According to Tech Times September 2020 article, there are close to 1.2 million attorneys in the United States. Of those, 93,000 to 135,000 are personal injury attorneys. So how do you know which one to choose for your injuries? One of the biggest hurdles that any potential client faces is choosing the right personal injury attorney. An attorney can make or break your case. So let us help you find the right one, even if it is not with our firm.
Let’s start with treating the search for a good lawyer like dating; please, don’t marry the first one. There are a select few who get very lucky going with their first choice, but many others are not as fortunate. At a minimum, we here at Castro & Company recommend consulting with at least three personal injury law firms. If you are personally referred by someone you trust, the “consult at least three” does not apply. It is important that you actually speak with a lawyer at the initial intake stage. It is okay that you first speak with a non-lawyer who takes down your contact information, case facts, injuries, etc. However, your consultation should involve an attorney prior to signing any retainer agreement. Make sure you are informed of the team assigned to your case as well – your team must include an overseeing attorney that you have direct access to via email and telephone.
Second, check the law firm’s reviews: Google, Yelp, and Avvo. While billboards, t.v. commercials and radio ads may be flashy and sound catchy, it’s customer reviews that count. When you read, make sure you read through multiple years of reviews. Read the 1 star and the 5 stars. Use your judgment when you read. Keep in mind law firms can pay for fake 5-star reviews. Look for the use of the name of staff and attorneys at the firm you are consulting with to find the legitimate reviews. Do also keep in mind that businesses can pay for fake bad reviews to hurt competitor law firms.
Third, check State bar profiles. Check the law firm owner(s) as well as the attorney assigned to you. Be sure there have been no disciplinary actions against your attorney(s) and their licenses are in good order.
Fourth, check the fees. The standard in the industry is 33.33% for prelitigation, and 40% for litigation (lawsuit filed). Some firms create a third tier of 45% charged when the case reaches 60 to 90 days before trial or charge that fee for complex cases. Those rates are fair. Anything beyond 45% is too high, in our opinion. It is up to you to choose what is best for you. Be cautious of those firms that have language that allows them to charge the full 40%-45% within 60 to 90 days of signing your case, with no lawsuit required. We do not feel that is a fair practice unless you are informed verbally at sign-up. Be sure to read the fee language carefully and ask questions.
Fifth, check the costs. It is customary for firms to charge both hard and soft costs. Hard costs include fees for police reports, medical records, investigations, lawsuits, depositions, court filing fees, attorney mileage, etc. Keep in mind hard costs must be reasonable. Your attorney is spending your money – they should be frugal. Do also keep in mind that some firms finance their hard costs. That means they get a financial lender to front the costs (instead of paying it out of their own pocket). This is fine, so long as the law firm pays the interests on the lending or you agree to pay for the interest upfront. You as a client should not have to pay for the interest unless you agree to. There are many firms that charge the interest to the clients without bringing it to the client’s attention at sign up, and there is language buried in the retainer that allows them to do so. We disagree with that practice. Soft costs include faxes, copies, printing, mailing, overnight mail, etc. The standard in the industry is $200-$500 per case. The soft costs go up with the number of years your case is active, and the level of litigation required (could be $1,000 if your case goes to trial).
Sixth, make sure your attorney has malpractice insurance. The State Bar of California, Rule 1.4.2 requires attorneys to disclose whether they do or do not have malpractice insurance in their retainer agreement. We do not recommend hiring an attorney who does not have malpractice insurance. It is very difficult to collect damages against an attorney who does not have insurance, should there be malpractice.
Seventh and final, make sure your attorney actually knows how to litigate, i.e. file a lawsuit and go to trial. Law firms lose a lot of negotiating skills and power when they do not file lawsuits or go to trial and insurance companies will not take them seriously during negotiations. In our opinion, that is not a full-service law firm.
Overall, your personal injury attorney should make you feel confident about their qualifications, their ethics, and they should clearly lay out the steps of your case. The #1 State Bar complaint against attorneys is bad communication. Here at Castro & Company, we want to change that. We want to be a part of your solution, not aggravate your pain and suffering. Give us a call or send us a text for a free and confidential consultation at 800-957-6181.