What To Expect When Meeting With A Lawyer For The First Time
What Happens When I Meet With an Attorney to Talk About My Personal Injury Case?
If you have been hurt in an accident and it was not your fault, you may be unsure if you need an attorney or not. If you do decide that you need or want an attorney’s help for your personal injury case, meeting with a competent attorney is the first step. Some people may be nervous about that initial meeting, but remember that your lawyer is on your side and is here to help you. If you plan to retain a lawyer, do not speak to the insurance company or provide any statements to them until you have hired and met with an attorney. Once an attorney has accepted your case, any and all communications regarding your case should go through your attorney’s office.
At the first meeting, your lawyer will want you to tell them the details of the accident and your injuries – you can think of the information he or she may need in terms of “who, what, when, where, why and how.” The amount of time that first meeting will take can vary depending on the issues involved in your accident and your injuries. For example, in a more simple case, where it is clear who is at fault for your injuries, such as a rear-end car accident, your first meeting will likely not take very long, particularly if you come prepared with information about your medical providers and the possible defendant(s). In more complex cases stemming from a defective product or medical malpractice, for example, the initial meeting with your attorney may take longer, as there will likely be more issues to discuss.
As you discuss your accident and injuries with your personal injury attorney, he or she will likely ask you many questions. Although some of the questions may be difficult to hear and answer, your lawyer needs the information in order to help you find the best solution for your case.
Below is a list of what you can expect to occur when you first meet with your personal injury attorney:
• You will be asked to sign a form that will authorize your doctors to release your medical records and medical bills to the law firm so that your lawyer can get copies.
• Your attorney will need to know about all available insurance information – your health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, your auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, the defendant’s insurance information, etc.
• The attorney will need to know whether or not you have spoken to any insurance adjustors and if you have, they will need to know generally what you said and whether or not you provided a statement about the accident or your injuries (written or recorded).
• One of the more important topics that you will discuss with your attorney is your injury or injuries. They should ask you about your problems right after the accident, how you have progressed, what your diagnosis is, if you are still in treatment, if you are still symptomatic or having problems, etc. They will also ask if you have ever had any similar injuries or injuries to the same parts of the body in the past. Although this may not seem relevant, it is very important information.
• Your attorney should also want to know if anyone else has spoken to you about the details of the accident and your injuries. If you have, they will ask who you spoke to and the details of the conversation.
• If you are still having physical problems or pain but are not seeing a doctor or therapist, your attorney may recommend that you go see your doctor. Most importantly, you want to ensure you are getting the best care and treatment so that your condition will improve. In addition, if you do not see your doctor and later decide to make a claim for your injuries and damages, the defendant might try to argue that you couldn’t be hurt badly, because if you were, you would have been under the care of a doctor. This may not seem fair or proper, but it is a tactic often used by defense attorneys.
• In some complex cases or cases that involve gray areas of the law, an attorney may decide to take some time to consider your case and conduct additional research. They would then contact you after your initial meeting to discuss your options and whether or not you have a viable legal claim. This type of additional research and investigation is common in many personal injury cases, so you should not be worried if the attorney does not make an immediate decision as to whether or not to handle your case.
• After meeting with you and reviewing information, a lawyer could decide not to take your case. There are many reasons that he or she might choose not to represent you, including current case load, area of practice or specialty, etc. The attorney may also tell you that in their opinion and based on their experience, you cannot make a legal claim or may not have much of a claim. They should encourage you, however, to seek the advice of another attorney, as another attorney may view your case differently. They should also inform you of the statute of limitations that applies to your case (the amount of time in which you have to file your claim).
• Another possibility is that the attorney could refer you to another attorney. There are multiple reasons that a lawyer would do this, for example, if they have an ethical conflict that prevents them from representing you, if they feel a lawyer with a different specialty could provide more assistance with your case, etc.
• If you and the attorney decide to work together, they should explain to you how they are compensated. In most personal injury cases, personal injury attorneys are hired on a contingency basis. In other words, the attorney does not get paid for their time unless and until you recover money, whether by a settlement, after an arbitration or at trial. You do not have to pay the attorney at the start or during the progress of your case.
• You and your lawyer should both sign a “retainer” or a “representation agreement.” This document is a contract that outlines the terms of the representation (compensation, case expenses, etc.). As is the case with any important document that you sign, be sure to read the retainer carefully and fully. If you do not understand any part of the document, ask questions before you sign it. Keep a copy for your own records, as well.
At the conclusion of the meeting, if you have decided to retain the attorney and he or she agrees to represent you, the attorney should give you a summary of what will happen next with respect to your case. There will be requests for medical records, police reports and witness statements. It is possible that a factual investigation will need to be done prior to any settlement or the filing of a lawsuit.
A critical piece of advice that your attorney should give you is that you should not talk about your case with others, post about it on social media sites, etc. Even seemingly innocent comments can have a devastating effect on the outcome of your case. In addition, if you and your attorney discuss details in confidence, they are protected from disclosure by the “attorney-client privilege.” If, however, you discuss that information with a co-worker or friend, you will lose the right to keep that information private.
Lastly, your attorney should discuss with you how they intend to keep you informed of the status of your case. You might want to get an occasional report by mail or e-mail with any updates, or your attorney or their staff may check in with you on a regular basis regarding your medical treatment and to keep you advised about what the firm is doing to move your case forward. At any time you should feel free to call or e-mail your attorney’s office if you have any questions at all about your case.
Most law firms will provide you with a free case evaluation. At the Halperin Law Center, you can expect to meet with an attorney – not a paralegal or “intake specialist” – to discuss whether or not you have a valid and viable legal claim for damages, with no cost to you and no obligation.