So you’ve been hurt. How do you get compensated for your injury? Lawsuits are hard-fought, time consuming, and expensive. Not every situation warrants hiring an attorney. But if you’ve been injured, sometimes having a good attorney is the only way you can resolve your case satisfactorily. Bottom line: how do you know when you really need a lawyer?
When in Doubt, Ask
A reputable personal injury attorney will provide a free initial consultation and answer your questions, helping you learn if your claim warrants a lawsuit. The attorney can explain statutes, case law, plus how any special facts affect your case. She may suggest you try to settle on your own, offer you a contract for representation, or say you have no case. The attorney may refer you to someone else whose experience or area of practice better fits your case. Listen carefully to the attorney’s advice before you decide. Bottom line: ask good questions and get the benefit of an attorney’s counsel before you settle or sue.
How Much Can I Get?
This is what lawyers call “damages” and is what drives the dollar value of your claim. Obviously insurance companies, courts, and lawyers cannot give you back your arm or leg, but can only award monetary “compensation.” While it may be easy to total out-of-pocket losses—like medical bills, lost wages, and property loss—other damages (such as pain and suffering or disfigurement) are often more “valuable," but are also more difficult to “value.” Bottom line: even if you hope to settle a claim on your own, first consult with a reputable attorney to see if there might be things you have not considered.
The greater your “damages,” the more likely you will need the help of a good lawyer. Conversely, with low damages, you may negotiate a settlement yourself or take your case to small claims court. It may be difficult to find a reputable attorney willing to take a case with low damages, as it becomes difficult to justify the time and expense of a suit over a small amount of money. Many firms have a “damages threshold,” that must be met before they will sign the client. Bottom line: the higher the value of your claim, the more likely you will need a lawyer.
How do I Know if an Attorney is “Reputable?”
Do your “due diligence” when looking for an attorney. Research a prospective attorney on the internet, ask her questions, and get the opinion of your friends and any attorneys you may know, as attorneys will know the reputations of their peers. Look online for reviews or testimonials from the attorney’s previous clients. But be aware, some very knowledgeable, reputable, and good attorneys have no reviews and may not have a website. Also, beware advice from well-meaning friends who have little experience with attorneys and legal matters. Ask your own questions and do your own research prior to signing a contract. An ethical attorney will answer your questions, and will ask you questions in return. A reputable attorney will want to “qualify” you and your case as much as you want to qualify him. Bottom line: an attorney who gives you a free consultation, answers your questions, and wants to qualify your case before signing you up is more likely to prove to be "reputable."
Often, hiring a good attorney is the only way to get compensated for your loss. In those cases, taking your time, asking questions, and carefully evaluating the answers is the best way to find the right legal representation to get your case resolved in your favor.
by Michal Lusk and Paul Kouri
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