Being injured and dealing with a tragedy is never easy, but a tough situation can be even tougher if it is not handled well afterwards. If you or a loved one has been a victim of a personal injury accident, it is important to hire the right lawyer to protect your interests.
With the many attorneys out there ready to take your case, it can be hard to figure out which attorney is best for you and your case. Below are some things to consider when hiring a personal injury attorney.
Experience Matters: Get to Know the Attorney and the Law Firm
The experience of the attorney you hire is essential to achieving a positive result. You want an attorney who specializes in personal injury law and has handled cases similar to yours in the past with proven results. In addition to being experienced in handling cases for personal injury victims, you want an attorney who has experience in the courtroom. If you know any judges or attorneys in your community, ask them for recommendations. Read client reviews on various review platforms and on the firm's website. Exceptional client service should always be provided and good reviews are an indicator of a good attorney.
Get to know the law firm. Is it an established law firm? Is there a team of professionals that will work together to get the best result for you? For example, if your case involves complex medical issues, are there medical professionals on staff or does the firm use outside medical consultants? You want to make sure that your case will be appropriately staffed and that the firm also has the financial resources necessary to see your case through to the end and get you the best possible result.
Beware of a personal injury attorney who promises or guarantees certain results. While attorneys can give you a sense of what they think your case may be worth, there are many factors that go into litigating a case and no attorney can guarantee a particular result. A good lawyer will give you an honest opinion and will clearly explain what your obligations will be as a plaintiff in a lawsuit.
If you have time, meet with the attorney in person or, if you prefer, schedule a phone conference so you can get all the information you need to make an informed decision.
Understand the Fee Structure and Cost Reimbursement
Personal injury attorneys generally work on a contingent basis. This means that no attorneys' fee is charged if you lose. Don't be fooled by advertisements from personal injury firms that suggest they are the only firm that does not charge a client a fee if the case is not successful. Not charging a fee unless you win is the definition of a "contingency fee" which has been the preferred and primary method of compensation for personal injury attorneys for more than 50 years.
In New York, the attorneys' fee in personal injury is capped at 33 1/3%. This means a personal injury attorney who practices in New York cannot charge an attorney's fee that exceeds 33 1/3%. If you are considering hiring an out of state attorney, ask about the attorneys' fee they charge because some states allow attorneys to charge a 40% attorneys' fee. This will have a significant impact on the amount you receive if your case is resolved in your favor.
In addition to the attorneys' fee, you need to understand how expenses incurred in litigating your case are repaid. "Expenses" or "disbursements" are the costs the law firm incurs in prosecuting the case. These typically include "out of pocket" expenses for experts, medical records collection, court fees, stenographers' fees and the like. Some firms also charge clients for telephone calls, photocopies made within the firm, postage and a myriad of other routine expenses. As a result, clients of those firms pay more and receive less of the amount that is recovered. Some firms also insist that clients pay for these costs even if the resolution to their case is not successful.
Thus, what sets personal injury firms in New York apart is not the fee arrangement, which is standard, but the expenses that some firms charge the client and other firms do not. It is important to be aware of this difference when selecting a law firm to represent you because that is what makes a difference in how much money you will actually receive.
A Word of Caution
The ethics rules for attorneys in the State of New York prohibit attorneys from directly soliciting clients involved in accidents. However, there are firms that routinely send attorneys or representatives to hospitals to attempt to do just that. Firms that are willing to do so are not only violating ethics rules but are likely doing so because they do not have what it takes to succeed in obtaining clients through their reputation and experience.
If an attorney or a representative shows up unsolicited at your hospital bed or at your home you should be extremely cautious in talking to them. Attorneys willing to blatantly violate ethics rules in this regard are not likely to be trustworthy or effective.
Finally, don't be afraid to ask questions and interview as many attorneys as you need until you find the right personal injury attorney for you and your case.