7 tips for how to find a personal injury lawyer are:
- look for one who handles cases like yours,
- find one with lots of experience,
- ask about their case results,
- get a referral,
- interview several lawyers, not just one,
- choose one that you enjoy and trust, and
- get a fee structure that fits your needs.
1. What types of cases does the personal injury lawyer handle?
You should always find a lawyer who handles the particular type of case that you have. The law spans an extremely wide range of problems. Attorneys skilled in one area may have never handled a case in another. You will almost always fare better if you are represented by a lawyer who routinely handles cases like yours. They will know what to look for and what to expect.
This begins at a lawyer’s practice area. For example, if you get hurt because someone else was negligent and you want to sue them for compensation, you will want a personal injury lawyer. You will not want lawyers who primarily practice in:
- criminal defense,
- immigration law,
- business litigation,
- tax law, or
- corporate law.
Even within practice areas, there are often sub-fields. While it is crucially important to find a lawyer who is in the practice area you want, it is also important to find one in the right sub-field. They will know the particular nuances of this smaller field of practice, which can help you get a better outcome in your case. For example, within the field of personal injury law, you can find lawyers who focus on common issues like:
- car accidents,
- premises liability or slip and fall cases,
- class actions,
- dog bites,
- wrongful death claims,
- medical malpractice, and
- products liability.
Some sub-fields are extremely small. They involve very specific facts and issues. If your case is one of these, it can be wise to find a lawyer that has experience in these particular situations. Some examples include:
- lawsuits by crime victims,
- waterslide injuries,
- tanning bed burns,
- horseback riding accidents,
- swimming pool accidents,
- scaffolding accidents,
- ladder accidents,
- garage door accidents, and
- nursing home abuse.
Even within some of the larger sub-fields, you can find lawyers who specialize in very particular types of cases. For example, you can find motor vehicle accident lawyers that focus their practice on helping victims of:
- truck accidents,
- motorcycle accidents,
- rideshare accidents,
- bike accidents,
- pedestrian accidents,
- accidents caused by road debris,
- scooter accidents,
- accidents causing traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
Finding an experienced personal injury lawyer who regularly handles cases as similar as possible to your own is one of the best ways to maximize your odds of a successful outcome.
2. Does the lawyer have lots of experience?
You will also generally want a lawyer who has years of experience practicing the law. Only with years of experience practicing cases in your area do lawyers learn how to advocate for their clients in front of the judges that can hear your case.
It is best to have a lawyer who has decades of experience representing clients in cases just like yours. However, lots of experience in a bigger sub-field, like car accidents, can sometimes be more beneficial to you than fewer years in a particular type of case, like head-on collisions.
3. What are their case results?
You should also ask a personal injury lawyer about the results they got in similar cases. This can give you a sense of what to expect from this particular attorney.
It is very important to remember, though, that all cases are different. Cases that seem similar can still lead to very different outcomes. Even car accidents that produce identical injuries can lead to very different results if one victim was higher paid and suffered more in lost wages than the other. Even if both victims suffered the same amount of damages, the cases could still be radically different if one was partially to blame for the crash and the other was not.
However, in looking over a lawyer’s case results, you should also note how the case was resolved. Very, very few – only around 3 percent – go all the way to trial.1 All the others are resolved in some other way, usually through a settlement. However, you often still want to see that at least a couple of an attorney’s cases have gone to trial. This shows several things:
- the attorney is not afraid of the courtroom,
- if the lawyer does not get a good settlement offer, they will not end the case, and
- insurance companies and defendants will know that they have to be reasonable to stay out of the courtroom.
4. Was there a referral?
A good way to find a personal injury lawyer is to get a referral. If someone you know and trust recommends an attorney because they had a good experience with them and were satisfied with the outcome, that is something to consider.
Attorneys can also make referrals, too. They generally do this if they are not taking any more clients on, or if your case is not something they handle. On the one hand, some attorneys may only refer you within their network of friends who have passed the state bar exam. On the other hand, though, lawyers can have a far better idea of what a track record of success looks like in a fellow attorney. If their referral is based on the lawyer’s skills, it is usually more reliable than a referral by a non-lawyer.
If you were referred by an attorney, though, you should be aware that some referral fees may be permissible.2 This can influence a referral.
A negative referral is valuable, as well. These generally come from friends and family members who were dissatisfied with a lawyer’s legal advice. It generally will not come from attorneys who may have to work with that lawyer again in the future. However, it is important to remember that bad referrals can be a sign of unreasonable expectations. The person making a bad testimonial against an attorney may not have understood the process.
5. How many personal injury attorneys should you interview?
It is often a good idea to speak with several different personal injury attorneys before hiring one for your case. These lawyers should all be from different law firms. Interviewing more than one gives you the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of each before establishing an attorney-client relationship. You can also get a better idea of how much legal representation is likely to cost and what you get for the money.
If you only talk with one before hiring them to represent you during an accident case, you will have a poor understanding of your options. You will be more likely to end up with an attorney that you are not completely happy with.
6. Do you trust them and enjoy interacting with them?
Different people have different personalities. Finding the right personal injury lawyer often means finding someone that you like and trust. This is not strictly confined to the trial lawyer. Much of your communication during your claim will be with law office personnel and paralegals. You should also feel like you would get along with them, as well.
It is important, though, to not get completely caught up in the attorney’s likeability. Lots of lawyers have charm but not the ability to advocate on your behalf. A common adage is that it is better to go with someone you do not completely like but who you completely trust rather than someone you really like but cannot fully trust.
Deciding whether you trust someone is very difficult, especially when you only have a short interview or an initial consultation with a lawyer. A big aspect of trusting an attorney is having confidence that they can handle your case. Some things to consider looking for are:
- the attorney is able to answer simple questions simply, and explain why some of them are difficult or nuanced,
- when the lawyer discusses the law, it does not confuse you,
- he or she is not distracted or flustered without good reason,
- they are not rushing you, and
- they do not ramble, and instead talk with coherence and detail.
While these are just a few things to look for, deciding trustworthiness is more of a gut feeling.
7. What is their fee structure?
Another important factor to consider when picking a personal injury lawyer is their fee structure. Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. This means they get paid a portion of the settlement or verdict from the personal injury case. Most contingency agreements are for between 25 percent and 40 percent of the outcome.
Some lawyers use a sliding scale for their contingency attorney fees. They may receive a lower percentage if the personal injury claim settles early, and a higher one if it goes to trial.
Very few personal injury law firms require upfront payments. All of the best personal injury lawyers know that serious injury victims are not financially secure enough to pay upfront, and that they are seriously concerned about their medical bills.
If a lawyer works on contingency, pay attention to how legal fees are handled. Some lawyers pay legal fees for the personal injury lawsuit from the total award, and only then take their contingency cut. Others take the contingency payment and then deduct the legal fees from your portion, leaving you with slightly less.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report, “Tort Cases in Large Counties” (April 1995).
- See e.g., California Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 7.2(b).