If you've ever browsed through the "yellow pages" of your Seattle-area phone book, you'll find numerous advertisements for personal injury attorneys. These ads say the same things: "Aggressive Representation!" "No Recovery, No Fee" "Free Consultation" "We'll Protect Your Rights!," or "Need a Lawyer?"
How does someone who has never had to hire an attorney sort through all of these ads and find a qualified personal injury attorney? Finding a good Washington state personal injury attorney can be challenging, but not impossible. Here are some guidelines that should make your search easier and also relieve some anxiety.
*Choose an attorney who demonstrates expertise in the field of personal injury law. There are too many different types of the law for any one attorney toclaim specialty in multiple areas. No one can do everything well. Most people want to see a specialist. The same is true for lawyers. The attorney you choose should limit his or her practice exclusively to personal injury law.
*Choose an attorney who specializes in personal injury cases. There are many attorneys who represent personal injury clients in addition to other practice areas, such as divorce, criminal defense or real estate. You should pick an attorney whose practice is devoted 100% to personal injury law. Don't take chances with your personal injury claim by hiring a "generalist."
*Choose an attorney who actually goes to trial. I know, I know. If you're like most people who have a claim for injuries, you'd rather not have to go to trial. So why pick an attorney who actually does regularly try injury cases? Essentially, the insurance company is in the business of "risk." That is, it accepts your money with the promise that it will pay you money if you encounter certain risks of harm or damage. The risks are usually low, which is why the insurance company can earn enormous profits. When it comes to paying a claim, the company only pays a "settlement" if there is a "risk" that the company may have to pay more if the person files a lawsuit and goes to trial. Attorneys who regularly go to trial increase the insurance company's "risk" that it might have to pay much more money if the jury awards more than the last settlement offer.
*Choose an attorney who wins at trial. This goes without saying. An attorney who gets results at trial is the insurance company's worst nightmare. The carrier will pay much more money to settle a case if the injured person's attorney has a track record of winning at trial than if the attorney does not. Choose an attorney that knows how to win.
*Choose an attorney who understands the medicine involved in your case. This is a no-brainer, right? But you would be very surprised at how many attorneys who claim specialty in personal injury have little understanding of the medicine and treatment involved with the client's injury. For example, take a case involving neck and back injuries. These types of injuries can be difficult to prove in court because spine medicine is extremely complex and the diagnostic imaging may show very little or nothing at all. If you have a neck or back injury claim, you obviously want an attorney who understands spine medicine so proper treatment and diagnoses can easily be pursued or presented to the insurance company in negotiations, or made part of a persuasive presentation to a jury on your behalf. You would be surprised at how few personal injury attorneys really understand this area of medicine yet neck and back injury claims make up the bulk of accident cases that exist in Washington.
*Beware of attorneys who actively solicit you. You should be cautious of attorneys who contact you in writing just after you or a loved one has been injured, maimed or killed in an accident. Most state bar associations have rules against attorney solicitation, or at least have very stringent limitations on this sort of activity.
*Understand bar association referral lists. Many local bar associations operate a "referral list" where consumers can get the name of an attorney. Just understand that the lawyer has signed up and paid a fee to be included on the referral list. Some but not all of these referral lists don't bother to check or verify the attorney's experience with the type of case that is being referred.
*Choose an attorney who you feel comfortable with. You should feel comfortable with the lawyer and his or her ability to communicate with you. Does the attorney seem credible and trustworthy? Does the attorney explain everything to your satisfaction, or does he explain why an answer to a particular question can't be given at that time? You should feel comfortable with the lawyer. You should also understand how the two of you will be working together on your case.
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