What to Expect When Meeting With a Personal Injury Lawyer
Let’s be honest: for most people, having to call a lawyer is usually an uncomfortable thought. Some people worry about the expense. Some people feel intimidated. Some people don’t know what to ask. These are all normal and common things to feel when you need to contact a lawyer about an injury or fatality case. This article is designed to give you a starting point for how to make a first call and get ready for a first conversation about your case.
The most common complaint received by the Law Society of Upper Canada (the regulatory body that oversees all lawyers in Ontario) is poor communication and, in particular, unreturned phone calls. You should expect that any good lawyer will be responsive to your initial call and, if you have to leave a message, will respond to you in a timely way. You should expect that most lawyers would prefer to meet in person and may be less willing to discuss all the aspects of your case in detail over the phone (sometimes that can’t be avoided, however, for practical reasons). In my experience, ‘laying eyes’ on one another is an important part of making a decision about whether to hire a particular lawyer.
In a first conversation, lawyers will often need to complete a conflict check in order to determine whether any other person involved in your accident is already a client of the firm in some way. These conflict checks are usually completed quickly using a computer data base. Having your Motor Vehicle Accident Report handy, in the case of a car, truck or motorcycle accident, which sets out the names and insurance companies of the other vehicles involved, is very helpful to making these conflict checks go smoothly. Don’t sweat it, though, if you do not have access to this report – the lawyer you are calling should be able to help you obtain it quickly.
Good lawyers will bring up the issue of legal fees and explain them in a straight-forward, easy-to-understand manner. If he or she cannot do so, I suggest calling a second lawyer. The fact is that most injury lawyers work on what is known as a contingency fee basis. This means that the lawyer cannot charge a legal fee unless or until he or she resolves your file (either through settlement, arbitration or trial). If there is no resolution, a contingency fee agreement means that there can be no legal fee charged. Good lawyers will have a typewritten Retainer Agreement to review with you that will plainly set out the amount of the fee and any additional charges that may apply.
Have you ever heard the expression that the ‘wheels of justice grind slowly’? Well, it’s true. Unfortunately, civil lawsuits do not move quickly. There are lots of reasons for this – including a chronic shortfall of judges and court staff – but the fact is that a serious injury case will take years, and not months, to resolve. Lawyers need to explain these timelines in an understandable way and be prepared to answer your questions that are specific to your circumstances. Good lawyers will tell you what you need to hear, and not just what you want to hear.
Providing Case Estimates
One of the most common questions I get asked in a first meeting with a client is how much I think the case might be worth. Good lawyers will be reluctant to put a specific value on a case in a first meeting. Answering this question is a bit like guessing at the answer to a Wheel of Fortune puzzle without having any of the letters turned over! Once the building blocks of a case become set in place, then it is more realistic – and reliable – to start assessing a value to the claim. Age, physical limitations, employment and housing issues all bear directly on the value of any case. If a lawyer offers you a value for your case without seeing a single medical report, employment document or investigation summary, beware!
You should ask your lawyer about his or experience in handling your case. How long has the lawyer been in practice? How many similar cases has the lawyer handled? Does your lawyer have courtroom experience? Does your lawyer participate in continuing legal education opportunities? Does your lawyer practice other types of law – or not? Does your lawyer offer references from former clients that you could consider contacting as part of your decision making process? Just because your lawyer is ‘a lawyer’ doesn’t necessarily mean that they are superbly qualified to handle your case. Experience, training and reputation matter!
Meet the Team
I am not aware of any injury lawyer who works alone. Law clerks, paralegals, legal assistants and associate lawyers are typically all part of the team that will work on your file. It’s important to be able to meet these team members when you are considering whether to hire a lawyer and to have a gut instinct on the full roster of legal talent that will assist you.
Hiring the right lawyer for your case is a big deal. Any well-qualified, competent lawyer should make you feel comfortable in a first conversation, answer your questions plainly, and be transparent about legal fees and expenses. Trust your gut instincts. Ask questions.