Know what to say to attorneys when you need to hire one after an accident
Talking to a lawyer isn't always legalese. They're people, just like you. When preparing to meet with one, it's best to remember that and not be intimidated. Come up with a good strategy and you will always be prepared to speak with an attorney, be it in person or by phone.
Meeting with a lawyer for the first time
Here are some tips for when you sit down with a lawyer. Remember, initial personal injury consultations are normally free of charge and could take anywhere from 15 minutes to more than an hour, depending on the complexities of your case.
The cost and time can change from industry to industry (employment law is different from personal injury law, which is different from traffic law, which is different from patent law), so always make sure to ask. If you're looking for a lawyer after an accident, you'll notice that many law firm websites say “free consultation”, which is the norm for personal injury lawyers.
Know your narrative
One of the things your potential attorney will be assessing when you're sitting together is whether you have a case and whether you will make a good witness, should your case proceed to trial. They are assessing you as much as you are assessing them – you both want to make sure you are a good fit, somewhat like in a job interview.
The attorney will be looking to determine: Do you seem genuine? Do you stumble over the facts of your story, or do you know them inside and out? Are you constantly referring to your notes, or do you know the dates of when everything happened? Are you complaining of pain but presenting as perfectly fine?
These are basic items that an attorney will assess because your credibility as a witness can be essential to a case. Additionally, if you don't know the thread to your own timeline, that is a bad sign.
Your attorney can't help you if you don't help yourself.
Many people try to make themselves look better than they were in a situation (“Oh, I was driving 40 miles per hour,” when it was actually 75 miles per hour, or “Yes, I was perfectly attentive,” when you were really applying mascara while running a stop sign).
This is a natural human instinct in which we attempt to preserve ourselves. You must overcome this instinct and put faith in the fact that your attorney has your best interest at heart.
This also begs the questions – what are you hiding, and why? Why should your attorney trust you if you don't trust him?
Play it cool
We know that you have been through an extremely trying experience and that someone needs to pay for what they've done.
It doesn't help anyone to spend a free consultation session crying to the lawyer about how you have been wronged. Not only your attorney unlicensed in therapeutic care – and far from the individual you want counseling you in emotional affairs – but he also has a job to do, and that job is to take care of you legally. What he or she will need is the facts.
(We have collected some resources that help people after an accident if you're finding it difficult to cope.)
Ask for clarification if you need it
Don't understand what respondeat superior means? Never be afraid to ask a question. You don't know what you don't know, and going home after a meeting with your head whirling would be a waste of time.
Usually attorneys are sensitive to the fact that clients haven't gone to law school and don't speak legalese during a meeting. Sometimes, however, they slip up, especially when clients look really attentive. They forget, and suddenly they're talking about alternative dispute resolution, maximum medical improvement, proximate cause and who knows what else.
Alternatively, don't pretend you know what something means, because a lawyer will take you at your word. If you start throwing terms around in conversation, you should understand what they mean and how they apply to your situation.
What to say when calling an attorney
When you first call an attorney's office, you will likely speak to their assistant. It will not usually be the attorney him or herself who answers the phone.
The person you reach on the phone, however, will be an integral member of the personal injury law firm team and you should be just as prepared when you call as if you will be speaking with an attorney.
What about phone consultations with a lawyer?
You may not always be meeting the lawyer in person. In some situations, you'll be having your consultation over the phone.
Be sure to prepare for the call. Otherwise, you're just wasting both your time and the lawyer's time.
Have all of your papers right in front of you. Know exactly what happened, in what order. It helps to write down the following information and have it readily available:
- A timeline of events;
- Your doctors' names and what they treat;
- Your injuries and what you have paid in medical bills thus far;
- How many days you have missed work;
- Whether you have collected disability payments, and if so, how much; and
- Any other bills you think might be relevant.
Listen to your lawyer
This is just as important as talking to your lawyer, because this is why you're seeking help in the first place.
You need someone with expertise, and your attorney has it. Listen closely and heed her advice. Sometimes what he says might not be what you want to hear, but she does have your best interests at heart.
Keep that in mind if – or when – he says something with which you don't agree.
However, do remember that your attorney works for you, and you get to make your own decisions. Your lawyer will offer you advice; you get to decide whether to take it.