What to Look for in a Personal Injury Attorney
Coping with the aftermath of a severe injury often causes emotional and financial stress beyond the physical pain of the injury and its associated recovery. If another party’s actions caused your injuries, Florida law entitles you to sue for damages in civil court. Choosing a personal injury attorney to represent you shouldn’t be a difficult task, but you want to ensure that you make the right decision. The success of your case hinges on choosing the best attorney for the job, which requires you to invest some time doing research before any meeting with a potential attorney.
The skilled attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers have represented numerous personal injury victims and successfully helped many of them recover damages. If you live in the Clearwater area, call Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers today at (833) 552-7274 (833-55-CRASH). We also serve clients from our St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and New Port Richey offices. Below we provide guidance on how to hire the best Clearwater attorney for your personal injury case.
Ask Your Contacts for a Referral
When searching for the best lawyer, reach out to your friends, family, and professional contacts. Friends and family members might have had to enlist the services of a personal injury attorney in the past and will likely speak candidly about their experiences. If you’ve already established a relationship with a lawyer in a different practice area, ask him or her for a personal injury attorney referral. Lawyers are typically hesitant to refer clients to another lawyer unless they are certain that he or she has a great track record. You don’t need a personal referral to find the best personal injury attorney, but a referral can point you in the right direction. Even with a referral, you should still do your homework to ensure a good fit.
Investigate Client Reviews
You can do a simple internet search to find client reviews about your potential attorney and his or her law firm, but it is important to ensure that you find objective reviews. The firm’s website will offer client testimonials, but these will all be positive. For less biased reviews, visit avvo.com, a website that maintains a log of the vast majority of practicing lawyers in the United States, including those in Florida. You can search for lawyers by state, city, name, practice area, and legal topic. Avvo.com assigns each lawyer a score of between 1 and 10 that indicates his or her overall level of excellence. Each attorney’s profile will display his or her score, contact information, practice area, and client reviews.
When clients leave a review on avvo.com, they rate an attorney between one and five stars. Clients also have the option to leave comments about their experience with their lawyers. You can see an attorney’s star rating as well as his or her average rating based on reviews. Avvo.com also provides licensing information, such as how long a lawyer has been practicing, his or her standing with the relevant state licensing authority, and any disciplinary actions against him or her.
Read Peer Reviews
If you find yourself short on time to research a potential lawyer, relying on peer reviews is likely your best bet to ensure that you hire the right personal injury attorney. Avvo.com includes peer endorsements on its attorney profiles, but some other reliable websites have offered peer reviews for decades. The following three sources will give you a good sense of how the legal community views a specific personal injury attorney and/or firm:
- Martindale-Hubbell is the parent company of avvo.com and some other legal information websites. The company has an online directory of more than one million lawyers from across the nation. Lawyers who have been reviewed by their peers as having a high level of professional excellence receive an AV designation on their profiles.
- The Best Lawyers in America is a yearly list of the best attorneys chosen by their peers in 57 practice areas, including personal injury law. Inclusion on this list is an honor that depends entirely on peer recognition. Attorneys nominate peers to be listed in the directory and previously recognized attorneys confidentially vote on nominees. Once an attorney has been included in Best Lawyers, he or she is automatically nominated for the next award cycle and participates in the voting process for new nominees. You should seriously consider these awards when choosing an attorney. When attorneys recognize their colleagues, it speaks to an attorney’s reputation in the legal community.
- Super Lawyers is an elite directory of exceptional lawyers reserved for only five percent of practicing attorneys from each state. Although Super Lawyers includes independent research when rating attorneys, the most important element of inclusion in its directory is peer evaluations and recommendations from colleagues who share the same practice areas.
Read About Awards and Accolades
Searching for the best personal injury attorney includes researching any awards and accolades received by a potential lawyer. Best Lawyers recognizes exceptional attorneys and law firms with its “Law Firm of the Year” and “Lawyer of the Year” awards, and inclusion in Super Lawyers arises from a strict peer-review process that only includes the best of the best. Other organizations also offer prestigious awards to highlight outstanding lawyers who excel in their discipline. National awards include “Lawyer of the Year” from the National Law Journal, a coveted honor for attorneys from all practice areas awarded to those who rise above the rest by attaining a level of excellence rarely seen in the profession. The American Bar Association (ABA) also recognizes outstanding lawyers at all levels and in all practice areas.
The best Clearwater personal injury attorneys will likely also have won prestigious awards from organizations in Florida. The Florida Bar Association recognizes attorneys for excellence and service with four different awards: the Medal of Honor, Doyal Award, Curran Award, and Goldstein Award. The Clearwater Bar Association honors exceptional service to the public and to the legal community with its annual President’s Award, presented at its annual Law Day luncheon. The vast majority of national, state, and local organizations rely on some type of peer review process to choose their award recipients.
Meet Your Potential Attorney
It’s industry standard for law firms to offer free consultations to prospective clients to discuss their injuries with a qualified lawyer. These initial meetings serve as a two-way interview for attorneys to decide if they want to take a particular case and for you to decide if you want a particular attorney to represent you. If you’ve done your due diligence prior to a consultation, you should already know a great deal about the firm and attorney with whom you are meeting, so use this opportunity to ask questions about details that you couldn’t find online, including regarding specific client service practices, the attorney’s personal record and experience, and case strategy-related inquiries. Here are some examples of questions that you should bring up with your potential attorney during your initial consultation:
- Will I work exclusively with one lawyer on my case, or will my case be passed off to a junior associate after the initial meeting?
- Will my attorney be available to answer and return my phone calls in a timely manner?
- How frequently should I expect updates on my case?
- Do you have some examples of past cases similar to mine?
- Do you have examples of past settlements and verdicts that you have secured for clients?
- What is your current caseload? How many cases do you take on each year?
- How many cases have you handled in your career?
- What strategies do you have in mind to build my case?
- What obstacles or difficulties do you see with my case?
Ask About Litigation Experience
The majority of personal injury lawsuits settle before anyone needs to enter a courtroom. Those that do lead to litigation generally include a defense that has made unfair settlement offers, multiple parties who dispute their levels of liability, or defendants that deny liability altogether. Even though litigation is unlikely, you still need a skilled and aggressive litigator who can and will fight for you in the event that settlement isn’t an option. Some personal injury attorneys don’t have the litigation skills to successfully secure a verdict in their clients’ favor. Make sure to ask your potential attorney about his or her courtroom record. Find out how often he or she has had to litigate and ask for some stories of success and failure.
Retaining an attorney with litigation experience benefits you in other ways, too. Going to trial gives your attorney the opportunity to build a professional network that includes relationships with judges, defense attorneys, and expert witnesses, such as accident reconstruction specialists, forensic scientists, and life care planners. If your injury arose from medical malpractice, your attorney will need a medical expert to write an opinion on the viability of your case before filing a lawsuit. The best attorneys have established relationships that can help build cases and might benefit you in settlement negotiations or in the courtroom.
Ensure Resources for Adequate Representation
Some personal injury cases are straightforward; others pose challenges in determining liability, especially when more than two parties are involved in a lawsuit. Determining liability, building a strong claim, and accurately valuing a claim requires thorough investigation outside of what police officers write in their police reports. Proper investigation requires simple tasks, such as obtaining medical records, policy reports, and other relevant documents, but it also sometimes requires expert analysis, locating witnesses, and taking witness statements. The investigation might also require accident reconstruction experts and forensic testing.
Regardless of the exact investigative services that you may end up needing for your case, this work is not free. The best personal injury attorneys are associated with firms that have ample financial resources to conduct an adequate investigation. Some firms have in-house specialists and private investigators; other firms contract these jobs out to a qualified third party. Small boutique firms might not have the capital to build your case, or they might expect you to pay upfront for investigative services. Attorneys who have been practicing for several years are more likely to have developed the resources that you will want to support your case.
Ask About Fee Structure
The best Clearwater personal injury attorneys will openly discuss attorney fees with clients during a free consultation. Although there are some exceptions, most personal injury attorneys in Florida and other states handle cases on contingency. This is ideal for individuals who have additional financial stresses beyond legal fees related to their injury. When a lawyer takes a case on a contingent fee basis, it typically means that clients do not need to pay upfront or out-of-pocket for attorney fees. Your attorney will keep track of his or her hours worked to support your case, but he or she will deduct the final payment from your final settlement or court-awarded damages amount at the end of your case. If a potential lawyer won’t discuss his or her fee structure with you, proceed with caution; this might indicate that you have chosen poorly and need to reevaluate your options for representation.
Hire an Experienced Clearwater Personal Injury Attorney
Serious accidents that result in severe or catastrophic injuries disrupt the lives of injured individuals and their families, sometimes forever. Injured individuals experience pain related to their injuries and recovery, which often results in significant missed time from work. Lost wages compound the financial burden of mounting medical expenses not covered by your insurance. Hiring the best Clearwater personal injury attorney gives accident injury victims the best odds of a positive outcome in their cases, allowing them to focus on recovery and rehabilitation.
The experienced personal injury lawyers at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers have settled and litigated numerous cases for clients, resulting in the recovery of millions of dollars in damages. Our attorneys have been named as Super Lawyers, have outstanding avvo.com ratings, and have been designated as Florida’s Legal Elite by Florida Trend. We understand the challenges that you face after sustaining an injury caused by another party, and we are here to guide you through this challenging time in your life. If you live in the Clearwater area, call Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers at (833) 552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), or contact us online. In addition to Clearwater, we also serve clients from our St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and New Port Richey offices.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765