The severity of the injury will answer that question. If you’ve had a traumatic amputation of your arm in the accident, you’re going to be seeing your doctors long before you see an attorney. If it’s a sprained knee or a sprained neck or something of a lesser nature, then the client can decide if they want to call the attorney first or go see their doctor. Most people, 80 to 90 percent, go see their doctor first. It doesn’t matter to the attorney but that’s just a personal choice of the client. Once they get their medical treatment going, then the sooner they call the attorney the better.
What are the Qualities of A Good Personal Injury Attorney? What are Some Red Flags?
You want somebody with experience. Whether it’s a big case or a little case, why not have somebody with experience rather than someone without? You want a lawyer who can afford to litigate your case. Cases are expensive. On our bigger cases, we may have $50, $100 to $200,000 in costs on those cases. The attorney has to be able to finance that to help the client. The only way a client can know that is to have that discussion with the attorney and keep their eyes open. You can look at their offices, and if they appear to be somebody that can finance the case and they tell you they can, then I would believe it. If they look like a homeless person and give you an evasive answer, then that may be another answer. It’s important to choose someone with experience who can afford your case.
It should be somebody you can talk to, communicate with. If I explain something to you and I get done and you walk out of the room and say, “I have no idea what he was talking about,” then I’m the wrong guy for you. You also want somebody with trial experience. A lot of attorneys handle PI cases and never go to court and their settlements are lower than people who do go to court. You can ask them what their trial experience is. Those are the qualities you’d look for.
As for the red flags, you can look up any attorney in California on the State Bar website. At the bottom of their profile, that will discuss any disciplinary proceedings, and I would stay away from the ones that have had disciplinary proceedings. I suppose the second-half of the answer about the red flags is the opposite of everything I just told you on the qualities. If they don’t have an office, if they don’t have a secretary, if you call them three times and they don’t return your calls, if you don’t know what the hell they’re talking about when they explain something to you, if you don’t like them, then those are red flags to me.
If Someone Has Apprehensions About Hiring a Lawyer Because they Don’t Know How a Lawyer Gets Paid, How Would You Explain it to Them?
The buzzword, the term, is Contingent Fee. If we don’t get you money, you don’t pay anything. California requires that we all do that the same way, so if you settle a case for $100,000, the attorney recoups any out-of-pocket expenses the attorney has paid, deposition fees, court filing fees, expert fees etc. Let’s just assume there’s $10,000 in costs; the $100,000 is reduced to $90,000 because the fees come off the top. Then you split the $90 according to your fee; a third goes to the attorney, two thirds goes to the client. They’re never at risk of paying any costs or fees to the attorney unless there is a successful settlement or a verdict.
What are Examples of Risky Cases That May Not be Worth Pursuing?
A small injury on a products case! Let’s say you get into an auto accident and the airbag doesn’t go off and you want to sue the car manufacturer because their bag didn’t work. Your case is worth 5, 10, $20,000; that’s a case you might spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars in costs on pursuing it. So it would make no sense to pursue it. Very small accidents are difficult, $200 in property damage, $400 to $1,000… the smaller the property damage, the smaller the cosmetic damage to the car, the harder it is to get money out of the other side. We can get money out of them and sometimes we get good money, it depends on the injury and the case, but those are ones that the attorney would look at very closely before taking.
If the client comes to us and says, “You’re the fourth attorney I’ve had, would you, please, take my case,” that is a big red flag. Sometimes clients have unrealistic expectations or they’re very difficult to deal with, so the attorney would look long and hard at why you didn’t get along with these other attorneys. Slip and fall, trip and fall cases are probably harder cases to win. Statistically, we lose a big percentage of those. When a slip and fall case comes in, it’s something we’d look at very closely before agreeing to take. It’s always easier to take a risk on a big injury case than it is a small injury case because the rewards are going to be bigger.
Do Clients Ever Get Hesitant or Discouraged Due To a Prolonged Case?
Most clients are hesitant and most get discouraged at one time or another in a lawsuit, that’s normal. The better educated the client is – I don’t mean schooling, I mean the attorney educating the client as the case moves along – the less fear there is and the less anxiety for the client. In our world, in the attorney’s world, a case that moves along and is resolved in two or three years is moving very quickly. To the client, it seems like an eternity. If you explain to the client that there are certain things that we have no control over, such as when the court sets a motion, when a court sets a status conference, when a court sets a trial date or a settlement conference date… those are things out of our control. If the client understands that, it reduces the frustration.
There may be times in a case where a doctor doesn’t help a client, testifies adversely or a fact comes up that is adverse to the client, and a client could become dejected over that and maybe properly so. At times, maybe something comes along that ruins their case, but they’re always better off knowing than not knowing. When there is a setback in a case, what we do is we look to see how we can disprove that, how can we get around that issue and how can we overcome that problem. It comes back to communication. Some clients are not risk-takers and some are extreme risk-takers and then there’s everything in between. Depending on the client, their frustration and their fear factor will vary.
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