All lawyers who do personal injury work offer free initial consolations to potential clients. The purpose of the free consultation, from the lawyer’s perspective, is to gather information about the client and what happened to them in order to assess whether its a good case. The lawyer basically wants to evaluate whether the client has a viable claim that they can get compensation for.
The function of the initial consultation for the client is to provide an opportunity to get an expert legal opinion on the validity of their claims. It also gives them an opportunity to meet and get to know the attorney and decide whether or not to retain them or find someone else.
(1) Be Prepared
Being fully prepared for your free initial consultation with a lawyer is the most important thing you can do. Preparation will help both you and the attorney get the most out of the consultation. If you end up retaining the attorney to handle your case, coming to this consultation prepared will help get your case moving faster right from the start.
One key to this is preparing your story. You need to give a detailed, accurate statement about the facts of your potential case. Don’t try to reshape the story to make things look more favorable. That will just end up causing problems down the road that could potentially derail your case altogether.
Gathering all relevant documentation relating to your claim is another key part of preparation. If you have police reports, medical records or similar types of documents that relate to the accident you should bring those with you to the consultation.
(2) Research the Attorney and Firm
Find out everything you can about the attorney and his or her firm before your meeting. Not all personal injury attorneys are the same. The main difference between personal injury firms is often the specific type of cases that they normal focus on. Some firms focus primarily on auto accident cases. Others may be more experienced with medical malpractice cases.
(3) The Statute of Limitations
If your claims are based on an accident or injury that occurred a long time ago, one of the first things the lawyer will address at your consultation is whether the statute of limitations has expired. If you have a legal claim for damages, it must be brought within a certain amount of time. The statute of limitations is the law that sets the time limit on bringing claims. Depending on your state, the limitation time might be anywhere from 2 – 6 years. Check our statute of limitations page for a list of SOL time limits in all states. The question of when the statute of limitations period actually begins to run can be somewhat complicated, so be prepared to discuss this.
(4) Bring Documents
As mentioned above, bringing documents with you to your consultation can be very helpful. Relevant documents to bring with you might include:
- Pictures related to the accident or your injuries
- Any accident investigation reports from the police or insurance companies
- Any traffic citations or tickets that you received from the accident
- Names and contact information for potential witnesses
- Medical treatment records from hospital or doctors
- Medical imaging such as X-Rays or MRI
(5) Ask About Prior Cases Similar to Yours
One very helpful question to ask during your initial consultation with the attorney is whether he or she has handled prior cases that are factually similar to your own. For instance, if you are pursuing a medical malpractice case against your doctor for failing to diagnose cancer (or another condition), you should ask the attorney if his firm has previously handled other failure to diagnose cancer cases. If they have, you should ask what happened in those prior cases and whether they would expect a similar result in your case. For an auto accident case, you may want to ask about prior cases where the client’s injuries were similar to yours.
(6) Decide Whether to Retain the Attorney
If the lawyer indicates that he or she thinks you have a good case and they want you as a client, you will need to decide whether or not to retain him or her. Just because they gave you a free consultation this does not mean that you have any obligation to hire them. You are entitled to “shop around” and meet with other attorneys and decide which works best for you.
(7) Discuss the Retainer Agreement and Fees
Almost all personal injury lawyers handle cases on a contingency fee which means that they only get paid if they succeed in recovering money in your case. This means that you don’t pay them by the hour, but instead they take an agreed percentage of the money that they get for you. The contingency fee percentage is typically between 30-40% and most states have laws which limit the maximum percentage. The percentage may change depending on whether the case gets settled before a lawsuit is filed. For example, our standard contingency is 30% if a case settles before a lawsuit and 40% for anything we recover after a lawsuit is filed.
One important thing to understand is that the lawyer will usually recover his contingency + all expenses that his firm covered in connection with your case. Expenses can include court filing fees, deposition transcripts, trial exhibits, and expert witness fees. If a case settles quickly these expenses will likely be minimal. If a case goes all the way to trial, however, the total expense can be very significant. This is particularly true in complex medical malpractice cases. You should ask the attorney what the anticipated expenses will be in your case. You should also make sure that your agreement provides that you will not be personally responsible for any expenses in the event that your case is not successful.
(8) Agree on a Game Plan and Time Frame
If your consultation goes well and you end up retaining the attorney in the end, you should talk about the next steps before you leave. Ask the lawyer for a detailed “game plan” for what will happen going forward including what he needs from you and how long he anticipates things to take.
Contact Miller & Zois About For a Free Consultation
If you have a potential personal injury case you want to discuss, call the lawyers at Miller & Zois to set up a free consultation. Call us at 800-553-8082 or contact us online.