Finding the right injury lawyer (or any lawyer) can be intimidating. Usually, people begin to search for an attorney AFTER they need one, either after they have been sued, after they are in a contract dispute, or after an injury.
Finding the right injury lawyer is especially problematic. In addition to the stress of needing a lawyer, you are also dealing with traumatic injuries. Also, injury law is not something that you can prepare for - you don't know what type of accident you are going to get into in the future. It is different than getting a general corporate lawyer under retainer.
Take a breath and remember the top three things to do when choosing an injury lawyer:
Research is the most important thing to do when choosing an injury lawyer.
Lawyers offer a service. Follow the same steps that you follow when making any significant purchase or business decision.
The first step in finding the right injury lawyer is to clarify the type of injury you have sustained. There are several types of injury law, including lawyers that specialize in car accidents, "slip and fall," or medical malpractice. We have a great article here that has more information on the different types of injury lawyers.
When you have figured out what type of lawyer you need, focus on finding the best specialist you can for your case. Car accident attorneys will not have the technical expertise required for a complicated medical malpractice case. Find a specialist that understands and can act on the nuances of your claim.
Ask your friends and relatives for lawyers that they have used in the past. Another source for referrals is your business contacts and professionals in your network. It is also important to broaden your search by using professional directories (like this one) to find options that are near you and possess the knowledge that you need for your case. There are quite a few different legal directories out there as well as State Bar Associations with searchable databases of injury lawyers.
Imagine a funnel. The wide end catches the most and "funnels" it down into the shortlist. Cast a wide net and make the most educated choice you can make.
How long has your lawyer been practicing law? Do they have a track record for success? Have they had a lot of cases in the area of injury law that applies to your needs?
Use search engines (like Google) to research the firm and its lawyers. Do they have good reviews? Do they have positive news coverage?
In addition to general searches, use the State Bar association for the state you are in to research potential lawyers. These directories will typically show the licensing status of the lawyer, date they were admitted to the bar of that state, and even their education credentials.
Matching Area of Expertise. If you have a medical malpractice claim, don't hire an attorney that specializes in traffic law. Narrow your search to the specialization you need and find the best lawyer in that specialization.
The Team. Lawyers in smaller firms might work by themselves or outsource some of the caseloads. Lawyers in larger firms may have an entire team of associate lawyers, paralegals, and support staff working on your case. Find out who is working on your case and is responsible for results. Remember, if you do a lot of work to research a specific lawyer because of their knowledge, that research work is wasted if they hand the case off to someone else in their firm.
Communication. A lawyer's job is to communicate. They present your case to judges and juries. They explain why you are involved in the case and what the outcome should be. They need to inspire and convince when they tell your story.
Additionally, your lawyer needs to be able to communicate with you. They need to explain your options and be open to questions. Most importantly, YOU need to feel comfortable talking with them.
Costs. Litigation is expensive. In your initial consultation, the lawyer should be able to outline the fees and expenses for your case. In cases with contingency fees, the percentage amount can vary by state and type of matter.
Professionalism. Does your lawyer present themselves professionally? Are they professional in their communication with you? Look at their office during your initial consultation. Does it look like they run a professional operation? If they don't look professional, odds are they are not professional. Would you expect your food to be clean in a dirty restaurant?
Local Experience. Local experience is a big one and the reason why most legal directories (or any directory) have some geo-location search function built-in. Your lawyer needs to be familiar with your area. If they work in your area frequently, they have developed relationships at the local courthouse, expert witnesses, and even lawyers on the other side. Lawyers with experience in your local area are up-to-date on local laws and the nuances of the legal systems in your area.
Local lawyers are also available for face-to-face meetings and consultations during your injury case.
Most lawyers offer a free initial consultation. Use it.
An in-person meeting can help you quickly evaluate the "fit" of expertise, personality, legal team, and professionalism. The lawyer will typically give you their "take" on the case and their general approach. Multiple interviews with several different attorneys give you ideas of the different methods and help you make the choice that makes the most sense to you.
Ask for references and take them with a grain of salt.
References are like resumes. Usually, a job-seeker will not put bad things on their resumes, nor will they give you contact information for unhappy clients.
Call all references and ask them questions that are important to you, such as the lawyer's professionalism, communication skills, and success.
As you narrow the list as it goes down your "funnel," dig deeper into the injury lawyer's background. There are sources online where lawyers rank other lawyers (Martindale Hubbell, for example). Use the Bar Association websites to see if the attorney has any complaints or sanctions from past bad behavior.
After all of the research, interviews, and background checks, you should have an idea of which injury lawyer is the best "fit" for your personality and your case.
If you get to the end of the process and still haven't found a fit, expand your "net" and start the process again. Choosing the right injury lawyer can be the difference between winning and losing. Take your time and choose wisely.