1 BEFORE YOU HIRE A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER READ THIS EVERYTHING YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE HIRING A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER IS EXPLAINED IN THIS BOOK Hiring a lawyer is one of the most important decisions you can make on behalf of you and your family. For some people, hiring a lawyer may be a whimsical decision based purely on advertisements. For others the choice of who to hire is based upon research regarding the attorneys experience, skill, reputation and expertise in your area of law. How do you decide what lawyer is right for you? This book will share some key inside information that you should know before you talk to any personal injury lawyer. By knowing what to look for and what to ask, you can select the best personal injury attorney for you and your family. Consider this, do you think that the insurance companies evaluate attorneys they are up against? What do you think are the most important factors that an insurance company takes into consideration about your lawyer before they make an offer to settle your case? Insurance companies hate risk. They like to control all injury case negotiations. The one thing that causes them risk, and causes them to make higher financial offers faster is when your lawyer has the skill, education, reputation and track record of filing law suits and taking cases to trial. Any lawyer that won t take his cases to a jury is not much of a risk or a danger to any insurance
2 company. Sure, everyone hopes their case will settle without a fight. But wouldn t you agree that having a seasoned board certified civil trial lawyer is the best way to increase the risk to the insurance company and accordingly increase their offer of a fair settlement to you? Before you hire a lawyer, hire one that the insurance companies hope you don t hire because they are afraid they will have to pay you more money because your attorney really cares about his clients and will take them successfully to trial. Just because you hire a trial lawyer does not mean a suit will be filed, or that you will ever end up in trail. By hiring a trial lawyer, you improve the chances of your case settling sooner and for more value because the insurance company does not want to take the risk that your lawyer will turn down a low offer and just file suit and seek more than their insured s policy limits. Still not sure who to hire, then hire a lawyer that other lawyers send their clients and family to for representation. The referral source of an attorney tells you a lot about them. If other lawyers consistently send cases to a personal injury trial lawyer, you can feel confident that the lawyers know who is good enough for their clients, friends and family. When former clients send their friends and family members back to their lawyer after an accident, you know that they feel good about the lawyer's work and ability. WHEN SHOULD I SEE A LAWYER? The adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," is as true with legal matters as it is with regular medical checkups. Often we turn to lawyers as a last resort after the insurance company has made an offer or after a recorded statement has been given. This is a time when you must quickly find out who is the best lawyer for you. By doing a little online research you can quickly find the best lawyer for you. This book is designed to give you information you can use quickly to determine who will be the right lawyer for you and your family. This book explains the important differences between various lawyers and gives you a check list of things to find out before you hire any lawyer.
3 Good legal advice is one of the greatest preventative measures a lawyer can provide. It can not only save you money in the long run, but also save you from unpleasant difficulties later. Almost all personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee, which means they only get paid if they win your case. So, it does not cost you a penny more to hire the lawyer immediately and get the benefit his advice sooner rather than later. BEFORE YOU HIRE YOUR ATTORNEY MAKE SURE THEY HAVE: PUBLISHED USEFUL INFORMATIONAL BOOKS: Ask the lawyer how many books they have written on the area of law you are concerned about. Then if you read the book, ask yourself if the book is sort of a tease or if it really gives you good information, hard facts, and information that will help you understand the important issues in your case? Did the author want you to learn valuable information or just want you to call their office? DONE INSURANCE DEFENSE WORK: Has the attorney ever done the other side of law that you need help with? For example, have they ever represented insurance companies, the at-fault person, or big corporations that are trying to take away the right to a jury trial? If they did represent the other side, how long did they do so and why did they change sides. Make sure they still don't represent insurance companies. BOARD CERTIFIED CIVIL TRIAL LAWYER BY THE FLORIDA BAR AND THE NATIONAL BOARD OF TRIAL ADVOCACY: Look for a lawyer that is DUAL Board Certified by the Florida Bar and Board Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. An attorney that is dual board certified as a civil trial lawyer will be an excellent choice for you because they have demonstrated their commitment to the art of trying cases in front of a jury. They are truly an expert at being a personal injury attorney. What is the big deal about Board Certified Lawyers? Board certification recognizes attorneys special knowledge, skills and proficiency in various areas of law, professionalism and ethics in practice. Certification is the highest level of
4 evaluation by The Florida Bar of the competency and experience of attorneys in the 24 areas of law approved for certification by the Supreme Court of Florida. Established in 1982 by the Florida Supreme Court, board certification helps consumers identify specialists in various areas of law. Board certified Florida Bar members are the only Florida attorneys allowed to use the terms Board Certified, Specialist, Expert or B.C.S. for Board Certified Specialist when referring to their legal credentials. Only six percent of eligible Florida Bar members, approximately 4,600 lawyers, are board certified. Here is what the Florida Bar says: "No matter how much experience a lawyer might have, only Florida Bar board certified civil trial lawyers may call themselves experts or specialists in this area. Board certified lawyers: Evaluated for professionalism, tested for expertise. " "Board certification has the potential to be transformative in our profession. Florida Bar board certification is synonymous with the terms specialist and expert because of its high standards for professional excellence. Our board certification program is one of the finest in the country and helps the public identify lawyers who have been evaluated by their peers for experience, competence and integrity. Why Would A Lawyer Want To Become Board Certified? Board certification establishes an independent measure of competence, professionalism and peer acknowledgment, and helps clients and fellow lawyers set expectations for professional abilities. Board certification serves both prospective clients and counsel seeking to refer legal matters to an expert. Board certification can therefore help lawyers grow their practices with matters in which they best can utilize their expertise. Board certification provides an objective measure that a corporate executive, hiring partner, government official or other leader may justifiably rely upon when selecting a lawyer and explaining the choice to stockholders, clients, citizens or others to whom the leader is accountable. Board certification enhances the stature of a law firm or office, as tangibly demonstrated by lower malpractice insurance rates for certified lawyers. Board certified lawyers foster their firms' well-being and serve as role models.
5 Board certification demonstrates commitment for practitioners who vary their work styles from the traditional mode. Board certification is not just a personally satisfying professional milestone, it is an impetus toward investing energy and thought necessary for future growth and professional contribution. Because continued certification requires satisfaction of specific standards and peer affirmation others can be assured that the certified lawyer remains committed to excellence. Board certification recognizes attorneys special knowledge, skills and proficiency in various areas of law, and professionalism and ethics in practice. Board certified attorneys are the only Florida lawyers allowed to identify themselves as specialists or experts or to use "B.C.S." to indicate Board Certified Specialist. CHECK LIST OF THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR: DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS BY THE BAR: Lawyers who have had a disciplinary action against them should be avoided. How do you find out if the lawyer you are considering hiring has disciplinary actions against them? Go to the FloridaBar.org web site and enter the lawyer s name and find out for yourself. NOT MEETING THE ACTUAL LAWYER: Watch out if you don't get to meet with the actual lawyer you think you might hire. Watch out if you only meet and talk to an "investigator" or "case manager," and you don't meet with the actual lawyer you are hiring. LAW GROUPS: Watch out if the lawyer that you think you are hiring hands you a fee contract that says you are actually hiring a different law firm. When you see the words "Law Group," ask them, who exactly is in the "Law Group" You might be surprised to find out that even though you called one lawyer, they are signing you up to be represented by a totally different law firm. CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Ask the lawyer if they currently represent any insurance companies. Do they practice on both sides of the law? Or are they selective and only represent injured people? INSTABILITY: Ask the lawyer if they have been with the same firm for a long time. Ask how long the law firm been at the same address. Ask if they move their
6 office often. Ask them why they move? Ask them do they own their building or if they rent? PROMISES THAT NO ATTORNEY CAN KEEP: It is totally improper for a lawyer to make Any Guarantees about the success of your case. If the lawyer tells you that he can guarantee any result, be careful. FAST CASH PROMISES: Personal injury cases take time. It is reckless to settle a case too fast until you know the extent of your injuries. Promises of quick cash are highly unlikely. HIDDEN COSTS, CHARES AND EXPENSES: Make sure you know what costs you will be charged for. Watch out for the "Investigation Fee" that some law firms charge for getting the police report and calling to see if anyone will give them a statement. Look for charges for postage, copies, file opening fees, closing fees to close your file, and storage fees to store your file after it is closed, research fees and costs. Don't get gouged by these hidden costs. If the lawyer or law firm is vague about the costs they charge, ask them these simple questions: Will there be an investigation cost for getting the crash report? Will I be charged a cost for opening my file? Will I be charged a cost for storing my file when the case is over Will I be charged a cost for travel to go to the court that is in the same county as the attorney's office is? Will I be charged for every photo copy that is made during my case? What is the cost per page? Will I be charged for postage for every letter that is sent? Will I be charged a handling fee or administration fee? Will I be charged for faxes sent or received? Will I be charged for any meals? Will I be charged interest for the costs on my case? And if so, what is the interest rate and when does the interest start accruing?
7 Ask this question: "On the day I hire you, and you send me a letter about my case, am I going to be charged for the copy, the postage, and interest on that first letter welcoming to me to your law firm?" CAN T HANDLE TWO CASES IN ONE: Sometimes people have two cases stemming from one accident. If you have two cases, one from a car accident and one from, let's say, medical malpractice after the accident, and the lawyer says to you, "Well, I only handle the accident part, but not the medical malpractice part, so you might want to seek out another lawyer for the other part" ask yourself this question: Why have two different lawyers? Why would another lawyer want to take the harder case, when the other lawyer only wants the easy case? If you have two claims, and one is harder than the other, why not let the lawyer who can handle the hard case also handle the easier one? He might get you a better result. Think about this: if the lawyer can handle a complicated case, how do you think he will do with a simpler case? Also, if you have two lawyers handling different cases, each lawyer probably wants to argue your case in a different way and their legal theories may contradict each other, which could cost you more in the long run. THE LAWYER HAS FILED BANKRUPTCY: Check and see if the lawyer you are about to hire has ever filed for bankruptcy. SOLICITATION BY SOMEONE WORKING FOR THE ATTORNEY: Ambulance Chasers: Soliciting at hospitals at the scene of a crash is illegal. These people are more interested in earning some commission than they are in your well being. If anyone contacts you either in person, via mail, over the phone, or from an employee of a hospital or clinic immediately after your injury, get the person's name and document how they broke the law. Don't be a victim.
8 SOLICITATION: THE FLORIDA SUPREME COURT SAYS THAT A LAWYER CANNOT SOLICITE CLIENTS: The Florida Bar says that a lawyer cannot contact a prospective client by solicitation. They are not allowed to call you. They are not allowed to come to your house and meet you uninvited. They are not allowed to give you their card at an accident scene, they are not allowed to approach you at a hospital. They are also not allowed to do any of these things through another person. CAUTION: Did you get the name of the lawyer by someone at the scene of the accident suggesting you call someone or did they give you a card? Did they solicit you? If they did, it is a crime and unethical. SOLICITATION FOR CLIENTS IS A CRIME: Be aware that certain forms of solicitation may be prohibited under Florida Law: , Fla. Stat. forbidding the use of information from non-confidential police reports to solicit accident or crime victims or their relatives; , Fla. Stat. making it a misdemeanor for employees of hospitals, sanitariums, police departments, wrecker services, garages, prisons or courts, or for bail bondsmen, investigators, photographers, insurance or public adjustors to assist an attorney in soliciting legal business. WHO ARE THESE BIG TIME ADVERTISING LAWYER REFERRAL SERVICES? AND WHAT IS THEIR DEAL? You are the only person who should be choosing a lawyer to represent you, not some company or medical clinic that wants to bill your insurance company for your PIP benefits, a referral service that has unwritten agreements to send clients to certain lawyers, and those lawyers send them more patients. Some attorney referral services just give out the next name on the list. Any attorney can pay to be on the list to be part of a network even though they have never filed a personal injury suit or have never been to court. Lawyer advertising created new non-lawyer advertisers. These non-attorney spokesperson referral services such as 411-PAIN and ASK-GARY, claim to
9 have a referral network of the best attorneys and doctors. The criteria they use to determine who these attorneys are is pretty obvious: They are lawyers giving some form of compensation to the doctor-owned referral service. To become a member of 411-Pain, an attorney simply must pay a fee to join the referral service. Attorneys that are members of this referral service possess no special skills or qualifications as compared to the thousands of Florida personal injury lawyers who have chosen not to become associated with 411-Pain or these other referral companies. Lawyers who are closely related to groups of doctors, such as Ask Gary or 411 Pain, have a relationship with the doctors, in which the lawyers send clients to these doctor groups, and in return, the doctor groups send people who call their phone number to these friendly lawyers. Do you want to know why this might not be in your best interest? Well, there are a few reasons. First is that the medical side is highly motivated in a car accident case to get you as a patient because the Florida No-Fault PIP insurance is easy insurance money to collect. It is quite different than HMO or regular health insurance because it is not limited by any sort of contract rate. To help explain this a little more, most insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Health Care, have contracts with doctors and hospitals that limit what the doctors or hospitals can collect via contract. However, with PIP, or No-Fault insurance, there is no contract restricting what the doctors can charge. The PIP laws say that the doctors can receive 80% of their normal charges. While insurance companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Health Care may have a contract with hospitals, primary care physicians and other doctors that say that the doctor or health care provider can only receive 15% of their normal customary charges. So, this is an easy decision. Doctors that understand the PIP No-fault insurance would rather be paid 80% of their normal customary charges (which may be much higher than their brother health care providers are charging) than 15% of some contracted rate, so they jump on any chance to bill your PIP No-Fault insurance. So some lawyer referral services, aka Ask Gary and 411 Pain market heavily to get people who have been in a car accident as patients. And many lawyer referral services have deals or relationships with lawyers and law firms that if the lawyers will strongly suggest their auto accident clients should see certain doctors (Ask Gary and 411 Pain) then these referral services who make millions of dollars billing PIP and advertise to the
10 general public, will send clients to the lawyers who send them patients. Think about it this way: with PIP benefits being $10,000.00, per person, do you think that Ask Gary and 411 Pain would jump at the chance to make that kind of money and treat a patient? How do you think they can afford all of the marketing they do? What is their motivation? What is their goal? It is to get all the PIP money they can as fast as they can. Is this in your best interests? Not if you want high quality treatment to have a good chance at making a full recovery of your health. ONE OF THE DRAW BACKS OF A TRIAL LAWYER IS THAT THEY HAVE LASER-BEAM FOCUS ON THE CASE THEY ARE TRYING: Trial lawyers are busy as heck when they have a trial. A trial can last for one week, or go on for several weeks. They are in trial several times a year. They might not be able to meet with you immediately because they must keep their eye on the ball so-to-speak for the game they are in right now, which is the trial for their client that is in progress. But when they finish that trial, they are ready to fight for you. They want to call you, they want to meet with you, they want to answer your questions; however, they have to focus on the case at hand. And when your turn arrives, you can relax and know that they will be 100% focused on your case. You may want to meet with the trial lawyer, but he can't meet with you because he is in combat (trial). Here is the pledge that all serious trial lawyers will give you: when your case is going to trial, your case is the only case that matters and they will put aside all of the other cases to focus on yours. So, please be patient with the lawyer because he may be up to his neck in a mortal combat. When that fight is over, he will be very happy to sit down with you and make sure he understands your case. He wants you to understand what steps will be taken to move your case to a successful conclusion. And most importantly, when your case is going to trial, he will give you undivided attention because your case is the only one on his mind.
11 WHY YOU WANT TO HIRE A TRIAL LAWYER AND NOT A SETTLE YOUR CASE LAWYER: WHY YOU WANT TO HIRE A TRIAL LAWYER! Well, no one really wants to go to trial. Trials are fraught with stress, expense, and risk. So if someone said, "Hey, don't hire a trial lawyer because you don't want to go to trial," they are doing you a big disservice. Here is how and why: TWO SCENARIOS: Two identical cases, with the only difference being the lawyers SETTLE YOUR CASE LAWYERS: Lawyers who never go to trial are not much of a threat to the other side. Imagine if you are an insurance company and your job is a claims adjuster. You decide how much to pay injured people. Your goal is to pay as little as possible. So you have two similar cases, with similar injuries, similar liability and the only difference is the lawyer who represents the injured people. Let's assume that one lawyer settles every case, and the other is an experienced trial lawyer. So, as the adjuster who wants to save money, how should you pay these two identical claims (except for the lawyers). What will the lawyer who never goes to trial say and do if the insurance company only offers 50% of the value of the case? Well, assuming he won't file a suit, or won't go to trial, he has no leverage to increase the value of the case. So the lawyers only option is to encourage his client to take the low offer, or else the lawyer has to tell the client to hire another lawyer and get less or no fee. VERSUS: TRIAL LAYWER: Now in contrast to the lawyer who settles all of his cases and never files suit, the adjuster must decide how much to pay the injured victim with the lawyer who consistently files suit and takes them to trial. If the adjuster offers this lawyer the paltry 50% of the value of the case, this lawyer knows exactly what to do, he will file a suit and seek the full value of the case. So now the insurance company has to spend money on paying a lawyer to defend the case. Now the case just got a lot more expensive with the costs of the defense lawyer, and now they have to pay "Insurance Doctors" to examine the injured person, and pay the "Insurance Doctor" to come to court and testify that there is little or no injury.
12 Then the insurance company will likely end up paying the full value of the claim, and at the same time, incurs the additional expense of defending the case. So from a purely pragmatic standpoint, it is in the insurance companies best interest to pay the trial lawyer the fair value of the claim because in the long run it is cheaper. However, factor in that a jury may award full compensation for the injured victim. Now the insurance company has been forced to spend money on its lawyers, doctors and still has to pay the value of the claim. The insurance company will obviously value a person's claim much higher when that person has a lawyer who knows how to try a case and can win. So in these two scenarios, it is in the insurance companies best financial interests to pay the trial lawyers client a fair settlement to avoid the cost and risk of a trial. WHAT MAKES A LAWYER A GREAT LAWYER? They have very advanced skills, they teach other lawyers how to try cases, they do their own focus groups, they attend advanced continuing legal educational classes, they travel around the world to meet with, hire and depose the top experts in the world. What makes an athlete a great athlete? Time in the saddle. It is simple: the best fighter pilots are the best because they go into combat often and they get better with every experience. You want the same with your personal injury lawyer. So, what makes a lawyer good at settling a case? Well, settling lots of cases. But what happens when the settling lawyer is offered less money than a case is really worth? Do they say, Hey, this is not a fair offer, let me put on my combat boots, let me spend a lot more of my money for the legal costs to file a law suit, let s file suit and take the risk of losing, let me spend a lot more of my time with the client helping them answer interrogatories, preparing them for their deposition, talking to their doctors, let me forego the easy money I could take today and hope to recover more money later (when they are scared to file suit and scared to lose money and scared to do lots of things), do they tell the client we need to file suit and go all the way to a jury trial? Or do they call you and say, Well, this is the best we can do. I think you should take the money. Sorry, but this is all there is. Do they talk to you and explain why fighting will cost you more money in the long run?
13 Here is the straight scoop. It is hard to be a trial lawyer. It requires passion, dedication, courage, fortitude and a strong sense of leadership to face the adversity of billion dollar insurance company resources. But, as a trial lawyer, what I think is harder than fighting for my client, is the pain and the loss I see every day when lawyers just settle cases for less than they are really worth because they are either lazy, unskilled, or afraid to fight the good fight. Some lawyers are there to fight for your rights and others are more interested in helping themselves. Find a lawyer who is not only willing to help you fight for your rights, but who also has the required knowledge and expertise to do so successfully. A specific lawyer may really want to help you, but if they are not an expert in your area of personal injury, they may be more harmful than they are helpful. Personal injury lawyers who represent injured people do not defend against injury lawsuits, so make sure you choose the lawyer who only represents injured folks. You may ask why wouldn't every lawyer just try to be a "settlement lawyer" and just negotiate the best that you can and not take any risks or costs, or expend energy on a trial? Trial lawyers know that if they don't keep trying cases, then the insurance company will start lowering their offers to you. Like the frog in the pot of water on the stove. When you put the frog in the water it is okay, then you turn on the stove and it gets hotter over time, but the frog does not jump out and dies. So the trial lawyers know that the jury is the only risk the insurance company faces in a personal injury case. So, as a lawyer, if you are lazy, and just take the easy money, after time the money gets to be less and less. So, as a potential client, who would you rather be negotiating your settlement? A lawyer who is no threat to the insurance company? or the lawyer who fights for his clients rights and will go all the way if necessary? If you are a trial lawyer, you know that you better work hard to sharpen your skills and learn as much as you can to become excellent at trying cases. Because, if you are trying cases, and you are going to invest your time and money in your cases, you are going to fight extra hard to win the case, otherwise you will never make any money. The result of this hard trial work is the insurance companies know that if they don't settle your case, they will likely be facing a very talented trial lawyer in front of 6 jurors who will ultimately decide what fair compensation is. This risk of a fair jury is what motivates insurance companies to pay more to people who are
14 represented by skillful hard working trial lawyers than what they will pay to the settlement lawyers. FINDING THE RIGHT LAWYER FOR YOUR PERSONAL INJURY CASE: Part I -- INTERNET REVIEW OF THE ATTORNEY: Do research on the Internet first to narrow your choice to 3 prospective lawyers. Check out their web site and look for: What kind of website does the lawyer have: Is the web site an educational rescource to help the public learn more about the law and help them understand their rights? Does the web site reveal their dedication to the jury system and public service? Does the website show their committment to being a lawyer for injured people. HOW TO EVALUATE AN ATTORNEY WEB SITE -- Look for: Number of Years Practicing Personal Injury Law: Specializes in Personal Injury Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer: Nationally Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer: Awards and Distinctions: Quality of Website Content Quality of Books published Has been in the same office location for a long time Educational vs bragging web site Videos are high quality packed with information you can use.
15 Is the lawyer active in organizations that help people who have been injured, such as: National Trial Lawyers Association, NationalTrialLawyers.org American Justice Association, Florida Justice Association, FJA.org National Crime Victims Bar association, NCVB.org American Plaintiff Trucking Association, APITLA.com Look to see what courts the lawyer is admitted to practice law in: The Florida Bar The Middle District of Florida Federal Bar The Federal Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta The United States Supreme Court Washington DC Do your homework before you call a lawyer by visiting their web site. Look and see if the lawyers web site is full of valuable information to help you because that is a good sign. If the web site talks about all of their big verdicts and settlements and just says, "Call Me," maybe you should keep looking for a lawyer who offers valuable content rather than just bragging. Look on their web sites for books that they have written that are worth reading.
16 THE FIRST PHONE CALL WITH THE ATTORNEY: After reviewing the web sites and the books the attorney has written, it is time to make the first phone call. After you have narrowed down the list of which lawyer is right for you, call the lawyer and see if they will give you a free consultation about your case. They will usually ask you some basic information about your claim before they give you an appointment to make sure that you have the type of case they handle or if it is even a case. Then they will usually give you an appointment to come in and meet with the lawyer. THE FIRST MEETING WITH THE ATTORNEY: It is important to remember that in most first meetings with a lawyer, they usually do most of the talking and questioning. You, the prospective client, may be afraid to ask many questions or challenge the lawyer to test their ability to represent you. You should not be afraid to ask hard questions about the lawyer s experience and skill in the area of law you need help with. You might be nervous about asking questions because you think that your questions are somehow rude or impolite. You have the absolute right to ask any lawyer tough questions about their skill, experience, education, training and important issues about your case. You have the right to know all about your claim, the right to know how your claim will be managed, the right to know about every cost you will be charged, and the right to know about the lawyers experience and success in handling cases just like yours. You have the absolute right to know the answers to all of your important questions before you sign a contract and hire a lawyer. This book is written to help you ask the right questions before you hire a lawyer. You have the RIGHT to know! So, don't be afraid to ask tough questions: Ask the lawyer in the interview: What is your area of Specialization? Have you handled cases like mine in the past? Have you been all the way through a jury trial with a case like mine? What was the result of the trial that you went all the way? Were you the lead counsel in the trials you told me about? Who was?
17 When was your last trial like mine? What is your current case load? Will I be dealing with you or a non-lawyer? Do you have time to devote to my case? (do they have the manpower to handle your case?) What potential strategies would you use to win my case? (show me how informed you are about this situation. Can the lawyer give me a good in depth answer? Is my lawyer thinking about strategy or just getting me signed up?) How long do you expect my case to take? What can I do to improve our chances of winning? How will you keep me informed about the process of my case? Who else can I talk with if you are busy? How often do you go to trial? Have you ever taught any continuing legal education courses to other lawyers? Are you board certified as a Civil Trial Lawyer? By the Florida Bar? By the National Association of Trial Advocacy? Have you written any books about personal injury? Do you or your partners represent any insurance companies? STRATEGY OF PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS: Ask the lawyer about how prior accidents and injuries may increase the value of your case? If the lawyer tells you that the law in Florida says that pre-existing injuries and conditions can make your case more valuable, and not less valuable, then you should relax and tell the lawyer about all of your prior health problems. If the lawyer's strategy is to try and
18 deny or hide your pre-existing injuries, be careful. This is a warning sign that the lawyer does not really understand how the Florida laws are designed to protect us. STRATEGY OF TWO ACCIDENTS: This is a scary and unfortunate fact, that people who are involved in one accident seem to be involved in a second one. Ask the lawyer about the best way to handle two accidents. For example, what if you were involved in two car crashes? If the lawyer tells you the two accidents should be combined into one claim, then you are probably on the right track. Because if you settle one and not the other, then the one you did not settle, will blame the one you settled for all of your injuries. It is often a better strategy to bring a claim against both wrongdoers in the same suit so that they can point their fingers at each other and increase the value of your claim. If, however, the attorney says to settle one, then try to settle the other later, you may be in for a harsh surprise when the other case won't offer a fair value because they have decided to blame the accident you settled for all of your problems, damages, injuries and losses. POTENTIAL PROBLEMS WITH PERSONAL INJURY LAYWERS: Lack of knowledge and experience is a problem among personal injury lawyers. Make sure before you hire your personal injury lawyer that they understand the specifics of your individual case, that they specialize in personal injury, and that they have experience with your type of case in recent years. Poor service is another frequent issue. Filing a personal injury claim can be a very difficult and daunting task. Make sure your lawyer has the ability and resources to handle your case. Make sure they have the staff and ability to tend to your needs. THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO THAT WILL HELP YOUR CASE: TIME: Get a great personal injury lawyer quickly. Get your lawyer right away so he can gather any evidence or information to help prove your case. Since you are
19 paying a contingency fee, it costs the exact same to have a lawyer from day one, so why not get the benefit of their good professional advice earlier to avoid making any costly mistakes. WHEN TO HIRE A LAYWER? Sooner is better, same price? Costs for lawyers are all about the same (1/3 or 40%). So why not get a lawyer right away since it will cost the same. HONESTY: Always be honest with your personal injury lawyer. Don't withhold the truth. Don't hold anything back, even things that you think will hurt your case. Let the lawyer know everything up front so he can advise you to help deal with any problems. For example, many people down play their pre-existing injuries because they don't realize that pre-existing injuries make a case better, not worse. Ignoring them, hiding them, or forgetting about them can kill your case. CONFIDENTIALTY: Don't talk to the other side, or their insurance company without your lawyers help. Never give a recorded statement without a lawyer helping you. RESPECT: Look for a lawyer who treats you with respect and understands the importance of your case: one who specializes in the area of your specific claim and one who takes the time to prepare a good strategy that will improve your chances of winning your case. Hiring a lawyer is a big decision. The outcome of your case will be in your lawyer's hands. Choosing the right lawyer for the job can have huge consequences in your life. So, take the time and do the required research to choose the right lawyer for you. EVALUATING AN ATTORNEY: How many years have they been practicing law? When it comes to winning personal injury cases, experience definitely counts. It takes years of handling personal injury cases and negotiating with insurance companies before an attorney can understand the insurance industries strategies and tactics. Look for 10 years or more of experience in handling personal injury cases. After 10 years of personal injury experience, the lawyer has handled lots of cases with many types of injuries, legal issues, and strategies.
20 Specialized in Personal Injury: You should work with an attorney whose practice is 100% devoted to personal injury cases and law. Personal injury is way too complex for a generalist or part time PI lawyer to master. Look for a lawyer who goes out of their way to gain skill and experience in the area of personal injury: one who knows the law and the medicine involved in your case. Even if the lawyer has tried hundreds of criminal cases or other types of cases, they may be missing some of the subtleties and nuances that will come up in your personal injury case. A specialist is a lawyer who is board certified. Think about it this way: if you needed heart surgery wouldn't you want a cardiac surgeon rather than a general surgeon? Trial Experience: If you are thinking, "Hey, I don't want a trial lawyer, I don't need a trial lawyer, I want my case to settle and not go to trial," you are like most people. No one really wants to go to trial, not even the insurance company. If getting a fair settlement is going to happen, then it is important to hire an attorney who isn't afraid to go to trial: one who the insurance company knows can and will go to trial if necessary. Keep in mind that insurance companies are in the business of assessing risk. If they know your attorney does not go to trial very often, then they know their risk of actually going to trial and having a jury award a lot of money for the claim is very low. Since they see your lawyer not taking the case to trial, then your claim is low risk. This will cause the offer to be lower than if your lawyer were a specialist who aggressively tries cases because the risk of your case would be higher and insurance companies will pay more to avoid the bigger risks. Winning in Trial: Does the lawyer have the moxie, gumption and skills to win at trial? Does he have the internal fortitude to say to the insurance company "Hey, I think my client will do better than your offer, so let's get ready for trial" Has the lawyer ever won in trial? Has he gotten more than the policy limits at trial? How many times does he go to trial? When was the last victory? Trial skills are a crucial element for success. Many lawyers are just bad at trial. They don't know how to communicate effectively, they are not quick on their feet with arguments, and some lack the ability to be a good listener. A trial lawyer is in a pressure situation and he can't get flustered. The lawyer has to have excellent cross examination skills for taking on the defense witnesses. He needs to have skill, knowledge and finesse. There are many intangible skills that a great trial lawyer has to help build rapport with the jury and the judge.