If someone else’s misconduct caused you to suffer an injury, you might be entitled to compensation for all of your losses. Your compensation could include medical treatment, lost earnings, physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and many other components of damages. To maximize your chances of receiving the full amount you deserve, you probably need the assistance of a personal injury lawyer.
There are a lot of personal injury lawyers out there. Some of them are better than others. Indeed, your choice of personal injury attorney might just turn out to be the most important decision you make in your entire case. The following are a few pointers to help you make a good decision.
Choose an Attorney With Expertise in Your Practice Area
Personal injury is a very broad field of law. Personal injury cases differ according to how the accident occurred and who was responsible. Don’t select an attorney whose primary expertise involves car accidents to help you handle a medical malpractice claim, for example.
Select a Shortlist of Candidates
The worst way to search for a lawyer is to choose the lawyer whose name appears at the top of paid Google search results. That will get you the lawyer with the biggest advertising budget, but not necessarily the best lawyer. Lawyer search tools include:
Compile a shortlist of four or five lawyers who best represent what you are looking for.
Check to Make Sure the Lawyers are Licensed and in Good Standing
Use the “Find a Lawyer” page on the website of the Florida Bar to make sure the lawyers you selected are licensed to practice law in Florida and in good standing with the Florida Bar Association. If the lawyer is not licensed to practice for whatever reason, they cannot represent you.
Eliminate Candidates With Disciplinary Records
The Florida Bar maintains records of disciplinary actions. Research these, and eliminate any candidates on your shortlist with disciplinary records.
Check Out the Size and Resources of the Lawyer’s Firm
Ideally the law firm should be small but not too small. A sole proprietor might lack the resources to handle your claim, but at least two lawyers is probably big enough. A large law firm, by contrast, is likely to treat you like a case number rather than a human being.
Contact Various Lawyers To Schedule a Free Initial Consultation
Almost any St. Petersburg personal injury lawyer will schedule you a free initial consultation. If your injuries are serious, they might even visit you in the hospital. You might contact up to a dozen lawyers, depending on how much time you have.
Prepare Questions in Advance
Ask the lawyer the following questions, at a minimum:
- Have you handled my type of personal injury claim before? If you suffered a slip and fall accident, for example, how many slip and fall claims has the lawyer handled?
- Have you been to trial on my type of claim before? Even if you plan to settle your claim out of court, you need a lawyer who has a record of winning in court. Otherwise, the defendant will lack any motivation to negotiate with you.
- Have you handled my type of claim in St. Petersburg? How familiar are you with the local legal community? Do you know any of the judges?
- How much time do you have to devote to my case? Will you delegate my case to a junior attorney or a paralegal?
- How will you communicate with me about updates on my case?
- How many settlements have you negotiated in the past?
- Can you give me a ballpark estimate of how much you think my claim is worth? Too specific of an answer here should raise concerns about the lawyer’s credibility.
- Do you think my claim will end up at trial?
- Do I have any realistic options other than trial and settlement?
- What do you need me to do to help you resolve my claim?
- Do you work on a contingency fee basis? If so, how much do you charge?
- Will you advance case costs? If we lose, will you seek reimbursement of case costs from me?
- What do you think my chances are? If the lawyer works on a contingency fee, they have no incentive to lie about your prospects for victory.
You might ask other questions as well, depending on the specific facts of your case. If you plan to sue the Florida state government, for example, you will need to know whether the lawyer has any experience suing a government.
Narrow Your List Based on Your Consultations
Now it is time to narrow your shortlist of candidates to only two or three, based on your experience during the consultation. Ask yourself the following questions, among others:
- Did the lawyer seem prepared for the consultation? Were they focused or distracted?
- Was the lawyer rude to you? If they came across that way, even unintentionally, they will probably come across that way to others too.
- Did the lawyer communicate well with you? One of the primary skills of a lawyer is to explain complex ideas using language that non-lawyers have no trouble understanding. Did you understand what the lawyer was saying, or were you confused?
- Were you satisfied with the lawyer’s answers to your questions, or do you feel they were incomplete?
- What does your gut instinct tell you about the lawyer? If it is negative, odds are other people (including members of a jury or a court) will feel the same way.
- Did the lawyer seem confident they could win your case? Pay attention to non-verbal signals. If they are not confident of winning, they will probably refuse to represent you even if you ask them to.
Consider what you’ve learned in your initial consultation. Does the attorney have the appropriate experience? What about their client reviews? While you don’t need to spend the next month weighing your options, it might benefit you to at least sleep on your decision before you narrow your shortlist down to one.
Review and Sign a Contingency Fee Agreement With the Right Lawyer
Read the retainer agreement carefully before you sign it. Pay particular attention to the fee structure. You shouldn’t have to pay anything if you don’t either settle your case or win at trial. Ideally, your lawyer should advance your case’s expenses until you win — and eat the loss if you don’t.
Don’t Try To “Go It Alone” With a Significant Claim Without Help From a St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorney
Once someone injures you through wrongful behavior, you have a personal injury claim whether you know it or not. Nevertheless, it takes knowledge, skill and effort to turn a claim into cash. It’s not a good idea to try to handle this yourself, any more than it would be a good idea to perform surgery on yourself. Yes, you have a constitutional right to represent yourself. Waive that right and seek the services of an experienced St. Petersburg personal injury lawyer.