If you were injured in an auto accident, you may be wondering whether you should seek counsel and pursue a personal injury lawsuit. Some people elect to settle their own claims for damages after accidents, and if the injuries and/or damages were minor, that may indeed be the best course of action.
However, if you were badly injured and are recuperating from the accident, or if the accident involved multiple vehicles and numerous potential defendants, it might be better to seek legal representation.
What happens during a consultation?
In the simplest terms, both you and the attorney that you consult are essentially evaluating one another. The personal injury attorney is assessing the merits (or lack thereof) of your personal injury claim. He or she is also assessing you to make sure that you are a client that the attorney wants to represent.
Simultaneously, you should be doing the same. Attorney-client relationships can be quite intimate, as clients reveal things to their attorneys that the attorneys are sworn to protect. If either party has reservations about the other and the ability of the two to have a productive professional relationship, there is no point going forward.
The attorney might turn down your case
That doesn’t mean that you should take it personally if the first attorney with whom you consult declines to take you on as a personal injury client. There could be multiple reasons for this, none of which have anything to do with you.
That attorney might simply have a very full caseload at the moment and not feel that he or she could devote sufficient time to resolve your case. There could be conflict of interest issues at play, e.g., the driver of the vehicle who struck you is a present or former client of the attorney whom you consulted.
Sometimes a conflict of interest could arise in less obvious ways. Perhaps your child was injured in a school bus accident, necessitating that the school district be named as a defendant along with the negligent bus driver. But the attorney may be counsel of record for the school district on another unrelated matter.
Your case might not be very strong
Injured plaintiffs often believe that their cases are much stronger and winnable than they may actually be. What appears to be an open-and-shut case of clear liability to a non-attorney might be fraught with potential problems, from uninsured defendants to dubious links of injuries to the accidents in question.
An attorney is doing you no favor to take a case that he or she personally believes is not winnable. While opinions on the viability of personal injury cases can, and do, fluctuate wildly from lawyer to lawyer, you deserve an honest assessment of the case from the attorney you consult.
You have a good case
After you describe the circumstances of your accident in detail to the consulting attorney and he or she has reviewed the police report and any medical records that you have, it may be determined that you have a very strong case.
If you and the attorney are comfortable with one another, it’s likely that you will be asked to sign a contract of representation then and there.
How much will it cost me?
You should understand that in most situations, you won’t have to pay any money initially to your attorney to take on and file your case. That’s because personal injury cases are typically taken on a contingency basis, i.e., unless you prevail and receive a settlement or judgment, you will not owe any money.
Unlike with criminal or other types of civil cases, the attorneys’ fees (and usually any court costs) are later subtracted from your share of the lawsuit proceeds. If an attorney asks you to foot the bill initially, it’s time to seek other counsel.