- How likely is my case to be successful?
- How long might my case take until it is resolved?
- If I am currently unable to work because of my injury, how will I survive financially until the case is settled or goes to trial?
- If there are car and other property loss damages in this case, will you also address them for me?
- How much of your practice is focused on helping clients with Personal Injury and Accident issues?
- Will I be expected to reimburse for medical and other expenses from the settlement I receive?
- Will my settlement be taxable or tax-exempt?
- Have you handled a case like this before?
Like all areas of law, there is no substitute for experience. However, it is not only the number of years of practice or the number of trials that an attorney has had in the field, it is also the experience with your particular type of case. For instance, an attorney experienced in representing automobile accident victims but without any experience in medical malpractice cases may be a poor choice for your medical malpractice case despite his or her overall experience.
- What are your peer ratings from other attorneys?
Some attorneys are better salesmen with a prospective client than they are representatives after they take the case. That is why peer-reviews are important. “Peer-review” refers to the process where other attorneys and judges are asked to rate an attorney’s qualifications and there are several reputable sources for obtaining peer-review information on lawyers.
- Do you belong to any specialty bar associations or organizations dedicated to trial or personal injury practice?
In addition to general bar associations such as the American Bar Association, there are specialty bar associations that are specific to certain areas of law. For instance, if your case is in New York, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and the New York State Academy of Trial Lawyers are specialty organizations whose members practice personal injury law on the side of the injured plaintiff. Many other States have similar trial lawyers’ associations.
There are other local and national organizations that include trial attorneys who represent both plaintiffs and defendants but membership is limited to attorneys with a certain level of experience who are invited to join. Two relevant organizations to personal injury law are:
- The American Board of Trial Advocates This organization is limited to attorneys who have tried at least 20 civil jury trials. A personal injury attorney that is a member of this organization is sure to be experienced in the field and highly regarded by his or her colleagues. The website for ABOTA is abota.org where you can find out the local chapter members as well as other information about the organization.
- The American College of Trial Lawyers this is also an organization composed of the most experienced trial lawyers in the country. Members must be invited to apply and there is a rigorous application process involved. Again, if your personal injury attorney is a member, it is a sign of high competence. For more information on ACTL, this organizations website is at actl.org.
- Have you been asked to lecture other attorneys in topics relevant to my case?
Attorneys are required to take a certain number of hours of continuing legal education credits each year in order to retain their license to practice law. These seminars are organized and sponsored by bar associations and also private companies. Leading attorneys in their fields will frequently be asked to speak at these seminars. If your attorney is one who is frequently asked to speak, again it is a sign of his or her standing among his or her colleagues.
- Have you ever been disciplined?
Attorneys are regulated by a local licensing authority. and must comply with certain rules of professional conduct. It is completely appropriate to ask if an attorney has ever been disciplined and, if so, for what offense.
- Who will work on my case?
The attorney you first meet at a firm is not necessarily the one who will do most or any of the work on your case. It is appropriate to have others with less experience or training work on your case but it is important that you know who the lead attorney will be and that you are comfortable with him or her.
- Do you have malpractice insurance?
Attorneys make mistakes because they are human like everyone else. If a mistake is made in a personal injury case, such as failing to file a case within the appropriate statute of limitations period, your claim against the person that injured you will be lost and replaced by a claim against the attorney. However, that claim will not do much good unless the attorney carries sufficient malpractice insurance. For a personal injury attorney, the coverage should be at least $1,000,000 if the attorney is representing people with significant and catastrophic damages. You should ask to see a copy of their policy to verify this coverage.
- What will this cost me?
Almost all attorneys who practice in this area work on a contingency fee basis. This means that they are not paid for their legal work, unless there is a recovery. The amount these attorneys can charge as a contingency fee is regulated by law. For most types of cases in most States, a typical contingency fee would be between 33 1/3% and 40% of the net recovery (gross recovery less the expenses incurred).
Virtually all attorneys who work on a contingency fee will offer you a free consultation to discuss your potential case. Expenses typically are advanced by the attorney but ultimately fall upon the client. Costs then, typically, are taken from the settlement or verdict at the end of the case before the contingency fee is calculated.