At last count, there were between 800,000 and 1.2 million lawyers in the United States. In Massachusetts alone there are more than 42,000 attorneys practicing in many areas of specialization. There are many specialties, including real estate, corporate and securities law, and wills and estates. However, if you or a loved one has been injured in an automobile crash or other accident and another party is at fault, you should consult with a qualified and experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
You may also want to consult a personal injury lawyer if you’re being sued. However, if you have insurance that covers the accident, you should know that the insurance company may assign an attorney to defend the claim against you.
Tips For Choosing The Best Personal Injury Lawyer For You
A personal injury lawyer will represent you if you plan to sue someone for damages due to injuries their carelessness caused. Most people only hire a personal injury lawyer once or twice in a lifetime. If your injuries are severe, the selection of a personal injury lawyer is an important decision that can have lifelong consequences.
Since the 1970s, lawyers in all specialties have been allowed to advertise their services. You’ve seen many lawyers’ television commercials, print ads and even billboards. They often promise to get you the most compensation possible for your injuries. You can certainly just pick one at random and give his or her (usually toll-free) number a call. But you should realize that, while relying on an advertisement is a place to start, you may be shortchanging yourself if you retain the first personal injury lawyer you talk to.
Start As Soon As Possible
First, don’t delay in starting the process. You may have heard about criminal statutes of limitations on a television crime show but may not know that there are similar laws that apply to personal injury suits. If your lawsuit isn’t filed within this period (usually three years from the accident date in Massachusetts), it can never be brought in the future. This doesn’t mean that your case will be decided or settled in three years, but it must be filed within that time.
To be done right, finding the right attorney involves a bit of research. As with any professional you’re looking for, a good source is usually family, friends or coworkers who have used a personal injury attorney. If they’re willing to make a recommendation and believe they had a good experience, that’s a great place to start. If possible, consider the lawyer’s reputation in the community for integrity and competence.
Lawyer Referral Services
If you can’t get a satisfactory personal reference, most local bar associations operate a lawyer referral service that will allow you to schedule an initial conference with a lawyer for free or for a small fee. Understand that this is more of a “shot in the dark” approach, however.
Unlike some states, Massachusetts doesn’t certify lawyers as specialists in any particular area. However, the American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL) is a great place to find several Massachusetts lawyers who can represent you. The ACTL is a preeminent organization of litigation lawyers who have been invited to join after an interview and investigation process. Not all members are personal injury lawyers, but you can search the ACTL website by both specialty and state.
You’ve developed from one or more of the sources above a list of ten or so prospective lawyers. The first step is to check the basic credentials of each. Some things to keep in mind:
There is no such thing as a national law license, and, unlike a driver’s license, a license to practice law in one state doesn’t allow the lawyer to do so elsewhere. In Massachusetts, you can go to the website of the Board of Bar Overseers to confirm that each of your preliminary choices is licensed to practice in the state.
The Board of Bar Overseers and the Office of the Bar Counsel investigate and evaluate complaints against lawyers. Common complaints include neglect or lack of communication about a case. Of course, not all complaints are valid. However, a history of disciplinary action should be treated as a “red flag”.
The Bar Overseers’ website also lists the date an attorney was admitted to practice in Massachusetts. While years of practice isn’t a guarantee that a lawyer is the right one for you, experience does matter.
Assuming each of ten or twelve prospects have suitable credentials, the next step is to schedule an in-person meeting with each. For personal injury cases, most lawyers offer a free, no-obligation initial consultation of up to about an hour. Here are some things to remember about these meetings:
Listen to Your Instincts
Ask if the lawyer will personally handle your case or assign it to a more junior member of the firm. You and your lawyer will be spending a lot of time together on your case, so the right personal fit is critical. If you’re not comfortable with the personality or style of anyone you meet with, don’t be afraid to cross him or her off your list.
Create a written list of questions and bring it along. Ask whether the lawyer has handled cases such as yours, what he or she thinks about the strengths and weaknesses of your case and what kind of “track record” he or she has with similar claims. Do most settle or go to trial? Typically only a small percentage of cases ever wind up in court. Get copies of any medical reports or treatment records relating to your accident and bring those along.
Don’t Be Shy – Ask About Fees
Most plaintiffs’ lawyers operate on a contingent fee basis. This means that they will be paid based on a percentage of what you receive, but only if and when there’s a verdict in your favor or your case settles. The typical fee is between twenty-five and forty percent, but this amount is almost always negotiable.
Don’t Be Put Off If A Lawyer Declines to Take Your Case
If the lawyer tells you that he or she doesn’t want to take your case, there’s no shame in asking why. It may be his or her judgment that your case isn’t strong. Additionally, lawyers are ethically bound to take on clients whom they feel competent to represent, and this might not be so with your case. If so, ask for a referral to someone he or she feels is qualified. Also, don’t allow one rejection to keep you from interviewing the other lawyers on your list. You don’t even have to tell them that you’ve spoken to other lawyers who have turned your case down.
Remember, It’s Your Case
Let each lawyer you interview know what your objective is. Do you want to settle quickly even if it’s for less money than you claim may be worth, or do you want to wait it out and hope to get a larger settlement offer or verdict?