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Hurt in a wreck? 10 tips for finding a personal injury attorney

You've been seriously injured in an auto accident. You've got a broken arm, an out-of-whack disc in your back, and numerous cuts and bruises. The other driver ran through a red light, so he's at fault.

You remember seeing a late-night TV commercial for a personal injury attorney who claims to have collected tons of money for clients who've been injured in car crashes. But is he the right lawyer for you?

How much an attorney forks over for advertising doesn’t necessarily mean he's a good or bad attorney, legal experts say. Here are 10 tips on how to find the right personal injury attorney if you've been hurt in a car wreck.

auto insurance personal injury attorney

1. Know when to contact a personal injury attorney.

Auto accident injuries run the gamut from minor to serious. If you think your injury may warrant legal action, contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible, legal experts say. The longer people you wait, the harder it is to take a case to trial. As time goes on, witnesses and evidence may be hard to locate, warns Jim Wells, an attorney with Haines & Associates in Philadelphia. Wells is chairman of the Tort and Trial and Insurance Practice Section of the American Bar Association.

2. Find a law firm that specializes in your specific issue.

It’s important that a client find an attorney who has dealt with the specific issues related to your case, says Lawrence Saftler, a New York attorney. If a client has a spinal cord injury, he should seek an attorney who has handled that issue.

Steve Thayer, an attorney who specializes in estate planning at Chicago law firm Handler Thayer LLP, contacted a personal injury attorney when his mother broke her neck in an accident involving a van.

Thayer discovered some manufacturing issues with the van and located an attorney who had handled similar cases. But the attorney told him that these cases had unsuccessful in court. “At least I tracked down a personal injury attorney who knew what our chances would have been,” Thayer says.

3.Get referrals.

Friends and family are the perfect place to get referrals. Furthermore, many Americans have used attorneys to prepare wills, for instance; these attorneys usually can provide unbiased recommendations for a personal injury attorney. Keep in mind that a lawyer who refers clients typically earns a referral fee for this, amounting to about one-third of the personal injury attorney's contingency fee.

Thayer says he interviews other attorneys for his clients to find the right ones for them. “You almost need a lawyer to hire a personal injury attorney lawyer,” he says. “If you walk in the door and have a good case, they’ll take it regardless if they’re the right lawyers for the case.”

4.Do your research -- beyond the ads.

While some upstanding, reliable attorneys fork over big bucks for advertising blitzes, other reputable attorneys don’t spend a dime on marketing. Consumers shouldn’t make a decision simply based on clever advertising, Wells cautions. To find a reputable attorney, check an attorney's record on the website of your state bar association, and contact a lawyer referral service operated by a local or state bar association.

5.Make sure you know which attorney will oversee your case.

Oftentimes, the firm’s lead attorney may not be handling many cases, particularly smaller ones, says Howard Ankin, a personal injury attorney at the Ankin Law Office LLC in Chicago. For instance, Ankin says that of his firm’s 2,000 cases each year, he works on only a small percentage.

auto insurance personal injury attorneys

That’s why it’s so important that a client meet the attorney who'll be assigned to the case so that there are no surprises, says John Digiovanna, a personal injury attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y. “When it comes to trial, you want to make sure you have the lawyer of your choice,” he says.

6.Interview the attorney.

Consumers should ask an attorney an array of questions to learn more about him or her, American Bar Association President Stephen Zack says.

“Ask a lot of questions to find out if this attorney has the skills and experience that match your needs,” Zack says. He also suggests obtaining professional references from an attorney you're looking at hiring.

The American Bar Association's public service website,, features advice about finding a personal injury attorney.

7.Ask whether the attorney leans toward settlements or trials.

Ankin, the Chicago lawyer, says you should ask how many cases the attorney takes to trial each year and how many he settles out of court. “I can show clients at least three jury verdicts each week,” he says. “I love when people interview me.”

8. Find out whether the attorney is a sole practitioner or has a large staff.

Some clients are more comfortable with larger firms, while others prefer a sole practitioner. Each type of firm has its pros and cons. Solo practitioners say they're readily available to serve their clients, and client matters won’t get lost in the shuffle. But lawyers at bigger law firms argue that a large staff ensures clients’ needs are met, even if some attorneys are busy with other cases.

“There can be an attorney who is a one-man band who is great, but he’s only as good as he is that day,” Ankin says. “I work 15-hour days, but there’s always the day my son has his school thing or I get sick.”

9. Inquire upfront about costs.

Auto insurance companies won’t cover the cost for hiring an attorney to file a lawsuit after an injury. In most cases, attorneys who handle personal injury cases do so on a contingency basis. This means the lawyer doesn’t get paid unless the client wins.

Payments to lawyers vary by state, but in most instances, lawyers collect about one-third of a personal injury settlement or judgment, says Wells, the Philadelphia attorney with Haines & Associates. “As a general rule, the consumer won’t pay anything in a loss,” he says.

Still, some lawyers do ask for upfront costs, regardless of a loss. That’s why it’s critical that consumers are clear about costs from the outset, says Zack, the American Bar Association president.

10. Be leery of promises.

A thorough attorney will spend a great deal of time investigating your case and won’t make predictions about an expected payout or settlement, Wells says. “If a personal injury attorney is promising you a lot of money, you might want to be skeptical,” he says.


  • Tara Tompson said Reply

    My sister got into an accident a few weeks ago. She just barely got out of the hospital. The accident was the other persons fault entirely.

    Tara |

  • WHM said Reply

    Thanks for the tips. I think a lot of people probably don't know where to start, so I'm sure getting this info out there helps.

    I think simply asking around for referrals is probably the best option. Just like how word of mouth marketing is typically one of the more powerful influences on whether or not someone buys a product service, referrals from friends or family are going to be trustworthy because they're not going to recommend anyone that didn't actually help them.

  • Tara Tompson said Reply

    Thanks for all the great advice! I wasn't sure what to do after I got injured! I just want to get better so I can work again. I'll have to find a lawyer and get it all dealt with.

  • Tara Tompson said Reply

    I've been thinking about getting my brother some help. He got injured really badly in an accident last week. He's too proud to ask for help himself so I'm looking to do it for him. Thanks for all the great information!

  • Gaston Parizeau said Reply

    As mentioned in the article, it's important to find a lawyer who specializes in cases involving your circumstances. Some lawyers aren't as specialized as others and have more of a general knowledge and practice, but in personal injury cases it's good to have someone with experience in that area of law. In most cases the other party's attorney will be specialized, so you'll want yours to be as well.

    Gaston Parizeau |

  • Edmond Vandergraff said Reply

    I couldn't agree more that you should do your research beyond the ads. The ads are always going to say good things about the lawyer. You have to make sure that you dig a little bit deeper than that. Starting with personal referrals is always a good idea.

  • Chris Carlier said Reply

    Thank you for sharing these tips for finding a personal injury attorney. Like you said, it is important to do research beyond the ads. Many reputable attorneys don't spend much on marketing so it would be good to ask friends and family who have needed a personal injury attorney. It's true that we should also check for the attorney's record on his or her website. You say that the attorney may promise us money. How can we tell if the attorney is being truthful or not? Thanks!
    -Chris |

    • Tania Rivas said Reply

      Hi, Chris!

      Be careful of attorneys that make promises! Many times there is a way to recover medical costs from injuries, but a guarantee can be hard to follow up on.

      I like to check up on online reviews and BBB listings as well for signs of trouble. Sometimes a few bad reviews is enough to create enough doubt to move on to another lawyer.

  • Pierre said Reply

    I definitely agree with the third point. A friend or family member will always be willing to give you an honest review of an attorney, and not try to divert you to get gain. It's interesting that an attorney probably shouldn't make promises upfront. It makes sense that they should assess the situation thoroughly before doing so. Thanks for sharing!

  • Tania Rivas said Reply

    Number 5 is a great point. So many times lawyers on TV are not the actual lawyer to handle your case. If it's possible to find out the lawyer's name who handles your case, you can then take more specific action to research that individual and not the figurehead.

  • Aspen Bowen said Reply

    I agree with what you said about inquiring upfront about costs. That way you can be sure to understand exactly what you're getting into. I will remember to ask about that at the very beginning when I choose a lawyer.

  • Tyler Bond said Reply

    I like your suggestion on finding a firm that specializes in this specific line of work. I've always thought the lawyers were kind of general, and that you could go to one with any issue and they'd know what to do, but after I was injured last summer, I learned that some do things better than others. It would make sense for them to specialize in a certain type of law, I know that because I went to a personal injury specific lawyer, I got the best possible situation I could have.

  • Tyler Bond said Reply

    I think referrals are the best way to go when picking out someone to represent you. I've often felt if you can have a personal connection with the attorney, then they will fight for you as a person, rather than your money or case. Asking those around you that have been in the same situation about how their experience with their attorney was, will be the best path to making an informed decision.

  • Micah said Reply

    I do not even know the way I stopped up here, however I thought this publish
    wwas great. I do not realize who yyou aare but definitely you are going to a famous blogger when you are not already.

  • McCall Hazelton said Reply

    It's a shame that we can sometime get hurt for the mistakes of others, especially when it comes to a car accidents. I know that there are things that we don't necessarily thing about when it comes time to build a case against someone who wronged you. I was reading on about all the different things they look for when determining who is to blame, and to what extent. It's cool that the pros are able to think about these ideas.

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