IF YOU’VE BEEN involved in an accident you should absolutely consider hiring a personal injury attorney; naturally, many victims can feel intimidated or nervous about visiting a lawyer’s office for the first time.
However, there is no need to worry. Your attorney is your strongest advocate and best chance at recovering compensation due to your injuries.
Expect the Meeting to be Fairly Short
Your case is important and it’s important to your lawyer, too. Most initial consultations last about one hour. While that may not seem like enough time, an experienced lawyer knows what questions to ask to make that hour efficient and productive.
Expect Questions – Lots of Questions
In your consultation meeting, your attorney will ask you a number of questions; basic “who-, what-, when-type” questions. Specifically, in a personal injury case, a lawyer will also want to know the details of the accident. Other pertinent information needed includes some specifics about your insurance policy, injuries, and financial losses. Not to be forgotten is one of the biggest impacts of an accident: how the injury affected you emotionally. Takeaway: expect questions about your physical, mental, and financial health.
While it may seem unsettling giving personal information to a person you’ve just met, set aside any worry. First, Michigan ethic rules require all attorneys – even those you may not ultimately engage — to maintain the “attorney-client” privilege. The attorney-client privilege, with very specific exceptions, prevents members of the Michigan State Bar from discussing your case or its details with anybody. Takeaway: don’t hold back because the specifics matter; a licensed attorney will keep everything confidential.
Most importantly, your potential attorney will be unable to properly evaluate your case unless you provide a true and complete story. Holding back information, or changing a fact that seems minor, might cause your attorney to provide bad information. A good attorney will give you an honest evaluation, but no attorney can do this without all the facts.
Expect to Be Asked for Documents and Other Proof
Not only will you be asked many questions, but your attorney will likely request any proof you have or can get access to (see list of examples below). Before calling for an attorney consultation, or visiting the office, make sure you have these items at the ready.
Examples Some things that lawyers often ask for include:
- Communications from insurance companies
- A list of witnesses
- Messages from witnesses
- Pictures of the accident scene
- Pictures showing injuries to you or others
- Pictures showing property damage
- Medical records
- Medical bills
- Police reports
- Records of missed work
- Records of lost wages
- Records of normal wages (e.g. paystubs, W2, receipts)
While not a complete list, it gives you a rough idea of items you’ll need to gather in order to support your claim.
“Loose Lips Sink Ships” (Expect to Be Asked Who You’ve Spoken To)
While the statements you make to your attorney are confidential, things you may have said to others are not. You might have said something about the accident that might hurt your recovery without even knowing it. Your attorney may or may not be able to undo potential damage, but your attorney needs to know what was said and to whom in order to evaluate whether comments made could adversely affect your claim.
Expect an Evaluation and Explanation
Toward the end of your first meeting with a personal injury attorney, the lawyer should be able to tell you the pros and cons of your case. (Note: lawyers cannot, nor should, promise certain outcomes; they can only tell you what they expect, based on past experiences.) The lawyer may offer to take your case on the spot. However, you are under no obligation to agree; you have the right to both visit other attorneys. Takeaway: take time to evaluate the consultation before making a final decision.
Similarly, while some attorneys agree to take cases during a consultation, others may want to take a little time to decide. Note: If the lawyer chooses not to take your case, it is not your fault; there might be many reasons such as conflicts of interest or an inability to devote the time necessary to be the best advocate you deserve. Takeaway: Feel free to visit another office and get another opinion.
Expect to Talk About Money
You can expect the attorney to talk about money, including fees. The attorney should explain – in clear language – how the billing process works. The attorney should explain their hourly rate, charges for items such as investigations, ordering records, or even making copies. Note: Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingent fee basis, which means they receive a portion of any amount you recover after the lawsuit. (However, even in this arrangement, some attorneys still charge clients for certain costs.) Be prepared to ask the attorney specific questions about billing practices.
Be Prepared to Sign Documents
If you decide to engage your attorney after consultation, be prepared to sign documents. Signing a retainer or representation agreement will make the attorney your “official” legal representative in your case. Your lawyer may also ask you to sign releases allowing them to access insurance information, medical records, and other items.
Hopefully, this article has given you some insight answered about what to expect at your consultation visit to a personal injury attorney.
If you have more questions or need to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney, contact the Law Offices of Turner & Turner. Founding member Buzz Turner has more than 30 years of experience as an advocate for clients injured in vehicle-associated accidents, medical malpractice, and other personal injury claims.