In a recent blog post I highlighted steps that every accident victim should consider to help document their claims at an early stage (“I Was In An Accident, What Should I Do?“).
In that post, I emphasized the importance of hiring a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to take over complicated and important functions (including the investigation of your claim, putting the Defendants on notice and taking over communications with the other side). Hiring a lawyer can be a daunting task, especially for many victims who have never worked with personal injury lawyers.
In that regard, accident victims should know that almost all reputable personal injury law firms handle injury claims on a contingency fee basis, meaning there will be no legal fees payable unless your claims are successful.
Below are 10 things to consider when hiring a personal injury lawyer. These are my personal views only and there are certainly additional items that you may want to consider that are unique to your circumstances.
1. Ask Your Trusted Friends Or Contacts For A Referral
If you know someone who has been in an accident and worked with a personal injury lawyer then ask them for their advice.
As different lawyers/law firms handle different types of cases, try and speak to a contact who has suffered similar injuries to yours.
Anyone who has been through the difficult process will have learned a tremendous amount and will likely have plenty of information to share regarding the qualities that were valuable in their lawyer.
2. Look To Google Reviews And Other Review Websites
Take advantage of public review sites and read the law firm and lawyer reviews carefully. Shy away from those with a large number of poor reviews. If a lawyer does not have any reviews then you may want to ask to speak to their former clients to obtain references.
3. Find Out If The Lawyer You Are Meeting Is Going To Be The Lawyer That Handles Your Case
Some law firms will have a lawyer meet with you to persuade you to hire them and then turn over your case to a team of different lawyers and law clerks. This is NOT a recommended practice. The initial meetings with a lawyer should be used to build rapport and for you to determine which lawyer and law firm you want to work with for the duration of your case – which could mean the next 3 to 5 years or more. It will be impossible to make an informed decision if the person you are meeting with is not actually going to be handling your case. Also, if you are meeting with a lawyer who is potentially close to retirement then ask about their plans and be satisfied with how a transition would work if that were to materialize.
4. Consider Legal Awards But Do So With Caution
There is a bit of a “cottage-industry” forming around awards in the legal field. Barely a day goes by that I am not notified about some new award that I can apply for (sometimes with various fees attached). The proliferation of these awards means that some level of diligence is required if you are making this part of your consideration process.
There are certain objective metrics, like the Certified Litigation Specialist designation, that is bestowed by the Law Society that should be at the top of your list. There are other credentials of repute as well. However, rather than rank them by order of merit (I am not creating a ranking system of awards), I encourage you to simply consider any awards touted by potential lawyers with diligence if they are the basis of your final determination.
5. Meet With The Lawyer And Anyone Else Who Is Going To Be Part Of The “Team”
Most personal injury lawyers work with a law clerk and/ or legal assistant who will handle some of the day-to-day work regarding your claim. If you are meeting the potential lawyer to try and determine if there is a rapport, why not also ask to be introduced to the law clerk or legal assistant who will work with you day-to day?
6. Review The Retainer Agreement
A personal injury lawyer is inevitably going to show you their law firm’s retainer agreement. Assuming that you have agreed to a contingency fee agreement, you will want to ensure the agreement makes it clear that you will NOT be responsible for any of your lawyer’s fees unless the claim is successful. You will also want to ensure that the contingency fee percentage is fair and reasonable and is based on the ultimate settlement and not on interim benefits in the case of an accident benefits claim. There are other important aspects of the retainer agreement that need to be reviewed and which are beyond the scope of this article.
7. Ask Your Lawyer About Their Recent Trial And Arbitration Experience
The vast majority of personal injury claims do not go to trial, however, it is important that you hire a lawyer and law firm who are prepared to take your case to trial or arbitration if necessary. Some law firms simply do not have the resources to handle trials/arbitrations and will seek co-counsel down the road when a trial/arbitration is on the horizon. Insurers will be aware of which lawyers/law firms have the wherewithal and capabilities to take your case to trial/arbitration and that may impact how they approach your claim.
A law firm’s resources and history matter. A law firm with a longer history and greater resources will usually be better positioned to handle trials/arbitrations and their accompanying risks than say a start-up law firm.
You should ask potential lawyers/law firms when was the last time they went to trial or arbitration (i.e. have they done so in the past few years) as familiarity with current Court processes, including the advent of virtual trials, is important as the Courts adapt to the ongoing pandemic.
8. When Pursuing A Car Accident Claim Find Out How The Lawyer Will Address Statutory Accident Benefits
Unfortunately, significant time is spent on car accident claims dealing with disputes regarding accident benefits. Some lawyers prefer to handle the lawsuit claims only. Because lawsuit claims take several years to resolve, the first many months are often spent dealing with these various items. During this period a client is best served by a team with intricate knowledge of the accident benefits system and the ability to persuade insurers to make the “right” decisions at the outset so as to not delay treatment and recovery.
9. Be Wary Of Lawyers Who Provide “Guarantees” Or “Projections”
It is difficult if not impossible to project how any claim will unfold and the quantum of potential damages. The better your recovery the worse it will be for your claims (and that is a good thing) and rehabilitation should always be your first priority. Anyone who is suggesting that you will receive $X or $Y in potential compensation is performing more of a “sales function” than a lawyerly function (in my view) and you should be cautious of that.
10. Trust Your Instincts
At the end of the day, you should take into consideration the factors above (and others that might be unique to your situation) and make a decision using your best instincts and judgment. Once you have chosen counsel, place your trust in him/her and be patient as the legal process can be slow to unfold. Continue to ensure that you are being informed of developments in your case and be comfortable that you have hired someone who will be responsive and readily available to you as needed along the way.
Thomson Rogers offers free consultations so please feel free to reach out to us at any time. We are here to help.
Thomson Rogers partner Stephen Birman has been recognized as a Certified Specialist in Civil Litigation by the Law Society of Ontario and ranked AV pre-eminent in Martindale-Hubbell ®. Stephen’s practice focuses on personal injury litigation and class actions. You can reach Stephen at 416-868-3137 or by EMAIL.
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