Choosing the right
personal injury attorney to handle your personal injury case takes some time and planning. Law
firms and sole practitioners advertise their services and practice areas
online, which is the best place to start and research attorneys. Reading
through these websites can give you an idea as to your attorney's
skills, knowledge, and legal experiences are, and how he or she can help
solve your problem. Word of mouth is a valuable tool to obtain information
about trustworthy personal injury lawyers in your area.
But the bottom line is that you should thoroughly research several lawyers
before you choose one, particularly reading about their biography, reported
verdicts, and searching for any malpractice or misconduct claims against
them. Look for publications in the area of your problem to demonstrate
It is also a good idea to meet with a prospective lawyer for a free consultation.
Meeting in person affords you the opportunity to assess whether or not
the lawyer you may possibly hire to handle your case fits your criteria.
For example, observe if they are organized and focused. Are they taking
notes and showing interest in your case? Observe how they interact with
staff and speak to other professionals in the office. Also check to see
how they make you feel and the attention, care, and genuineness they display
towards you. Remember, your personal injury attorney is to make your time
of need easier and not more difficult; find someone you can easily work with.
You should also know that the attorney you meet may not be the attorney
primarily working on your file, or the only attorney or staff working
on your file. Thus, you should always ask who will be working on your
file. More specifically, you should ask how files are assigned—to
partners with an associate, or just to a partner, or to a partner and
a team of associates. This is important because the attorney you meet
with will likely be a high-ranking attorney in the office, and the attorney
working on your file may not be as high-ranking and experienced. You should
ask the number of attorneys on your file and, if known, who they will
be. Sometimes the file is not assigned until after you sign a retainer,
so if the attorney meeting with you does not know that is still a viable
answer. But you should ensure you find out who your attorney(s), secretary,
and paralegal are.
You should also check to see how you will be billed, most likely on contingency
but how that contingency arrangement works with costs and disbursements.
Recent legislation in New York has changed the way retainers operate.
The expenses can be paid by the client up front, in which the attorney
will take a percentage of what is recovered. Or the expenses can be paid
by the attorney, in which the attorney takes a percentage of what is recovered
then is paid by the costs and disbursements. This means you will receive
less, but you do not have to front the money for your litigation. This
is most commonly what clients end up choosing to do.
Also under New York law, an attorney can only charge you up to one-third
(33%) of the recovery, and it is industry practice to do so. Any attorney
charging you more than that is violating attorney ethical rules and should
be avoided. You may also want to inquire why an attorney would offer to
charge you less than one-third up front as well. This may indicate the
attorney is not comfortable in his or her ability and willing to offer
a discount. Generally, all competent New York personal injury attorneys
set their contingency rate at one-third up front. After the costs of the
litigation or settlement, they may lower the rate. But not up front.
Ask the attorney you are meeting with if he or she is familiar with the
type of injury you have suffered and the applicable law. You can even
test that attorney and not use the medical terminology you may have heard
from the health care providers, but use generally terms and see if the
attorney is able to name the proper terminology.
As you are discussing your case with your prospective attorney, ask yourself
how trustworthy, articulate, and sincere he or she sounds. You will want
to examine his or her body language and charisma. This is important because,
if your case does not settle, a jury will be observing the same body language
and traits. You want to ensure your personal injury attorney is polite,
knowledgeable, and generally likeable.
Towards the conclusion of your meeting, make sure you know the next steps
the attorney will do for you. Make sure he or she has a plan and explains
that plan to you in detail. You want to have an entire roadmap of how
your claim will proceed after the first meeting. If the attorney is unable
to articulate the steps you claim will take, this could be a sign of disorganization
and a warning sign.
In sum, there are many different aspects of picking a New York personal
injury attorney to consider. There could be no list to account for all
the factors to consider. But you should know that an experienced attorney
will treat you with the respect you desire, and will seek the maximum
amount of compensation you are entitled to. Most importantly, look for
experience and a proven track record of performance—that cannot lie.