Everything You Need to Know Before Hiring an Injury Attorney
If you have been injured in a wreck or slip and fall, and are considering handling your claim yourself, please read on for some information that is important to your decision.
You may be thinking about negotiating your own claim because you want to avoid paying an attorney. However, not hiring an attorney can cost you far more than what an attorney would charge for his or her services.
Many people who contact us to ask legal questions have concerns about the cost associated with talking to an attorney. A lot of the time, people are wondering whether it will cost them money to talk to an attorney. They also wonder how much it will cost them if they decide to hire an attorney.
Will It Cost Any Money To Consult With You About My Case?
In our firm, the answer to the first question is easy. It will not cost you any money to talk to us or meet with one of our attorneys. We have attorneys who specialize in representing the injured and disabled in personal injury, workers’ compensation, veterans’ disability and Social Security disability claims. In all of these types of cases, we provide free consultations.
Do I Have To Pay Anything Up Front If I Decide To Hire You?
Regarding the second question of how our attorneys are paid, we almost always agree to work on a case based on a contingency fee agreement. In case you are not familiar with this term, a contingency fee agreement means that the only time you pay us is when we succeed in recovering money for you. We have found that there are at least three reasons that this type of attorney’s fee agreement is good for our clients:
- You do not have to pay us any money up front to start working on your case
- You do not have to pay us by the hour or by the job as we do work on your case
- You do not have to pay us an attorney’s fee at all unless we are successful in recovering money for you on your case.
We believe that working on a contingency fee gets better results for our clients because they only have to pay us if they win. Also, it allows us to help you out even if you do not have the money to pay us at the time you hire us. You can hire us now so we can work for you and pay us later if we are successful on your case.
If you have any additional questions about free consultations or attorney’s fees, please feel free to give us a call or e-mail us by completing the “Need Help” form on the right side of this page. To read more articles from our Perkins Law Talk blog, simply click here.
You may be thinking that you will start the negotiations on your own and get an attorney involved later if you can’t resolve the case. This is a dangerous strategy. Negotiating the case on your own can significantly limit what an attorney can do for you later. Once you tell the insurance company the amount you will take to settle your case, it is almost impossible to take it back without providing some additional evidence. Even if you hire an attorney later, you will be at a significant disadvantage.
Insurance adjusters receive training on how to negotiate claims. They learn the insurance companies play book for negotiating claims. The first play in that playbook is to delay. The insurance companies know that if you aren’t represented by an attorney, every day that goes by is to their advantage. They are hoping that eventually, if they stonewall you long enough, you will get to the point that you will accept their low offer to settle your claim.
I recently had someone come into my office about a year after being involved in a car wreck. He had been negotiating with the insurance company, but was getting stonewalled. He had already given the insurance company a reasonable settlement offer but the insurance company was offering him only a few hundred dollars for his claim.
Insurance companies are in the business of collecting insurance premiums, not paying claims. Insurance adjusters are trained to pay as little as they possibly can on claims. To make sure you are treated fairly when you are injured, you owe it to yourself to at least know your options before you decide how to handle your claim. Perkins Law Firm will provide you with a free consultation with an attorney who specializes in personal injury claims and is experienced in dealing with insurance companies. We’ll tell you about all of your options for handling your claim. If you don’t need a lawyer, we’ll tell you that too.
If you would like to find out more information or get a free consultation, you can simply complete the “Need Help” form on the right or call the phone number at the upper right of this page.
Why Do Lawyers Advertise?
Advertising messages have been found dating back to the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. Making people aware of your business is a necessary first step to being able to perform a service for them. Advertising wasn’t as necessary years ago as it is now. Communities were smaller and there were fewer providers of goods or services. If you needed a dentist, there was probably only one, and you knew about him by reputation. Merchants were located in the town square or community center. Everyone knew who they were, what they did, and where they were located. As populations and communities grew, businesses spread over a broader area. It was harder to find who all was out there providing the goods and services you need.
Newspapers first came up with the concept of paid advertising. Newspapers were already printed and circulated among the public. If newspapers could make money selling ads as well as papers, they could lower prices to subscribers, thus increasing the number of papers they sold. Once the first business started paid advertising, it was only a matter of time until others joined in. Now we have advertisements in newspapers, on radio, on television, billboards, the internet, and on and on.
Advertising in itself isn’t a bad thing. We like knowing what businesses are out there and what they offer us. But advertising something as important as legal services in injury and workers’ compensation claims should be done with complete honesty and care. That’s why the State Bar of Georgia, which governs all aspects of lawyers’ behavior (including advertising), has rules lawyers are supposed to abide by in our advertising. The Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.1 provides:
- A lawyer may advertise through all forms of public media and through written communication not involving personal contact so long as the communication is not false, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading. By way of illustration, but not limitation, a communication is false, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading if it:
- contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;
- is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct or other law;
- compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services unless the comparison can be factually substantiated…(Emphasis added).
If an advertisement by a Georgia lawyer seems to violate one of these that should be a red flag to you. You don’t see many ads that violate the first or the third standard because those ads would be easy to spot. Most advertising that I have a concern about are ads that I think violate the second standard.
Too Good To Be True?
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” You’ve heard that old saying. And you probably know, like I do, that it is a wise old saying.
I think some lawyer advertising in Georgia, especially some you see on television in personal injury and workers’ compensation claims, creates an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve. You know the ones, where the person is standing in front of a picture of a horribly wrecked car; the person looks great; and she says “This is my car. Lawyer X got me $250,000.00.” and over to the side in small type it comes on the screen ─ just for a second ─ “Fatal injuries.” We aren’t meant to pay attention to that quick disclaimer. The advertisement wants us to see someone who looks great AND got a wallet full of money.
Folks, it just doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t.
Almost everyone who comes to see me about representing them in an injury claim tells me that they don’t want anything they don’t deserve. I respect that, and I tell them they will be lucky to get what they do deserve. Contrary to what we hear on TV, juries are not routinely awarding outrageous verdicts to plaintiffs. And insurance companies sure aren’t in the business of giving away money. So whether your personal injury case is settled or taken to trial, recovering what you are entitled to will take a lot of hard work on the part of a lawyer who knows you and your case (See my blog entry “How Much Is Your Personal Injury Case Worth?” to get an idea of all that is involved in valuing your case). Every case is different and must be assessed on its merits.
Hiring the right lawyer from the get go is so important. Considering the lawyer’s advertisements is fine and may be helpful, but you should not make a hiring decision based on that alone. Before you hire a lawyer, talk to her. I tell people when they come in to have their free consultation with me that I don’t assume because they are there that they have decided to hire me, and I haven’t decided until we’ve talked whether I think their case is one I think I can help them with. In my next article in this series, I will talk about what can happen with your case if you do not hire a good lawyer.
Can I Fire My Lawyer?
It may be really tempting to think that rather than do your homework before hiring a lawyer you’ll just take a chance that the lawyer promising he can make you rich really can. After all, if it doesn’t work out, you’ll just fire him and hire someone else.
It’s typically a little more complicated than that. Can you terminate your lawyer in Georgia? Yes you can, but he may have already done things that affect the ability of the next lawyer you hire to recover what she thinks the case should be worth. Here are some examples of what I’ve seen when people called me after firing their original lawyer.
Rather than the client seeing a doctor of her own choosing, the lawyer sends the client to a chiropractor or doctor who runs up a big bill but has not thoroughly diagnosed the client or effectively treated her injuries. It is very important to get good medical treatment from the start of your case. You may have been having symptoms of some serious injury, but if those symptoms haven’t been properly treated and documented, it can be very difficult to prove that the injury was caused by your accident.
Also, many times the first lawyer has already been negotiating settlement the case with the insurer and offered to settle the case for less than I think it is worth. Have you ever heard the saying “You can’t un-ring a bell.”? When your lawyer starts talking dollars and cents to an insurer, he’s rung a bell. It’s very difficult for me to ever get an insurer to voluntarily pay more than a previous lawyer offered on a case. It’s very frustrating to review a case that I feel certain could have been settled with the insurer for considerably more than the previous lawyer offered. While that may can be fixed by going to trial, filing suit and going to trial in a personal injury case in Georgia involves risk, usually several thousand dollars in expenses, and a lot of stress on the client.
Finally, changing lawyers mid stream can give the insurance company the impression that there is something wrong with a client’s case. This is true even if it’s the lawyer who is the problem.
I’ve had lots of calls recently from people who already have a lawyer representing them in their Georgia personal injury case but are not happy with that lawyer and want to change. I tell these folks that since they are currently represented it is not appropriate for me to give advice concerning their case, but I do tell them generally my thoughts about changing lawyers.
- I’m not in favor of firing your lawyer without a very good reason. Sometimes, there are good reason to fire your lawyer. However, it is not typically a good reason to fire your lawyer if you just do not like your lawyer’s opinion about the value of your case when your lawyer explains it to you. On the other hand, it could be a good reason if your lawyer can’t or won’t explain to you how she arrived at that value.
- Like everyone, lawyers only have so many hours in a day. Your lawyer may not get things done as quickly as you like, but if he or she is working on your case, be patient. While it’s certainly alright to inquire what work is being done, be reasonable in the number of times you call. If every client called us every day for an update, we would never get anything done.
- Don’t fire your lawyer until you are sure that is the right decision. You may not find another lawyer who will take the case. I think the better course of action is to tell your current lawyer that you are not happy and that you want a copy of your file so you can get another opinion about whether what your lawyer is telling you is the best course.
- Before you fire your lawyer, I believe it is very important to ask for a face to face meeting to discuss your dissatisfaction. If you can’t get a face to face meeting, that may also be a sign you need to change.
While firing your lawyer may be what you need to do, it is very important not to make a rash decision. There is no reason to rush into hiring a lawyer. Don’t hire a lawyer on impulse because he has a flashy personal injury ad or makes big promises to get you a wallet full of money for your injury.
Do Your Homework: Things To Consider When Hiring A Lawyer
Hiring a lawyer to handle your injury or disability claim can be one of the most important decisions you ever make. Here are some tips to help you go about making a decision you can be confident about.
- Look for someone with experience in the area you need. Law is like medicine; it’s complicated, and many lawyers specialize in a specific area of the law so they can develop more expertise in that area.
- Check the State Bar of Georgia website. Go to www.gabar.org and search for any lawyer by name. All lawyers licensed to practice law in Georgia must be members of the State Bar of Georgia. Click on the lawyer’s name, and you will see the lawyer’s contact information; where she attended law school; how long she’s been admitted to practice; and whether she has any disciplinary history. If there is a disciplinary history on file, click on that to see what the lawyer was disciplined for. You can also call the State Bar of Georgia at 800-334-6865 and ask for information about the lawyer, including disciplinary history.
- Ask around. Does the lawyer have an established law practice in the community and a reputation in the local community for working hard and communicating with her clients? If people who have hired that lawyer tell you they weren’t able to talk to the lawyer when they asked to, that should be a red flag. Certainly there are times your lawyer isn’t going to be able to talk to you right when you call, but she should return client calls and be available to talk to you in person, if necessary. If folks tell you they had to go get all their medical records and bills and do all the footwork on their case, that should cause you concern as well. In my opinion, that’s part of the work the lawyer’s office should do.
- Thoroughly review the lawyer’s website. Learn what you can about the lawyer, her firm, her staff and her experience.
Ask the lawyer’s office if, when you come in to hire the lawyer, you will meet with the lawyer. I expect to sit across the desk from a client who wants to hire me in a personal injury claim and get to know him and him know me. In fact, we spend 3-4 hours with clients when they come in to hire us. Be wary of anyone who will meet you at a doctor’s office to have you sign a contract or even who has you come to their office to sign a contract but will not spend time with you learning about your case and answering your questions. If they won’t meet with you when you hire them, what kind of service can you expect after they have your case?
- Ask the lawyer if she and her office will be doing the work on the case or if they will be having another firm involved. If another firm will be involved, you need to know about them as well, because you are in effect hiring them too.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is probably the first time you have ever had to deal with this sort of situation and you probably have a lot of questions. You are entitled to get an answer to any question you have before you hire a lawyer. I’ve had people ask me some things I never imagined might be important to a person hiring a lawyer, but I answered the questions since they were obviously important to the person asking them. You are entitled to that.
Lawyer advertising may be a good place to start your search for the right lawyer. But it should never be the sole basis for your decision. Your injury or disability claim is too important.
Can you talk to an Attorney about Your Case?
Even in our office, you aren’t going to talk to your attorney every time you call. There are legitimate reasons that good firms have you talk to a paralegal sometimes. Many times your issue can be adequately handled by an experienced paralegal. That frees up the attorney’s time to work on matters that only an attorney can work on.
What bothers me is that I talk with people who hire a law firm to handle their case but they never get to talk to an attorney. The client always deals with a “case manager” or paralegal. In my opinion there are several times that the client must be able to talk with the attorney:
- At the first appointment. The law firm and attorney are who you are hiring. You deserve to meet your attorney face to face. You deserve to decide if you like that person and are comfortable hiring her and her firm to work for you. And during that first meeting you will undoubtedly have questions that are appropriate for only an attorney to answer.
- If you have questions about your medical treatment. Getting the best medical treatment in order to recover as well as possible is critical to our clients. There are times a client needs help understanding how to effectively communicate with his medical provider; or the client has insurance but the medical provider wants the client to pay up front; or the client is dissatisfied with the treatment he is getting and wants to change medical providers. Anything as important as your medical care justifies your attorney’s time.
- When you are discussing settling your case. When to try and settle and how much your case is worth are important discussions concerning your case. I question the quality of work an attorney does if she doesn’t want to be the one to talk to you about those decisions and answer questions you have.
- Whether to accept an offer on your case or to reject it and file suit. This is where the rubber meets the road. If you decide not to settle, you will enter into the litigation process. While litigation may be the right choice, there are lots of factors to consider, and only an attorney should be helping you make that decision.
- Anytime you want to talk to your attorney. Sometimes, even though the client feels confident talking to my paralegal, the client wants to talk to me. Maybe it’s to know I’m on top of the case or to verify something my paralegal has told the client. Clients have the right to talk to their attorney anytime they feel they need to. Sometimes a client asks to talk to me, and after we talk I realize it’s something my paralegal could have handled. That doesn’t matter. If the client feels he needs to talk to me – for whatever reason – that’s ok.
An attorney who doesn’t either have the time to or want to talk to her clients is too busy to handle a case effectively or not interested enough in the client to deserve being hired. Before you hire a law firm to represent you, it is absolutely legitimate to ask at what points in the case you can be sure you will talk to your attorney, and whether you will be allowed to talk to your lawyer when you feel you need to. If you don’t feel 100% comfortable with the answer, talk to some others attorneys.