It is difficult to know where to go when you need the help of a personal injury lawyer.
In this article, we are going to give you a few tips about what you should look for in a personal injury lawyer and cover some of things you should consider when you have your first consultation.
(1) Choose a specialist
Our first tip is to find a lawyer who specialises in your type of case. If that is a motor vehicle accident, go to a motor vehicle accident specialist. If you have a medical claim, you need to see a medical negligence specialist. Many firms will tell you that they do all types of claims. There’s nothing wrong with that but you should check that they have sufficient experience in your type of claim to do a good job. Generally the major categories for personal injury claims will be:
- workplace injuries
- motor vehicle injuries
- medical negligence
- public liability
- product liability
Fit out where your claim fits and do some research. You can use the specialist lawyers directory at www.nichefirms.com.au or telephone your local law society for a referral to lawyer or law firm in your area.
(2) Get your first consultation free and shop around
A lot of law firms and lawyers offer the first consultation free. Take advantage of this, but be careful to check the fine print. Some firms give you the first 20 or 30 minutes free, but then charge you for the balance of the time you spend with them. Book a few consultations and see which firm or lawyer you feel more comfortable with. Don’t feel pressured to ‘sign up’ straight away. Closely observe the communication style of the lawyer of you meet with and the way in which he or she listens to you and explains the aspects of a claim. Does he/she answer your questions directly? Does he/she explain himself or herself clearly? Does he or she seem relaxed or confident or is he or she ‘too busy’ to properly deal with your enquiries? Make sure you ask about how much experience the firm has in your type of claim, and ask which lawyer at the firm will be handling your claim. Lawyer/client communication is very important and you should be able to ‘get along’ with your lawyer well.
(3) Work out what your expectations are
What are you hoping to achieve with your claim? At all times, your expectations as to compensation should be realistic. Claims in Australia rarely return the millions of dollars seen on television. When meeting with your potential lawyer, ask him or her to place an approximate range value on your claim. Be sure to let them explain their reasoning and listen carefully. Make sure that you understand the key factors affecting your claim and, at the end of the consultation, have an idea about what a realistic or acceptable outcome would be. This is important going forward, as both you and your lawyer will need to agree on a ‘settlement goal’ for your claim. If you are not happy with the first opinion you can always get a second. Remember that sometimes you will need to wait for further reports and/or documentation before it is possible to estimate the value of your claim.
Legal fees are a very important consideration when choosing a firm. Usually you will be given some costs disclosure information at the first consultation which will tell you how you will be billed. Typically you will be charged at an hourly rate, divided into six minute blocks. In a personal injuries claim, the first question you should ask is whether your fees will be deferred or whether you will have to make regular payments. Many firms will offer you a deferred fee arrangement. Ask about the details of the arrangement. Will all or some of the fees be remitted if you do not receive any compensation? Also, does the arrangement have any special conditions. For instance, most lawyers will – if you want deferred fees – require that you accept any reasonable settlement offer made by the other side, even if you think you could get more at trial or are not happy without the amount offered. Some firms may, in certain circumstances, offer you an ‘advance’ on your compensation to help you get back on your feet. Again, make sure you understand the details of any advance arrangement.
You should also ask about the other fees or outgoings needed for your claim. Lawyer’s fees will not be only expense incurred in your claim. Often you will have to pay other experts (doctors etc.) to assess your injury and, if necessary, provide expert evidence. Who will pay for the report? Will you have to pay up-front, or will the firm add it to your bill? Some firms do not include the cost of experts in their deferred fee packages.
The last issue is costs. If you go to court and are unsuccessful, you may have to pay the other side’s legal costs. Sometimes this can be very expensive. Make sure you ask about this possibility and explain to your lawyer that you want to be updated on the potential risk and costs associated with your claim on a regular basis.
(5) The time frame
Finally, you should ask your prospective lawyer about a time frame for the resolution of your claim. It will not be possible to give you a precise guarantee, but the lawyer should be able to give you a ballpark estimate. Try and agree with your lawyer on a timeline for each part of your claim and, if things are taking longer than expected, ask for regular updates. Be a patient but proactive client.
If you follow the tips above, you should be well on your way to choosing an appropriate personal injury lawyer. Good luck with your claim!