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What to Know Before Contacting an Attorney for the First Time

  • Not everybody works with legal professionals on a daily basis. If you’re thinking about pursuing legal action for the first time, you may not know what to expect. That’s what we’re here for. We’ll let you know what to expect, what to ask, and what to look for.


    First things first: there’s a common misconception that talking to a lawyer means you are committing to filing a lawsuit. That’s not true at all. Talking to an attorney is no more a commitment to filing a lawsuit than visiting a car lot is a commitment to buying a new car. You can use the opportunity to learn about your options and figure out whether to file a lawsuit and whether the attorney you’re talking to is the one you want to have representing you. Many attorneys even offer a free consultation, so there’s no commitment involved. You’re just considering your options.


    What Questions Should You Ask?

    There are a number of questions you should ask before you select an attorney. Although some of these things seem obvious, or like they would go without saying, they don’t go without saying. Make sure to ask any attorney these five questions:


    1. How Many Cases on Average Is Each Lawyer in Your Law Firm Handling?

    Different types of law require different amounts of time per case. An appropriate case to lawyer ratio at a high stakes civil litigation firm (like the Stoddard Firm) is approximately fifteen (15) cases for every (1) lawyer. This ratio allows the firm to devote significant time and effort to each case. Many firms that holds themselves out as catastrophic injury / wrongful death law firms do not follow this rule and instead choose to hold as many as fifty (50) or one hundred (100) cases per lawyer. With this sort of staffing, how can each case possibly get the time and energy it deserves?


    2. What experience do you have with handling my type of case?

    No two cases are exactly the same, but the law firm you choose should have experience litigating cases with a similar liability theory. Most personal injury lawyers have some experience with car accident cases, but most do not, for example, have experience with negligent security, product liability, electrical injuries, premises liability, etc. Make sure you choose a lawyer that has actually filed suit, deposed witnesses, drafted motions, and tried a case that is similar to your case.


    3. What do you charge for your services?

    Most personal injury and wrongful death lawyers work on a contingency fee – meaning the law firm is paid a portion of the recovery and that nothing is owed unless the lawyer wins the case. Most firms also agree to advance and case expenses, and further agree that those expenses need not be re-paid unless there is a recovery. Make sure you have a good understanding of how the fee structure works at the law firm you choose.


    4. How Much Will My Case Cost to Bring To Trial?

    The lawyer should be able to estimate the case expenses that he/she anticipates advancing. It is very difficult to bring a high stakes case to trial for less than $15,000.00, and some types of cases, such as product liability cases, frequently cost over $100,000.00. Most fee agreements require the lawyer to advance these costs – costs which are usually reimbursed through settlement / verdict and waived if there is no recovery. Any real trial lawyer should be able to estimate the case expenses and agree to advance them. It is nearly impossible to secure a full and fair recovery without the ability to advance the expenses necessary to achieve such a result.


    5. What Is Your Plan for Handling My Case?

    A lawyer should be able to provide a detailed plan of how the case will be investigated, the sources from which evidence will be collected, when a lawsuit will be filed, when it makes sense to seek settlement (if ever), how long it will take to get to trial, etc. The lawyer’s plan should demonstrate whether the firm actually has the experience, knowledge, and ability to achieve a favorable outcome in the case. The lawyer’s plan should provide the client with comfort.


    What Information Should You Have Ready?

    Before contacting an attorney, you should gather any police reports, witness contact information, medical records / bills, injury photographs, etc. that are already in your possession. There is no need, however, for you to go collect information that you do not already have – let the attorney worry about that.

    Be ready to explain your case to the attorney including the date of injury, who witnessed the event, the facilities that were visited for post incident medical care, etc. Don’t worry too much, though. The attorney has gone through this process many times before and will be able to guide you through it effectively.


    Does the Attorney Offer a Free Consultation?

    As we mentioned before, many attorneys give a free consultation before you become their client. This is a chance for you to get their opinion on your case and its chances for success. It’s a chance for you to get to know the attorney as a person and see if they are the one you want to handle your case. If it helps, you can think of it as an interview where you are deciding whether or not this is the attorney you want to hire. In many ways, that’s exactly what it is.

    If you call an attorney on the phone and things go well, the free consultation is usually the next step. Be sure to ask whether the consultation is free—it’s a common practice to have a free consultation, but not everyone does it. It may not be a deal-breaker for you if the attorney doesn’t offer a free consultation, but it’s something to be aware of. Keep yourself informed and you can find the right attorney for you.