Lawyers have a bad reputation with the public, which is unfortunate. This reputation is not really deserved since lawyers are more closely regulated than almost any other profession.
However, there are definitely a few bad apples out there, so you want to carefully research potential personal injury lawyers before hiring one.
To increase your chances of finding a reputable attorney, follow these tips.
Ask Questions at a Consultation
Most personal injury lawyers should offer free consultations or case evaluations where you can explain what happened. You can also ask questions so that you can get a better idea of whether you want to hire the lawyer. A free consultation is a great tool to interview attorneys, so you definitely want to take advantage of it. The consultation probably won’t last long—lawyers are busy, after all—so write out questions ahead of time.
Focus on what you really want to know. For example, you might ask:
- What percent of the lawyer’s case-load is made up of personal injury cases? Some lawyers focus more on divorce, criminal law, or estate planning. You definitely want a lawyer who commits a large percentage of their practice to personal injury law.
- Has the lawyer ever handled a personal injury case like yours? For example, if you have been injured in a car accident, you want someone who has handled those types of case.
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of your case?
- How does the lawyer communicate? Do they prefer phone calls or emails? How long does it take for them to reply to clients?
- Has the lawyer ever been reported to the state bar association for unethical conduct? If so, what was the result of the investigation?
- Has the lawyer ever been sued for malpractice?
- Does the lawyer have references you can contact?
Take a notepad so that you can write down the lawyer’s answers. If possible, meet with more than one lawyer for a consultation so that you can pick and choose the one you like best.
Look at Online Reviews
Websites like Yelp and Google collect reviews on lawyers, which you can easily find online. Type in the lawyer’s name and read through the reviews. Of course, take all reviews with a grain of salt. Usually, unhappy clients are more motivated to leave negative reviews than satisfied clients, so read critically. A critical review that is short on details might not much. However, if you see patterns to the complaints—for example, many people complaining that they couldn’t understand the lawyer’s bills—then there might really be a problem.
Check if the Lawyer Has Been Disciplined
You might ask in the consultation whether the lawyer has been disciplined, but you should always double check on your own. You should contact the Mississippi Bar Association’s Office of General Counsel. Look to see if the lawyer has ever been sanctioned for unethical conduct. Remember, unethical conduct is more than a client being unhappy with a lawyer. Instead, lawyers owe clients many duties, such as:
- Preserve client confidences.
- Not to represent the client if there is a conflict of interest.
- Not use client funds or property for their own purposes.
- Communicate effectively and meaningfully with clients.
If the lawyer has been sanctioned, then that means the state board investigated the complaint and found that it had merit.
Speak to the Lawyer’s References
As with online reviews, you can’t 100% trust the references a lawyer gives you. After all, would a lawyer give you a reference to someone who was unhappy with their representation? You can be sure the lawyer gave you names of only those people who will give a positive reference.
Nevertheless, you can obtain useful information from the reference. Ask them what they liked about the lawyer and what they would have changed. For example, the reference might have liked the lawyer but wished the lawyer called more often to give updates. Remember, a lawyer can be “reputable” but just not be the right pick for you.
Ask another Lawyer for their Opinion
The legal community in Mississippi is very small, so lawyers know each other. They should know the reputation of other lawyers practicing in the personal injury field. Contact any lawyer that you know. You might have used a lawyer during a real estate transaction or during a divorce. Ask him or her if they know of any reputable personal injury lawyers you can talk to and write down the names. If you’ve already met with a lawyer and want to hire him, then ask other lawyers if they think that is a good idea.
Read Your Engagement Letter or Fee Agreement
A reputable lawyer should give you a written agreement that lays out the work they will do for you and how much they will charge. The letter should also include other helpful information, such as:
- What happens to your file at the end of your attorney-client relationship.
- When their representation ends. For example, will they represent you on appeal? This should be spelled out clearly in the letter.
- What to do if you have a disagreement about your fee.
- A description of what information will be included on your bill. For example, will work be itemized?
Read this letter carefully. It should answer any questions that you have. If you can’t understand the letter and the lawyer doesn’t want to explain it to you, then the lawyer might not be reputable. Proceed cautiously.
Hire a Lawyer who is a Good Fit
If you attend three or four consultations, chances are you will like more than one lawyer. However, you can only hire one lawyer or law firm, so spend some time thinking about which lawyer you liked the best. Consider the following:
- Who did you feel most comfortable with?
- Did you feel more comfortable asking questions of one lawyer than another?
- Can you afford the lawyer’s fee?
- Did one lawyer sound more confident in how they answered questions?
- Is your gut telling you to go with one lawyer over the others?
Schedule Your Free Consultation with the Harris Law Firm
We understand that hiring a personal injury lawyer can be a stressful experience, but it shouldn’t be. At the Harris Law Firm, we are happy to meet to with you and to answer any questions that you have. We have a long track record of satisfied clients and hope to add you to our list. Contact us today to schedule your free case evaluation.