Most of us hope that we’ll never have reason to hire a personal injury attorney in our lives. By definition, you only need the services of a PI attorney when something has gone wrong and you (or someone you love) has suffered an injury or even death. However, not wanting to ever have to hire an attorney to represent you when seeking compensation for injury doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare for the possibility.
Here are some questions that you should ask when looking for personal injury attorneys in Portland, Oregon—or, really, anywhere.
What Does a Personal Injury Attorney Do?
Before you know what questions you should ask a hypothetical PI attorney in the Portland, OR, area, you should know what the purpose of a personal injury attorney is.
An attorney who specializes in matters of personal injury is an attorney who will help people who have suffered a wrong or an injury, typically in an accident of some kind. Given that medical expenses in the United States can often be dire, one of the most critical purposes of a personal injury lawyer is helping you recoup money that will help you pay these bills—so that you aren’t staring down the barrel of medical bankruptcy at a time when you should be focused on healing. The damages you and your attorney will seek can also go toward covering living expenses while off work, and so on.
Whether in Portland, Oregon, or elsewhere, personal injury attorneys will:
- Explain your rights. The best lawyers will give an honest assessment of your case as they understand it. What rights do you have that might have been violated? Alternatively, were you doing anything at the time that might make seeking damages more difficult?
- Assess and investigate the incident. Some law firms specializing in personal injury may carry out their own investigations of an accident, hiring professional investigators to do things like interview witnesses, take photos of the scene, and other activities to document what happened to you. Your attorney and their staff want to make sure they have a full understanding of the events that transpired.
- Advise you as to how to proceed. The legal system can be a tricky, arcane beast even when you aren’t recovering from injury. It’s often tremendous help to have an objective voice that can give professional, experienced advice as to how you should proceed and what steps will make it more or less likely for you to receive the damages you deserve.
- Represent you in court. The majority of personal injury claims are settled long before anyone ever steps into a courtroom, but should that step occur, you’ll be well served by having experienced legal counsel to handle the case for you. A trial requires expert knowledge not just of the law, but also of how it is applied—and how to argue it—and that’s why you want a seasoned personal injury attorney to argue your case, whether in a Portland courtroom or anywhere else.
Now that we know the role a personal injury attorney typically holds, what should you look for and what should you ask when you hire one?
5 Questions to Ask a Prospective Personal Injury Attorney
Hiring a personal injury attorney isn’t like hiring a painter or a web design firm, where if the result is subpar, you’re only out time and money and can easily try again. Many times, your first attempt to recover damages over an injury is the only attempt you get; judges frown on repeated attempts to file lawsuits over the same offense. (Setting aside appeals, but we’ll get to that later).
Because of this, you need to make sure your personal injury firm is the best in the business at what they do. Always ask at least these questions, and do your research to get to know the law firm and its staff.
1. Have You Handled Cases Like This Before?
The most brilliant attorney in Portland today might be a fresh-faced young lawyer hot off the bar exam, but that’s not a smart gamble to take. Even veteran attorneys might be fishes out of water when faced with a case that isn’t quite their expertise. Would you trust even an accomplished podiatrist with your eye surgery? Of course you wouldn’t.
Ask your prospective attorney whether they’ve represented clients like you before—and what the outcomes were. If the law firm has handled dozens of cases like yours but hasn’t won any, that might mean you should keep looking.
2. What Do You Think the Outcome Will Be?
On the other hand, a losing record might indicate that cases like yours rarely succeed. Lawyers aren’t psychics or fortune-tellers, but they do understand the law, and when you lay out the facts, they can often give an honest prognostication of where they think this case might go. This isn’t an ironclad guarantee, of course, but it might help you decide your next steps. For instance, if the attorney says you’ll be more likely to see money in arbitration, rather than in a courtroom, you can pursue that avenue.
3. How Will the Billing Be Handled? What Fees Do You Have?
Outside of pro bono lawyers—who may handle your case in certain circumstances—your attorney and their firm will, of course, expect to be paid for their hard work. It’s important to understand the fees that your representation will be seeking and to understand how and when they expect to be paid. Nobody likes talking about money, but it’s critical to ensure you’re all on the same page.
4. What Work Will You Need from Me?
When you sign the contract to officially hire a personal injury attorney, sometimes your work is done and you can leave it all up to your law firm. Other times, the attorney will need you to provide documents, other information, or anything else they can use to build your case. However, most of them will probably tell you not to do any work, like talking to witnesses, on your own—that can backfire.
5. What’s the Strategy for an Appeal?
If you lose a case, you’re usually allowed to appeal it to a higher court. (As are the defendants if the court rules in your favor). It’s important that you assess how prepared a law firm and its attorneys are when it comes to appellate courts. Ideally, you’ll win the case at the first level, but planning ahead is never a bad thing.
These are just some of the many questions you should ask a personal injury attorney when looking for representation in Portland or around Oregon—or the country. You should always consult multiple potential attorneys to ensure that you have the right personal injury firm to represent your case.
To find top-notch representation in the Portland area or for legal consultation, contact Warren Allen.