What You Should Consider When Hiring A Personal Injury Lawyer in Pennsylvania
Ryan Zavodnick | April 7, 2016 | Personal Injury
If you have been injured as a result of a car accident or slip and fall or have been injured at work, one of the most important decisions you will make is deciding whether to hire a personal injury or workers’ compensation attorney, and if so, whom to hire.
We live in an age where there are literally thousands of attorneys in any given geographic area who hold themselves out as ready, willing and able to handle your case. You are also quite fortunate because there is a lot of information at your fingertips that can guide you in selecting the best personal injury lawyer or workers’ compensation attorney to handle your case.
The hard part is knowing what to look for, what questions to ask, what is important, what is customary, and where to find out what you need to know before hiring an attorney.
With the above in mind, we hope that this blog post helps you as you tackle this critical decision.
Word Of Mouth Referrals Are Still The Best Way To Find A Good Attorney
Back before the United States Supreme Court held that states could not prohibit attorney advertising entirely, the preferred method of choosing an attorney was word of mouth referrals. If you were in a car accident or hurt at work, you asked your friends, relatives, doctors and neighbors if they knew of a good attorney.
Once you received a positive recommendation and endorsement from one of the above, you contacted the attorney and scheduled a free consultation. By relying on the recommendation of someone who had already worked with the chosen attorney, you ensured that you were meeting with a lawyer who came highly recommended.
For better or for worse, the landscape has changed. Now, attorneys and law firms spend millions of dollars each year advertising their firms. Billboards, television commercials, radio commercials, newspaper advertisements and internet advertising are just a few of the many ways in which law firms spend their money, hoping that by exposing you throughout the year to their billboards at every corner, or television commercial at every break in the show, you will remember their name if and when you are in need of a lawyer.
This is called branding, and it works. You get injured at work and immediately think about all of those billboards and commercials and you instinctively contact that law firm. Mission accomplished-for the firm spending the thousands of dollars that is!
Our recommendation is that, before you contact a law firm based solely on the advertising they have done, take a day or so to ask your friends, co-workers, family members, doctors and neighbors whether they have ever worked with a personal injury lawyer or workers’ compensation attorney, and if so, whether they recommend that particular attorney. A positive recommendation from a former client is the best information out there.
Doing a good job for current and past clients is the best form of marketing that a law firm can do. Any law firm with money can pay to throw a billboard up on I-95 or Rt. 76 advertising their services, but only firms that do a good job consistently will have present and former clients out there recommending their services. Cherish and utilize this information, because word of mouth referrals remain the best way to find a good attorney.
The Internet Is Your Friend, Use It!
Word of mouth referrals are the best way to choose an attorney. We stand by that statement. However, even with word of mouth referrals, doesn’t it make sense to utilize the Internet to see what others have said about the firm you are considering? No, we are not talking about the pay-per-click advertisements at the top of the screen when you run a google search.
You know, the ones that tell you that the firm is the best workers’ compensation firm around, or has recovered millions of dollars. We are referring to the information contained on the internet that the law firms haven’t paid for.
For starters, check out the google reviews of the firm you are considering. See what previous clients have said about their experiences with the firm. Google carefully screens the reviews to ensure that they are being posted by real people and not by the firm’s themselves, so unlike paid attorney advertising, they are authentic.
Go to the website for the Better Business Bureau and see whether any complaints have been lodged against the firm and whether the firm is in good standing. Go to the firm’s website and look at the client reviews to see what past clients have said. Check out the firm’s Facebook page and Twitter account. Gather all the information you can, this is an important decision!
Make Sure You Meet With The Actual Attorney Who Will Be Handling Your Case
In another troubling development in the legal field, many law firms have done away with face-to-face initial consultations. Some firms elect to hire case intake specialists, paralegals or investigators to come to your home and meet with you following a car accident or work-related injury. These individuals have never gone to law school, are not attorneys, and therefore cannot handle your case.
So why do law firms choose to have these individuals meet with you instead of having one of the attorneys sit down with you to discuss your case? Is it because the attorneys are too busy to take time out of their day to meet with someone who is considering hiring their firm? If so, is that an attorney whom you want to hire to represent you in this very important matter?
If the attorney can’t take the time to meet with you initially when you have not yet decided whether to hire his/her firm, is that attorney going to take the time to be more involved and responsive to you once you have already hired his/her firm? Will he/she return your phone calls when you have questions? Will you ever speak with that attorney during your case? Do you even know which attorney will handle your case?
A good deal of our practice at Zavodnick, Zavodnick & Lasky, LLC involves handling workers’ compensation claims. When we go to court we have no difficulty finding our client because we know who they are and they know who their attorney is!
Yet, each and every time we go to court we see and hear attorneys simply calling out names of clients in the waiting area, hoping for a match. This is because the attorney selected by their firm to appear that day has never even met the client before! The attorney shows up in court, meets the client for the first time, and then perhaps presents the client’s testimony to the workers’ compensation judge, which is the most critical moment in any workers’ compensation case, moments after meeting the client for the first time! Would this be acceptable to you?
Would you be accepting of this if you were having quadruple bypass heart surgery but had never met your doctor before and instead showed up to the hospital on the date of the scheduled surgery and waited for a doctor you had never seen before to call out your name and then perform your surgery? Didn’t think so!
So make sure when you are selecting a law firm to handle your case that you meet with the actual attorney who will be handling your case during the initial consultation.
Make sure you ask that attorney whether he/she will be handling your case personally or assigning it to an associate or colleague. There are many good options out there when hiring a personal injury lawyer or workers’ compensation firm- don’t settle for an attorney who can’t be bothered to meet with you initially.
Make Sure The Firm’s Fees Are Not Higher Than What The Majority Of Attorneys Charge
When you are meeting with an attorney, make sure that the attorney’s fees are in line with what the majority of firms charge their clients. In Pennsylvania workers’ compensation matters, the standard fee is 20% of any benefits the attorney obtains for you.
By law, this fee cannot be higher. For Pennsylvania personal injury cases, such as car accident and slip and fall accidents, the standard fee is 33 1/3% of any money that the attorney obtains for you.
Unfortunately, over the years many firms have elected to charge fees of 40%, 45% and sometimes even higher. Unlike with workers’ compensation cases, there really is no limit to the fee a personal injury attorney can charge in the majority of cases.
However, remember that that there are hundreds of qualified Philadelphia personal injury lawyers who will charge the customary 33 1/3 % fee, so why pay more than you have to?
If The Attorney Tells You How Much Your Case Is Worth During The Initial Consultation-Run!
Unless the attorney you meet with has godlike powers, no attorney can tell you how much your personal injury case or workers’ compensation claim is worth during the initial consultation. If an attorney tries to do so, run the other way because that attorney is just trying to sell you on his or her services and throw out a number that he/she knows will get you to hire the firm.
There are so many variables and factors that go into the evaluation of a case, many of which cannot possibly be known during the initial consultation, that is it impossible for a lawyer to tell you how much your case is worth after speaking with you for 30 minutes or an hour. Sure, you want to know, so you ask the question.
The better attorneys will explain the process to you, and explain the many factors that are involved in the evaluation of cases like yours, and explain that there is no magic ball that allows attorneys to see the future and see how things are going to play out. Yes, the attorney can explain to you what the law is, and whether the other side in a personal injury case is likely to be deemed at fault, but anything beyond that is pure speculation, or salesmanship, both of which should be avoided.
Trust Your Instincts!
Make sure you like the attorney you meet with. Make sure the connection is there. This is why it is so important that you actually meet with the attorney who will be handling your case. The attorney you meet with may be the best thing since sliced bread, but if you don’t like him or her, it won’t matter because you won’t work well together.
If the attorney is dismissive or short with you during your consultation, ask yourself if the attorney is acting this way when trying to get you to hire the firm is the attorney likely to act better or worse after you have actually hired the firm? If the attorney is distracted, doing other work or taking phone calls during the initial consultation, perhaps the attorney isn’t the right one for you.
If the attorney rushes you through your initial consultation and only sets aside 15 minutes to discuss your case with you, ask yourself whether your case will be as important to the attorney as it is to you, and if so, why won’t the attorney spend more time with you as you make the most important decision in the case? Look around the office. Do the receptionists, paralegals and/or secretaries look happy? Is the attorney kind to them? Do they like him/her? These are important things to consider. Chances are if the staff doesn’t like the attorney you are meeting with, you might not either.
And remember, just because you are meeting with the attorney it doesn’t mean that you have to hire that attorney. It is called a free initial consultation for a reason. You can and should feel free to walk away if you are not satisfied that the attorney you are meeting with is the right fit for you.
Does Your Attorney Have A Financial Interest In Any Other Aspect Of Your Case?
This is a question that we didn’t have to ask years ago. However, this is now something that has become an issue. There are some attorneys out there who aren’t content to represent clients and receive a percentage fee of whatever they obtain for those clients.
Instead, some attorneys now have ownership interests in pharmacies and other entities who provide services or products related to your case. So, you hire the attorney, he or she refers you to a particular pharmacy to fill your prescriptions, and that attorney receives money because of his/her financial interest in the pharmacy.
Not bad work if you can get it, right! So hey, maybe your workers’ compensation case doesn’t settle for as much as you would have liked, but at least the attorney received money as a result of the prescriptions you filled to help you with the pain you experienced along the way! If the attorney wants to refer you to a particular mail order pharmacy, ask your attorney whether he/she gets anything out of it. You might be surprised, if not dismayed, by the answer.
You were hurt in a car accident. Or you were injured at work. You need an attorney to represent you, to guide you, to counsel you, to protect your interests. Make sure the attorney you choose is the right one for you. Don’t be fooled or misled by attorney advertising.
Talk to the people closest to you. Do your homework. Ask the right questions. Be comfortable with the decision you make. The attorneys at Zavodnick, Zavodnick & Lasky, LLC wish you the best of luck as you enter these uncharted waters. You won’t see us on billboards, but you will see us in court, fighting for our clients, making sure they receive the compensation they deserve.
We won’t tell you that we are the best law firm around, instead we will encourage you to check out our google reviews, and speak to our former and current clients.