What Should I Expect During My Initial Attorney Consultation?

What Should I Expect During My Initial Attorney Consultation?

The Initial Consultation

When you first call a law firm, your call may be taken by a lawyer, a paralegal, a case manager or an intake specialist. This person will ask you for basic contact information, as well as the details of your accident. Based on your answers, a lawyer will make an initial assessment of your case and may schedule a consultation. If you cannot travel to the law firm, many personal injury lawyers are willing to have the consultation on the telephone, in your home or at the hospital. At our firm, we make every effort to accommodate clients and potential clients with this type of need.

During the initial consultation, you will be asked for details about your accident and your injuries. Because details can be hard to remember, and because some clients feel intimidated or stressed by this meeting, we recommend that clients bring all of the documents they have that are related to the accident — things like police reports, hospital bills, your insurance policy and more. We always do our best to put clients at ease and explain everything as thoroughly as possible, without “legalese.”

Questions the lawyer is likely to ask at your consultation include:

  1. Did anyone receive a ticket?
  2. Was a police report made? If so, do you have a copy?
  3. Did you take photos of the vehicle?
  4. Did you take photos of your injuries?
  5. Did you give a statement to police, insurance adjusters or anyone else?
  6. Were there any witnesses, and if so, did anyone get their contact information?
  7. How much damage was done to your vehicle?
  8. What medical treatment have you had thus far?
  9. What medical treatment, tests or follow-up are currently recommended by your treating physician(s)?
  10. How are you feeling?
  11. How are your bills being paid?
  12. What insurance companies are involved?

Once you have discussed all of this, the lawyer should bring up his or her fees. Most personal injury lawyers work on what is called a contingency-fee basis. This means that you are not required to pay for legal services unless and until the case has been won. The lawyer should have a fee agreement that specifies that he or she will be paid with a percentage of the financial settlement or verdict. The size of that percentage depends on whether the claim is resolved before or after the lawsuit is filed. (It is possible, and common, to resolve claims before filing.)

This arrangement may sound strange, but it remains popular because it allows lawyers to take strong cases brought by clients who might not be able to afford legal fees otherwise. We believe this is an essential and valuable part of our legal system, providing access to justice for everyone, no matter what their income or background might be.

Choose Your Lawyer Carefully

Choosing the right lawyer can have a substantial effect on the results of your personal injury claim. An experienced personal injury lawyer who meets you and takes the time to listen carefully to the facts of your case can sometimes save you substantial financial and personal hardship. Take the case of a 39-year-old man who was hurt in an auto accident, who had already undergone one cervical spine surgery to correct injuries from his accident. To settle his claim, the insurance company had offered him just $150,000 out of a total available insurance policy of $250,000. What’s more, the man did not realize that he had an additional $750,000 in underinsured motorist insurance, which could cover his treatment if his claim exceeded the $250,000 limit.

The man and his wife consulted several personal injury lawyers to discuss whether they should accept the insurance company’s offer. The first two lawyers they consulted did not delve into all of his medical problems. Importantly, they did not identify the fact that he would likely require future surgeries, which could jeopardize his livelihood as a salesman who traveled thousands of miles a year. Fortunately, the couple sought out the advice of one of the experienced personal injury lawyers who wrote this book. After listening carefully to the prospective client, the lawyer realized that this gentleman was a likely candidate for future surgeries that could threaten his career. The lawyer recommended that he wait for several months before considering any settlement offers, to see whether he needed more treatment or had other problems related to the accident.

As the lawyer suspected, the man ultimately needed two additional cervical spine surgeries, which resulted in permanent physical limitations. He was terminated from his job and ultimately had to accept a job paying significantly less. Based on these lost future earnings and his additional surgeries, the lawyer was able to negotiate a settlement that was over six times the amount of the offer from the defendant’s insurance carrier. In this case, waiting to make a claim until he fully understood his injuries, and hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer, helped the man avoid the financial and medical problems that might have resulted from taking the smaller initial offer.

What Is the Next Step?

When you find the right lawyer, you will sign a contract formally retaining him or her as your lawyer, giving you all of the rights of a client. To get the case started, your law firm may ask its professional support staff to obtain your medical records, doctors’ notes and medical test results, along with a copy of any accident report and any insurance information or statements the insurer might have recorded. If necessary, the lawyer might also retain a private investigator to find important but elusive information about your case. All of this case development takes time. At our firm, we have found that clients really appreciate being kept informed, whether or not we have anything significant to report. For that reason, we assign specific staffers to update clients regularly about the status of their cases.

In this first stage, your lawyer is working to understand the facts and the strength of your case. After the case is built, your law firm can begin negotiating with the other side to get you the best possible compensation under the laws of your state and the facts of your individual case. You may end up settling the case outside of court or participating in a full trial.