Suffering a personal injury can cost you a lot more than you might think. Aside from the initial medical costs, the situation could snowball into missing time from work, being unable to pay your bills, or incurring a disability that might make you unable to work for a long period of time or for the rest of your life. Finding excellent representation is imperative.
Obtaining the right lawyer for your situation can be a journey in itself but it’s worth the time and effort. There are a few ways to go about finding an attorney. You can do the old-fashioned research which involves locating personal injury attorneys in your area, reading reviews, and beginning the process of scheduling some consultations, or you can use a lawyer referral service. While using the referral service might look like it would be quick and painless, it’s not the best way to find the right attorney for you.
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What is a Lawyer Referral Service?
Also called attorney-client matching services, lawyer referral services are lists or networks of lawyers who are available for consultations for new clients. A client can contact the service and a representative or employee, not an attorney, takes the information regarding the case and refers it to an available attorney who handles those situations. Many of the lawyers who participate in these services have agreed to provide low or no-cost initial consultations. From there, the client still has the option to hire or reject the attorney and keep looking, but the client may have had to pay a fee to the referral service or to the lawyer for the consultation. In the broadest terms, an attorney referral service is a marketing strategy.
Lawyer referral services can be provided by local and state bar associations, non-profit organizations, and advocacy groups as public services. There are also for-profit referral services which require clients to pay membership fees. These services raise ethical questions in addition to making non-specific referrals like all the other services.
Problems Associated with Using Referral Services
On the surface, it looks like a straightforward process to contact a referral service and let them find an attorney for you. While using the services eliminates a lot of leg work, they present some unique issues that should be taken into consideration.
- Confidentiality – When you consult an actual attorney about your injury claim, everything you say is confidential due to attorney-client privilege. Nothing you say can be shared with an outside party and potentially used against you. This is not the case with a referral service. You divulge the facts of the incident to a third-party employee or volunteer who passes on the information to others to make the referral. This process provides no protection for clients at all. If the claim goes to court, the attorneys for the respondent (the person being sued) can access all the information and use it to discredit the client’s claims or witnesses.
- Credentials and Qualifications – Some referral services have minimal or no requirements for membership. In other words, just because an attorney is receiving referrals from a service doesn’t mean that the attorney is competent and trustworthy or Board Certified. In some instances, any attorney with any reputation can join a referral service. It’s important to verify that any attorney referred by a service has a good reputation and has successfully tried relevant cases. Board Certification is a good indicator of a legitimate lawyer.
- Competition – One common concern about referral services is the ability of lawyers to undercut others in order to get more clients. When this occurs, the emphasis is on the attorneys’ ability to make money rather than provide competent and quality representation to their clients.
- Referral Restrictions – Professional referral services are under scrutiny as to whether they are impartial and non-competitive. For instance, some services may require that their member attorneys be Board Certified. In general, Board Certified attorneys charge higher fees and hourly rates, so if the referral service only sends clients to higher priced attorneys, they are not viewed as being impartial or concerned with providing the best attorney for the client. While Board Certification is generally a good thing, it isn’t the only indicator of a top-notch attorney.
- Lack of Choice – When you use a referral service, the members of the service decide which attorney or attorneys to present with your case. While the service should advertise which law firms it represents, it makes all the choices regarding which attorneys view the cases that come in. You will have no idea who the lawyer will be until he or she contacts you.
- Being Turned Away – Well-known and well-advertised law firms are usually not hurting for clients, so you might encounter situations with referral agencies when law firms have already received a set number or quota of referrals and your request may be rejected, causing you to waste valuable time and energy.
- Vital Information may be Overlooked – The person who takes your information on behalf of the referral service will not be an attorney, so it’s likely that he or she will not know if an important question needs to be asked or if additional details about an aspect of the incident should be obtained. The attorney can accept or deny the referral on the basis of the intake information. If it was not properly or completely gathered, it may cost you the referral.
- Ethical Concerns – Every agency should provide complete transparency in every aspect including the charging of fees and what they pay for, how your personal information is guarded, and which attorneys are available for referral. No questions should be left unanswered.
Using an attorney referral service may end up costing you money, time, and privacy, not to mention the fact that the agency doesn’t guarantee that an attorney will accept your case. There are specific things to look for that will help you choose a great personal injury lawyer.
How to Choose the Best Personal Injury Attorney
Doing your own research allows you to specialize your criteria and puts you in control. There are some specific things to watch for during your search.
- Look for an attorney who only handles personal injury cases – an attorney who handles divorces, wills and estates, and real estate, for example, may not be as competent in court as one who handles only personal injury suits. As a result, the insurance company may give the attorney a lowball offer thinking he or she doesn’t know any better.
- Find an attorney who actually takes cases to court – it’s not enough to merely have the representation of an attorney. You need one who will go to court to fight for your rights. Any attorney who is not willing to do that may be intimidated by insurance companies or the opposing attorneys into accepting a low settlement. Research the attorney’s history of courtroom appearances and results.
- Look for the attorney’s proven history of winning cases and high settlements. You want an attorney who won’t compromise your needs or rights.
- Look for attorneys who are members of state and national trial lawyer groups – serious attorneys are like members of any other profession in that they learn from each other. They know that insurance companies and their attorneys use deceptive tricks to keep from paying on claims. You want an attorney who knows how to defend against them.
- Hire an attorney who has the resources to fully follow through with your case – personal injury cases are expensive to prepare and fight in court. Make sure your attorney won’t have to drop out for lack of funds to pay for expert witnesses and depositions.
- Take any attorney seriously who will let you talk to previous clients – past clients are excellent report cards and will let you know if the attorney served their needs and took care of business properly. Don’t consider any attorney who won’t produce the feedback of past clients.
- Give serious consideration to any attorney who has lectured and written published articles regarding personal injury law – these are good indications that your attorney is a recognized expert in the field and is less likely to be challenged by insurers or other attorneys.
There is one more criterion for choosing a personal injury lawyer, one that is at least as important if not more so than the others. You should easily be able to build a rapport with the attorney. You should feel that he or she is listening to your concerns and paying close attention to the facts of your case. Just as with a doctor or other medical professional, your confidentiality should be respected and you should feel comfortable telling the attorney everything he or she needs to know.
To be certain that you will obtain the attorney of your choice, you should go about contacting him or her personally to schedule a consultation. A referral agency cannot guarantee that your case will be referred to the right attorney for your circumstances.