How do you know you've found the right attorney to take on your case? Where do you even begin your search? Enjuris spoke with personal injury attorneys in our directory to find out their recommendations for hiring the best lawyer.
Hiring the right person to handle your legal case is a daunting task. Whether you have been injured in a car accident or are having trouble after a hip replacement surgery, you want to ensure that the lawyer is the best for the job.
Anyone can make a slick and professional website, so how do you know who's really qualified? And where should you begin the search?
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We asked a number of attorneys in the Enjuris network how they would recommend searching for, vetting and hiring a lawyer. Here is what they said.
Word of mouth is not going away. The preferred way to find a good personal injury lawyer is to ask friends and family for a referral to an attorney who represented them in the past.
Keith M. Fletcher, a partner with Simmons and Fletcher in Houston, Texas, said, "There are so many personal injury lawyers advertising everywhere from TV to online now, and there is very little regulation. The best way to find a personal injury lawyer is to talk to people you trust who have had a positive experience..."
His recommendation? Ask a pastor or someone else centrally located in your community. "They know a lot of people and are trusted with personal information, so they will hear about the good and bad experiences when people are going through legal challenges."
Sean M. Cleary, an attorney in Miami, Florida, said, "Usually, people get sent to the right lawyer when they go to someone they trust... Get a word-of-mouth referral from a trusted professional like an accountant, medical professional, or even a neighbor, someone who's had personal experience with their attorney and highly recommends them because that attorney communicated with them, was accessible and did a great job. You can also do some more research, check out the reviews for the lawyer online, see what pops up about the firm and the attorney, and read what others say."
Says George Lorenzo of Lorenzo & Lorenzo, a law firm in Tampa, Florida, "After you've done some research and have a few lawyers you'd like to contact, try a simple phone call. Yes, you can usually submit your case via websites these days, but when you call their offices, you'll see how they operate and if the office is a good fit for you. For instance, at our firm, every employee speaks Spanish and thus our Hispanic clientele feel right at home."
Says Neal Davis of the Neal Davis Law firm in Houston, Texas, "It's always important to ask about fees upfront. Transparency is crucial in any significant financial transaction, and that includes your lawyer. Always get any fee agreement in writing."
Personal injury attorneys normally work on contingency, receiving approximately a third of the eventual settlement or judgment, plus office expenses. Regardless, clarify what the lawyer means when he or she says "no fee if no recovery." Make sure you understand the attorney's fees from the start.
Research different attorneys online. Make sure they are licensed and in good standing in the state where the accident occurred.
Every state has its own local bar association, and all attorneys are registered in their databases. You can check their bar status and whether they have been sanctioned or if any disciplinary measures have been leveled against them.
Stephanie Hoffer, a partner with Hoffer & Sheremet, a law firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said, "Do not choose an attorney based on verdict numbers listed on a website. Every case is different, and the amount of damages in your case depends on many factors. Spend some time talking to the attorney before you hire him or her. You two will be spending a lot of time together – make sure you like each other!"
"Pick the personal injury attorney that genuinely cares about you as a person and your long-term wellbeing," advises Evan Guthrie, a personal injury lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina. "Some attorneys may care more about the value of the case over making the decisions that will benefit the client in their recovery. The attorney should also be real and honest about the weaker parts of the case up front instead of playing up the strengths of the case. Trust your gut feeling when choosing an attorney. If it does not feel right, move on to another attorney immediately even if representation has already begun."
Find out the extent of their training as well as their legal experience.
Some good questions are, "How long have you been practicing?" "What percentage of your cases involves ___________?" "Will you personally handle my case or hand it to an associate?"
Eric Ramos, who helms a law office in San Antonio, Texas, noted that this is imperative. "Find out if the lawyer you're contacting is actually the lawyer who will represent you. Many of the lawyers that advertise in my city run countless TV commercials saying they'll fight for you. It's well known in the legal community that most of these gentlemen have never tried a case and simply refer everything out to the real litigators."
Along the same lines as above, make sure the lawyer you speak to is the one who will be handling your case.
Steven M. Sweat, an attorney in Los Angeles, California, agrees. "Make sure you speak with the attorney that will be handling your case personally before hiring them. If the lawyer can't take five minutes out of their day to talk to you personally rather than having a secretary, paralegal or intake person do all the talking, then what type of attention to you think they are going to give to working your case?"
Feel free to use our interview checklist to help guide the discussion.
"Where not to look for an attorney? TV ads. Bus signage. Radio," he told us. "In my experience, the more reputable lawyers are putting their efforts into providing value before they even meet you through the information they publish online. I would recommend you take some time to read through an attorney's website to get a sense of who they are and then reach out."
Neal Davis also advises you to avoid these red flags when searching for the right personal injury lawyer. Steer clear of those who:
Remember, you might not always be able to get a face-to-face consultation before hiring an attorney. You should still make sure that you are comfortable with your choice, that there is a good connection, and that communication channels are open.
Choosing an attorney is a personal decision that should not be handled lightly. Most lawyers have at least 19 years of education and have passed a very difficult licensing exam in order to practice.
However, no matter how experienced that person is, it can't make up for a lack in connection and personality. A personal injury case is exactly that: personal. You will be telling your attorney intimate details about your life in preparation for your case. Make sure you suffer no more discomfort than is necessary.
As Chad McCoy of Kentucky law firm McCoy, Hiestand & Smith said, "Every case is different, which makes it important for victims to align themselves with a lawyer who is ready and willing to take an individualistic approach to each client's representation. A good lawyer should fight for you and care for you every step of the way."