What to Look for When Hiring a Lawyer
We see three types of personal injury law firms in our Tampa, Florida market. They are:
- 1. Mass case firms: these are the big players that often do a lot of mass-market advertising. The positive side to these firms is since they handle a lot of cases, you can bet that they have seen your type of case before. A big negative to these firms is that some are what we would call personal injury mills. The business model of some of these bigger firms is to “churn and burn” cases. They make their profits and increase their bottom line by moving cases. It’s a volume game for them and not necessarily about maximizing the value of each case. This can lead to clients getting less than their case is really worth. We’ve also heard from people who had a difficult time getting personalized attention because they are just one of so many cases. We’ve even had a couple of clients transfer their cases from some of these bigger firms, and who have told us they never even spoke to a lawyer at that firm!
- 1. The “Dabbling Attorneys”: these are the lawyers and firms who do a little bit of everything and dabble in personal injury claims. Attorneys who dabble tend to have smaller firms and may even be just solo practitioners—meaning they are the firm. A positive to working with a “dabbling attorney” is that your ability to access the attorney is usually high and you get a lot of attention. The negative to working with an attorney who dabbles in personal injury law is quite clear: these attorneys often don’t know their craft inside and out. The heart is important for a lawyer, but you also have to know your craft. No one wants to be a test case for his or her attorney.
- 1. Personal injury trial lawyers: these are the lawyers who handle personal injury claims all day, every day. But more than that, trial lawyers are the maximum value guys. Their business model is to have less cases, but to maximize the value of each individual case. This is the polar opposite of the mass case firms. The benefits for someone working with a personal injury trial lawyer are obvious. Clients can anticipate that they are going to get the maximum value for their particular situation. And because the personal injury trial lawyer tends to have a lighter case load, the client can still get that individualized attention.
History Of Taking Cases To Trial
You want a personal injury attorney who has a history of taking cases to trial. I admit that this is hard to understand.
After all, who in their right mind really wants to go to trial? I have yet to meet a client who tells me when we first meet that he or she wants to get in front of a jury and spend days talking about their most personal matters in front of people they don’t even know.
But the reality is that the best settlements come from attorneys who work the case as if it’s going to trial. Insurance companies know which lawyers will settle the case for the next best offer. And insurance companies refuse to give the best deals to attorneys whom they know will simply fold. A personal injury attorney who has a history of taking cases to trial also has the highest settlement results for all of his or her clients who don’t actually see the courtroom.
Of course, sometimes the big pocket insurance companies just refuse to play fair. And when that happens, it’s comforting to know that you have a trial attorney who will take the case all the way to the end to seek justice on your behalf.
Knowledge Of Tampa Florida Courts
Wild but true: A case with the same facts has different values in different cities.
This is because the value of a case is determined by what a Jury would award in a trial.
Sure, most cases settle well before trial. But insurance adjusters and personal injury lawyers weigh the type of jury in a given city when determining value of a case.
In Tampa, Florida we have progressive jurors. A high level of educated jurors, many of whom have progressive social or economic leanings. Generally speaking the average jury makeup of a tampa personal injury jury will award more per case then a more conservative jury like one in New Port Richey, Florida.
Make sure your lawyer understands the “home-field” of the city he plays in. It will make a difference.
How Does a Lawyer Help?
Of course, it’s ideal to know exactly what your attorney does for you. So, let’s explain.
Building A Case
Sometimes it can seem so simple to you. You were fine before the accident. Somebody rear-ended you. Now you’re hurt. Cut and dry, right?
The reality is that personal injury cases are rarely cut and dry. They have to be built. And they have to be built right. That’s because insurance claims reps will hire very good insurance claims attorneys to defend any lawsuit brought against them. These insurance claims attorneys will go through months of medical records, police reports, recorded statements, depositions, and the like in order to try to find a defense. And if the insurance claims attorney finds a good enough defense, he or she will latch onto it and try to use it to either deny or devalue your claim.
We know this. This is not a surprise. What is a surprise is that so many personal injury attorneys don’t spend the resources and time necessary to build the case from the beginning. Because when we’re building it and visualizing what the big picture will look like, we can make sure that we don’t leave any holes in the case that will give an insurance claims attorney a future defense. We can build the case airtight, making it easier to settle months down the road.
Granted, to do it right takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of communication with our clients. It often takes hiring expert witnesses and investigators. It takes working with doctors and other medical professionals to make sure that the truth comes out. But it’s worth it—a properly built case can lead to settlements that are 10 to 20 times more than an insurance claims adjuster’s initial offer.
Accident Scene Investigation
A personal injury attorney will investigate an accident scene in order to preserve evidence and show what safety standard was violated and by whom.
With motor vehicle accidents, this can simply mean going to the site of the wreck and taking video and photos so that the scene can be reconstructed later if necessary.
With high-value motor vehicle accident cases or contested liability cases, it can mean going to the scene with an expert auto accident reconstructionist. These experts can pull the black box out of newer model vehicles to analyze for data that can help us determine who caused an accident. If needed, these experts can also gather details such vehicle damage, skid marks, and the vehicle’s final resting place in order to go to a lab setting and reconstruct the damage to the vehicle. These experts can, for the right price, give opinions as to the speed of the vehicle, the potential impact and trauma to someone in the vehicle, and provide other important information.
With premises liability cases, this can mean going to the scene of an accident with an expert in order to determine if there is a problem with a floor, an elevator, automatic sliding doors, etc.
An attorney has dual roles. An attorney is not just an advocate in the courtroom. An attorney is also a counselor for a client.
A personal injury attorney needs to counsel each client to make good decisions during his or her personal injury claim.
We strongly believe in spending time with our clients and developing real relationships with them. This helps us better understand each client’s situation and increases our ability to confidently negotiate claims.
An attorney also needs to communicate with a client’s medical treatment providers. Sometimes, an attorney can ensure his or her client gets the proper treatment—even when no insurance is available—by promising doctors that they will get paid when the personal injury claim is settled. Other times, an attorney will chat with a doctor to help develop a comprehensive understanding of the client’s situation.
A personal injury attorney negotiates insurance claims. This is the bread and butter of the injury lawyer’s responsibility outside of the courtroom. Done right, the injury lawyer can maximize the value of the claim and put more money in his or her client’s pocket. Done wrong, the injury lawyer is leaving money on the table by settling the claim for pennies on the dollar.
In motor vehicle accident cases, we undergo extensive negotiations before filing a lawsuit. In premises liability cases, negotiations are often minimal until a lawsuit is filed. In all personal injury cases, negotiations can continue at every stage of the case—including during trial!
Most importantly, an injury lawyer helps manage a client’s case when a lawsuit is filed. This includes filing the documents for the lawsuit, taking depositions of the opposing party, representing a client during depositions, advocating for a client at mediation, going to court dates, and trying the case in a courtroom if necessary.
Next we discuss the fees and costs in a Tampa personal injury case.