Most people will go through life without hiring a lawyer. If they ever get into a situation where they need one, they might not even know where to start.
But the lawyer you choose for your case can affect its outcome. An experienced, skillful lawyer can resolve your case faster and for more money than a less-effective lawyer can. The right lawyer can even take a marginal case and get you a fair settlement or award for damages.
Role of a Car Accident Lawyer
If the accident happened despite everyone driving with reasonable care, you probably don’t have a legal claim. If your negligence caused the accident, you likely don’t have a legal claim, but the other party might have a claim against you.
If another driver caused the accident through negligence and you suffered an injury, you can pursue a claim against that driver. In that case, you’ll need to hire a car accident lawyer.
Your lawyer must:
- Gather evidence to support your claim
- Develop a legal theory of liability that matches the evidence
- Present your claim with supporting evidence to the at-fault driver’s insurer
- Negotiate with the insurer to try to settle your claim
- Draft a lawsuit if the claim doesn’t settle
- Prepare your case for trial
- Present your case to a jury at trial
Handling this process requires organization and a variety of skills. The problem is that you can only measure a lawyer’s skills indirectly, using other factors to estimate their ability to handle your case.
You also need to look for someone you can work with. Some of the most common disputes between lawyers and clients arise because of fees and communication.
Here are 5 things you should consider before hiring a car accident lawyer.
Most skilled, successful lawyers have a lot of referrals and recommendations. When choosing your lawyer, you should give strong consideration to those who have positive recommendations.
Recommendations from former or current clients, lawyers, and judges carry a lot of weight. A client can tell you how well they worked with the lawyer and about the results of their case.
Colleagues and judges can tell you about the lawyer’s legal knowledge and skills. These recommendations are particularly helpful if the colleagues worked with or against the lawyer on a prior case.
Legal directories can also give good referrals. Directories like Martindale-Hubbell and Avvo use surveys and the lawyer’s background to rate the lawyer. These ratings provide a good estimate of the lawyer’s knowledge, skills, and ethics.
Consider online reviews with a skeptical eye, as they do not typically get screened. You won’t even know if the review came from a former client or a disgruntled adverse party.
Experience makes a difference in your case. An experienced lawyer knows how to deal with routine cases. More importantly, an experienced lawyer knows what to do if a case starts to go wrong. If a case has wrinkles, an experienced lawyer is better equipped to smooth them out.
Experience includes the years the lawyer has practiced car accident law. The more years a lawyer has practiced, the more cases the lawyer has seen. Lawyers with more years of experience know the law and have kept clients happy long enough to maintain their practices.
Experience also includes the lawyer’s prior handling of similar cases. Not every lawyer handles every type of case, and different types of cases require specific skills and knowledge.
They may also call for different types of expert witnesses. A lawyer who routinely handles car accident cases probably has a good accident reconstruction expert who can develop a rigorous analysis to withstand cross-examination. At the same time, the expert can present the analysis to the jury in a way the jurors can understand.
One of the most common disputes between lawyers and clients involves fees. You should carefully consider each lawyer’s fees before choosing one for your case.
Most car accident lawyers work on a contingency fee. Contingency fees depend on the outcome of the case. If you lose your case, you owe no legal fee. But if you win or settle your case, you will pay a percentage of your compensation to your lawyer.
Before you hire a lawyer, you should discuss this percentage. You should also discuss litigation costs — expenses paid by the lawyer on your behalf during the case. Find out whether you will need to reimburse the lawyer for litigation costs if you lose your case.
Another source of friction between lawyers and clients comes from communication. You should talk to the lawyer about your expectations for communication with the lawyer and the law firm. You should consider which lawyers will fulfill your expectations for information and updates about your case.
State bar ethical rules require lawyers to keep clients reasonably updated about their cases and respond to reasonable requests for information. But these rules leave some room for interpretation. Make sure you understand how often you will receive updates about your case and who else in the firm can give you information.
5. Disciplinary Record
State bar associations make their disciplinary records available to the public. Most have disciplinary records posted on their websites. Some require you to call the state bar.
In either case, a disciplinary record raises a red flag. Lawyers can overcome past rules violations and become stellar lawyers. However, you have to decide whether you want a lawyer with a checkered past handling your case.
Choosing a Car Accident Lawyer
The factors that go into choosing a lawyer will also include intangibles. Do you like the lawyer? Do you get along with the lawyer? Is the location of the lawyer’s office convenient?
You should not exclude any consideration that you find important. Unless you have deadlines in your case, such as an impending statute of limitations, you should take your time to pick a lawyer. If your claim takes a few extra days to file, it’s worthwhile to have the right lawyer filing it.
Brian White is the founder and managing partner of Attorney Brian White Personal Injury Lawyers, a personal injury law firm based in Houston, TX. With more than 45 years of combined experience, they have recovered millions of dollars for injured clients. Contact one of their three Houston offices and get a free consultation today.