How to Choose a Personal Injury Lawyer

Written by James Cotter, Partner

If you or your loved ones are injured in an accident, the need for legal advice often arises. Bringing a claim for damages arising from a motor vehicle accident can be complicated, and in many cases you will need the expertise of a lawyer to deal with the sophisticated insurance company. 
It is stressful enough to have gone through a traumatic incident, however further stress can be incurred going through the process of selecting a lawyer.  Many people feel intimidated or stressed going to a law firm or even contacting a lawyer.  In addition, there appears to be many lawyers in the marketplace wanting  your business.  It may come as a surprise to the reader to know that any lawyer can hang out his or her shingle and say that they do personal injury law.  Any lawyer can put together a fancy website and place an ad in the yellow pages, on a billboard,  or the local paper proclaiming that he or she will look after your interests.  I am sure you have seen billboards along our highways on which law firms advertise personal injury law.  But how do you tell which lawyers are the “real deal”.
As a personal injury lawyer with 20 years’ experience, I can tell you what I would do.  Firstly, I would determine if lawyers in your region or community claiming to be a “ personal injury expert” actually have experience in the area.  The lawyer should have years of experience doing this type of law, including trial experience. As I said before, any lawyer can hang out his or her shingle and say that they do personal injury work.  Any lawyer can settle a personal injury claim without going to court,  but you don’t want a lawyer who is afraid of the trial process.  From my perspective, it is essential that a personal injury lawyer is someone with experience doing trials so that not only do they have the experience to understand the risks and the potential of your personal injury claim, but also that the insurance company that you are dealing with will know that the lawyer who is representing you will go to trial if a fair settlement is not reached.  ICBC, for instance, tracks which lawyers go to trial and which ones just settle. Those lawyers who just settle are treated with less respect, as they know that it is likely the lawyer will likely  accept a suboptimal settlement, rather than  pushing the matter to trial. 
Secondly, I would want my lawyer to be part of a team, with excellent support systems in place.  By that, I mean the lawyer has other lawyers to help, and the law firm has deep resources that can be used for managing the case.  As a personal injury lawyer, I find it invaluable to be part of the team of 6 lawyers at Nixon Wenger, whom I know will help me make tough decisions on claims, and will back me up if I need extra help on the claim.  As well, when it is time to take the matter to trial, we have a policy of always assigning  two lawyers to do the trial.   It won’t cost the client more, as almost all cases are done on a straight percentage fee basis. From my perspective, you want a lawyer who is 100% committed and involved in your claim, and is not worried about time and resources put into the case.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly I would look for references or testimonials from past clients of that lawyer.  In my experience, word of mouth and personal referrals continue to be the main way of attracting clients.  By seeking out references, or reading testimonials, you can satisfy yourself as to whether the lawyer you are considering is really the “real deal”.