrals are generally necessary if there is a conflict of interest, or the matter falls outside of the lawyer’s expertise. In either case, you will want to do your research about the lawyer you are being referred to, and always remember – the choice is ultimately yours. You have no obligation to accept a referral, and if you do, ask questions about any fee arrangements that may be involved in the referral. Any referral fee paid should come from the lawyers share of the fees.
Ask questions about multiple location law firms.
Firms claiming to have offices across the state or in multiple locations all over the country are an increasingly common practice. Although it makes perfect sense to have a satellite office to expand client reach, you will want to ask questions about where your claim is going to be started. It should be started in the jurisdiction you live in, not where the office of the lawyer is located. This leads to the additional question of the lawyer’s practice experience in that particular jurisdiction. You will also want to ask how often they are actually available at the satellite location office nearest to you to get a better sense of how accessible your lawyer will be to you.
Ask about how expenses in your case are going to be handled.
Although many lawyers advertise that you don’t pay their fee unless they win, what may not be apparent from those types of advertisements is what other expenses you may be responsible for – whether upfront or at the end of the case, if you are not successful. You will want to ask whether you can expect to pay for any expenses and if so when are they expected to be paid in the course of your claim. Will the firm still expect you to pay the thousands of dollars they have spent to pursue your case if you lose? Different firms will have different policies related to how they deal with expenses incurred during the course of your claim, and whether they are prepared to carry those expenses will depend on the firm’s policies and how they view your particular case.
Be wary of advertising by any law firm that they are “Best of the Best,” “Number 1,” or “Award Winning.”
The practice of using “ratings” or “awards” for advertising and promotion has been a popular one among some law firms, seeking to distinguish themselves as being ahead of the rest. Most advertising rules prohibit lawyers from claiming they are superior or better than other firms, but that does not mean they can’t boast of accolades received claiming them to be so. However, it’s always a good idea to view these accolades with healthy skepticism. Some clever marketing companies have created a billion dollar industry around awarding these accolades to industry members in exchange for a fee. Others like the consumer choice awards are based on nominations and voting which can be done online by members of the public, regardless of whether they have ever been a client of the firm or not. When choosing a lawyer be sure that their claims about these awards provide a clear explanation of how the awards are attained. If this isn’t clear it’s a good question to ask during your initial consultation.
Be wary of claims that they have own millions in settlements. (Ask how many judgments they have won in jury trials or bench trials.)
Often times when there are claims made about millions of dollars in settlements achieved for clients, this type of information isn’t really valuable to your assessment of a firm’s qualifications but is more an appeal to your hopes for what your claim may be worth. Every personal injury law firm over time will accrue millions of dollars worth of settlements achieved, but that doesn’t mean each settlement was a high value settlement. Review these types of claims with a great deal of scrutiny and ask a lot of questions about how they come up with these figures or claims and what they are based on.
Most importantly look for integrity in adversity not gimmicks!
In the end choosing the right lawyer is an important decision in your case. This will be a long term relationship and hiring a lawyer you feel you can trust is fundamental. It is worth doing the research and asking the right questions to make sure you feel completely confident about your decision. Research their website carefully, search for reviews or testimonials, and ask friends or family what their experiences have been. By being prepared for your initial consult you can maximize your consultation time with the lawyer, and make sure you leave feeling confident that you understand the culture of the firm, and the knowledge and strategy that they can bring to your case.
I encourage you to buy local products and hire local, reputable attorneys!
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