A lawyer has to believe your case is worthwhile if you want them to represent you
Time is money. When you meet with a lawyer, they’re going to decide if they can handle your lawsuit—these are the factors that help them decide.
You need a lawyer. Stat.
Maybe you were in a car accident, or you took a slip and fall somewhere, or something else... and you think you have a decent chance of receiving compensation from a lawsuit, so you need a lawyer to help you get it.
But as much as you’re trying to “shop” for the right lawyer for your case, and you want someone who will be on your side and help you every step of the way, your initial meeting with a lawyer is your choosing them and their choosing you.
A lawyer isn’t going to blindly take your case just because you walk in the door. They need to be sure it’s worth their while because any case will be time and money. Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, which means they get paid a percentage of whatever compensation you recover from the claim. Sometimes there are a few up-front costs, for instance if they need to travel for your case, hire experts, or other types of expenses. But you don’t initially pay your lawyer’s fee out of your own pocket; when you receive a judgment or settlement, then they take a “cut” of what you receive.
Therefore, a lawyer isn’t going to take a case that they think won’t win or settle. Plainly put, it’s not worth their time if they’re not going to make any money. They’re not litigating cases for fun, after all. For every minute they put toward your case, it’s a minute taken away from another client whose case might be more likely to result in a positive outcome.
So, what does a lawyer look for when they decide whether to take your case? Let’s take a look at factors that might influence how a lawyer views your claim.
What factors affect whether a lawyer takes your case?
Liability and negligence
The lawyer will first assess who is at fault for the injury. They need to determine if there is clear evidence of negligence by another party that led to the injury. This involves reviewing accident reports, witness statements, and any other relevant documentation.
Evidence and documentation
The strength and availability of evidence play a crucial role. This includes medical records, photos of the injury or accident scene, police reports, and any other documents that can substantiate the claim.
Severity and nature of injuries
The severity of the injuries and their impact on the client's life are critical. Serious injuries that have long-term consequences are more likely to result in higher compensation, making the case potentially more viable.
Statute of limitations
The statute of limitations is the time period a plaintiff has in which to file a lawsuit. Each state sets its own statutes of limitations, and they are different depending on the type of lawsuit. Lawyers will check if the claim is within the legal time limits for filing a personal injury lawsuit. If the statute of limitations has expired, the case is not viable.
The lawyer will want to know how much of your injury is covered by insurance; that includes both the defendant’s and the plaintiff’s policies. If the insurance covers all or most of the costs for an injury, that can affect the potential for recovery.
Plaintiff’s credibility and history
When you meet a lawyer for the first time, they will always want to assess your credibility, including criminal and litigation history. This can impact how they are perceived in court or during negotiations.
Potential damages and compensation
The attorney will estimate the potential damages, which include medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. They will evaluate whether the potential compensation justifies the time and resources needed to pursue the case. For instance, if the injuries do not require much medical treatment (therefore, low cost) but would require significant expense in expert witness testimony, then it might not be worthwhile from a cost-benefit perspective.
Legal and factual complexities
Some cases may involve complex legal issues or disputed facts that can make them more challenging. The lawyer will consider whether these complexities can be effectively managed.
Defendant’s financial resources
Assessing the financial resources of the defendant is important, especially in cases where insurance coverage is not sufficient. A judgment is only valuable if there is a possibility of it being paid. In other words, if the defendant is destitute, has no assets, or is a flight risk, they are unlikely to be able to pay a judgment. If that happens, there’s not much any lawyer or the court can do; the judgment is only as good as the defendant who’s able to pay.
The lawyer will weigh the risks versus the potential rewards of the case. They will consider the likelihood of winning the case against the costs and time involved in pursuing it. Some of the costs involve media coverage, poor publicity, and other factors. A lawyer has a reputation to uphold—if it’s the type of case that might make the attorney appear to represent clients with frivolous claims, they will hesitate to take it on. Likewise, a lawyer cares about their record. They don’t want to handle a case that they think is unlikely to win.
The lawyer might also consider how sympathetic a jury might be toward the plaintiff and the circumstances of the case.
Previous similar cases
Knowledge and experience with similar cases can help a lawyer predict the outcome based on past results and established precedents.
Based on these assessments, a lawyer can make an informed decision on whether a personal injury claim is worth pursuing. It’s a balance of legal acumen, experience, and practical considerations that guide this decision-making process.
Should you try to make your claim more “appealing” to a lawyer?
The best thing you can do to establish a rapport with your lawyer (or prospective lawyer) is to be honest and upfront. Hiding things that could be relevant to your claim (no matter how small) can be detrimental later on. You need to form a mutual trust relationship with your lawyer; for you to trust that they will help you to the best of their ability, they need to trust that you’ll have no surprises.
It’s important to understand that if a lawyer declines to take your case, it might mean that your claim isn’t as airtight as you thought—after all, they’re the experts. Perhaps they see some legal issues that would make it less likely to be successful. Or, maybe they’re just not the right lawyer for you. That happens sometimes, and you might find someone else who is qualified and eager to help.
If you don’t find the right person the first time, there’s nothing to stop you from meeting with another lawyer—or another—to find the legal assistance you need.