- “Call the Strong Arm”
- “Aggressive and Efficient”
- “Injured? Get The Gorilla!”
- “Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer (My Dogs Do!)”
- Pictures of Boxing Gloves
- Lawyers Wearing Cowboy Hats
Do any of these sound familiar? They probably do, and that’s because lawyer advertising is everywhere! I cannot drive down the street, watch a TV show, listen to the radio or do just about anything without a lawyer screaming in my ear that their firm is aggressive and that they will win the Texas lottery for their clients. These ads promise the world. Unfortunately, a lot of injury victims end up at these “personal injury mills” where their case is relegated to an inexperienced attorney or worse, a non-lawyer paralegal.
One lawyer in the city where I practice brags that he has represented over 20,000 people in his 20 years in practice. If you do the math (and believe this extraordinary claim), that lawyer would have had to sign up and represent 2.7 new people every day, 365 days a year (including Christmas) for 20 years. What kind of personal service are you going to get at a firm like that?
As you can guess, my advice is that you should not rely on lawyer advertising alone when you make your decision to hire a lawyer. It is often not helpful and can be downright false and misleading.
Choosing a lawyer is perhaps the most important decision you will make in your car accident claim. A good lawyer can literally be the difference maker in the value of your case. With that in mind, here are tips that you can use when hiring a qualified personal injury lawyer.
1. Do not hire a generalist
The lawyer you choose should not “dabble” in personal injury law. The law is simply too complex and the claims process to intricate to be handled by a lawyer or firm that doesn’t specialize in personal injury work. If you see an advertisement for anyone that advertises for Criminal Law, Immigration, Family and Personal Injury, you can bet that that lawyer is a “dabbler” who hasn’t devoted his or her entire career to representing injury victims.
2. Get a referral from a lawyer that you know and trust
Do you already know a lawyer that you like and respect? Ask that lawyer for a referral. Lawyers know the system. They know who is good and who is bad. The lawyer’s recommendation is important because their own reputation is at stake when they refer another lawyer. Our firm doesn’t do real estate work, but my good attorney friend Steve Anderson sure does, and his work is excellent. Need a criminal lawyer? Don’t hire me, but I know who the best one in town is for your particular circumstance. Get the idea? Use your own lawyer contact for help.
3. Research attorneys online
There is a lot to learn about a particular lawyer by reviewing the lawyer’s website and other websites about the lawyer. Here are key attributes to look for in researching a particular lawyer:
- Experience. As a rule of thumb, look for a lawyer that has at least 10 years of personal injury experience. It has been said that it takes 10,000 hours to perfect a craft. For personal injury lawyers, that well might be 20,000 hours. You need someone who has been there and done that. I worked for a mentor attorney for almost 10 years before I decided to hang my own shingle. That time helped me learn the ropes and the tricks and traps. I had time to experiment and make mistakes while having someone there to oversee my work.
- Significant Verdicts and Settlements. Look at the website to check for significant verdicts and settlements of the lawyer. Verdicts and settlements aren’t the only measure of success, but they’re important. Ask the lawyer to provide a written list of representative cases that the lawyer has handled. Look for a lawyer that has personal injury trial experience.
- Involvement, Recognition and Awards. Check to determine the lawyer’s community involvement in the personal injury arena. Is the lawyer a member of trial lawyer associations like the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the American Association for Justice? Has the lawyer held leadership positions in lawyer organizations? Has the lawyer written on personal injury topics and spoken at continuing legal education? Does the lawyer attend specialized training in his or her area of law more than the required mandatory continuing legal education? Is the lawyer recognized by his or her peers?
- Online reviews. More and more people are looking at online reviews to help choose a personal injury lawyer. Read reviews on Google and Avvo and (to a lesser extent Yelp) to get a better feel for the lawyer and the type of service that you can expect. Endorsements from other lawyers are also important when looking at online attorney reviews.
- Initial Consultation. Ask for an initial consultation with the lawyer personally. If the lawyer is not the person at the first appointment, then you should think twice about the firm. Use your gut at the appointment. If the lawyer pressures you to sign their contingent fee agreement, be cautious. Most of our clients end up signing a contract with us on our first visit, but my answer is always an emphatic “yes” if the client wants to take the agreement home and think about it.
Here is another list to help you decide which ATTORNEYS TO AVOID:
- Avoid Runners at All Costs. Go running and screaming from anyone who calls you first. We call these people “runners.” Running a case is unethical, illegal and can get you disbarred. In our city, a local “claims department” gets copies of accident reports and directs the person to an injury clinic. Then that injury clinic refers the victim to a shifty lawyer. How do I know this is true? I know because someone called my wife after a minor fender bender. The person on the other end told my wife she was from the “claims department” and told her that she had an appointment with the injury clinic. There are unscrupulous people like this in every city in this great state. Run! Run! Run!
- Avoid the Letters in the Mail. The little brother of the “runner” are the “cold call” mailings you will receive after the accident from law firms soliciting your business. This advertising may alert you that a hospital lien has been filed or that they have important information about your claim. Typically, these are law firms that get copies of accident reports and “cold” mail thousands of people in the hopes that, every once in a while, the firm will get a bite. The only information you should receive from any firm should be at your request. The information you receive should be full of useful information about your injury claim (like this book!).
- Avoid the “Personal Injury Mill.” Do you want to be a number in a TV advertisers’ machine? I sure don’t. How do you know if you have found a personal injury mill? When you call, ask for your initial consultation to be directly with the TV personality. Better yet, ask for the TV lawyer to give you a phone call back before the first appointment. When the TV star doesn’t show up at the appointment or give you a call back, know that your case is not going to be handled by the TV lawyer.
I also have a little secret to tell you—a lot of these TV lawyers are not well respected in the legal community. If you actually get a meeting with the TV lawyer, ask him or her how many cases he or she personally took to court last year. I know one prominent local TV lawyer who never goes to court. If he can’t settle your case quickly, your case is referred to another lawyer to go to court. The lawyers the insurance company “knows mean business” haven’t been inside of a courthouse in years. Isn’t it better to go with a smaller personal injury law firm whose lawyers handle a select number of cases per year than a mill where you won’t receive quality attention?
- Avoid Out-of-State Lawyers. Your lawyer needs to be licensed in the state where your case will be filed. Several times a year, I get a call from a lawyer in California (or some other state) who has poached a Texas case. Here is how the conversation goes: “Hey, this is Mary from California. I signed this client 22 months ago and I can’t seem to get the case settled with the adjuster. Now I need a lawyer to take this case and file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs. I found you online.” Then I say, “You should file it quickly.” Then California Mary says, “I can’t, I’m not licensed in Texas.” Let me tell you, you do not want to be the client that California lawyer is talking about. I don’t know a thing about California law. That is why I don’t accept cases in California. But I have studied and passed the bar exam in Texas and New Mexico. I know and study those laws and I use them every day in my practice. Please don’t hire an out of state lawyer.
I hope this information helps you in your quest to find a qualified personal injury lawyer for your car accident claim.
Contact Harmonson Law Firm
Serving El Paso & Surrounding Areas
In the aftermath of a serious injury or the loss of a loved one, you should not hesitate to get the legal help that you need. At Harmonson Law Firm, we are here to help you. To take the first step in your case, we encourage you to contact our firm. We are proud to offer free, confidential consultations.