11 Questions You Should Ask Any Louisiana Attorney Before You Hire Them to Represent You in Your Auto Accident Case
If you’ve been involved or injured in a car accident in Louisiana, perhaps the most important decision you will make in connection with your case is choosing the right attorney to handle it. Quite simply, choosing the wrong attorney can spell disaster for you. It can ruin your case resulting in tragedy for you and/or your family.
I wrote this guide because every time I turn on my TV, I am confronted with personal injury lawyers across Louisiana and throughout the greater New Orleans area screaming at my screen, flashing supposed amounts of money received by supposed prior clients (who are, most often, professional actors) claiming if I simply make “one call” to their office, they will get me everything that I deserve for my auto accident case. While this “your pain is my gain” type of advertising may prove enticing, and certainly generates a lot of telephone calls and cases (and, as a result, money) for the attorneys running them, in my personal opinion, it does the public a disservice. This is because based upon these flashy ads alone, no one can determine the actual quality of attorney they are hiring as most often, the attorney on TV will not be handling the case at all. Additionally, the TV ads provide no guidance as to whether the attorney who will actually handle the case has the necessary qualifications and experience to ensure the client will actually receive (and keep more of) the compensation they deserve.
Not all attorneys are created equal. Choosing the right lawyer for your situation can mean the difference between success and failure. Time is not on your side. In most situations, like car accidents, the legal “clock” begins to tick right after the incident, meaning you must choose who to hire as your attorney quickly so you do not lose your rights. Despite this time crunch, you can look past the flashy TV ads and make a smart, well-informed decision quickly if you use common sense and ask the right questions of those persons who you are interviewing for the job. While the following questions do not exhaust everything a client may wish to discuss with his or her prospective attorney, it provides a great foundation and will assist most in what can be an overwhelming and stressful process.
Question 1: Who will actually be handling and “working up” my case?
While the lawyer you see on TV or any other ad may have thirty or more years of experience practicing law, more likely than not, he or she will not be the one to handle and work on your case. Rather, your file will probably be handed to some junior (and possibly green) lawyer. This way the TV lawyer can spend more time shooting commercials and driving more cases in for his young, green lawyers to work.
For this reason, you should ask exactly who will be handing and working up your case. Additionally, you should request to meet this individual, and pose questions 2 through 11 below to them. Again, this is because in all likelihood, that TV lawyer with “decades” of experience will not even be familiar with your file, and you deserve to know the experience, qualifications, and position of the specific attorney who will be representing you and/or your family in what may be one of the most important matters of your or their lives.
Question 2: How long have you practiced law?
As with any job or profession, general experience as an attorney is extremely important. While all Louisiana lawyers who have passed the bar are technically qualified to handle any legal matter, at a minimum, you will want to know if the lawyer with whom you are dealing is a rookie or a veteran.
With this said, do not assume all attorneys have the experience needed to handle your case correctly. In an auto accident case, both your health and wealth are at stake. Hiring a “green” lawyer could be disastrous. Instead, ask the lawyer just how long they have been practicing law. Look for a lawyer who has been practicing law long enough (ten years or more) to have “paid their dues” obtaining the quality experience you need for your case.
Question 3: What types of cases do you handle, and what percentage of your practice is devoted to auto accident injury law?
Along with length of legal career, you will want to know what area(s) of law the attorney practices in. Ask the attorney what types of cases they handle. This is so you know you are dealing with someone who has worked on (or, at a minimum, is interested in working on) cases like yours.
For example, if you have a child custody issue, you should seek an attorney who practices family law. If you have been arrested, you should seek an attorney who practices criminal law. If you are injured in a car accident, you should seek an attorney who practices car accident injury law.
It is important to note that just because the attorney you are speaking to practices in the field of auto accident injury law, it does not necessarily mean they are the “right” one for your matter. Instead, you should dig deeper into the attorney’s experience to determine just how much of their practice is devoted to working on auto accident cases.
Quite often, attorneys seek and perform work in a multitude of practice areas. For example, go to several attorneys’ websites and check the “Practice Area” portion of their webpages. More often than not, you will see attorneys who offer services for family law, criminal law, bankruptcy, personal injury, etc., all at the same time. Even if the attorney limits him or herself to one area of law, say, personal injury, more often than not they are seeking all sorts of injury cases to include car wrecks, slip and falls, nursing home abuse, dog bites, medical malpractice, products liability, etc.
With this in mind, you should specifically ask the attorney how much of their practice is devoted to helping people injured in car accidents. Does this make up 25% of their work? 50%? 75%? Or is this all they do? Think about it. If you had a specific or rare medical condition, would you seek out and hire a general practitioner who sees and treats every patient who walks through his or her door, no matter what the condition? Or would you seek out a specialist who focuses his or her practice on treating patients with the same specific or rare medical condition you have?
Ideally, the attorney you hire for your auto accident case focuses his or her practice on auto accident cases. By limiting his or her practice on auto accident cases, the attorney has signaled their intent to become a “specialist” or “expert” in that field of law.
Question 4: Do you have any special training or experience that will benefit my case?
Some practice areas, like DWI and patent cases, require specialized training and/or experience to ensure an attorney can effectively represent you. While auto accident injury law does not require specialized training and experience to practice, it is helpful to know if the attorney you are interviewing has any training or experience that may benefit your case.
For example, if an auto accident attorney has worked in law enforcement in the past, and as part of his or her duties received training on and physically handled car accident cases, it is easy to see how this training and experience can benefit the auto accident client. Likewise, if an auto accident attorney worked for one or more large insurance companies before deciding to represent auto accident victims, this “insider knowledge” into how large insurance companies handle and adjust auto accident claims would be invaluable when it comes to negotiating a fair settlement.
Thus, in addition to determining the relative experience and focus of a prospective attorney, ask them whether they have any special training or experience that will benefit your case. This information could prove vital when trying to decide if one particular attorney is more suited for your matter over another, and, as a result, more likely to obtain a favorable recovery for you.
Question 5: What was your class rank when you graduated from law school?
You should always consider intelligence when making your decision on what attorney to hire for your case. While it is difficult to measure IQ, law school grades and, as a result, class ranking, provide great insight into an attorney’s intellectual capacity and legal analysis skill.
In the law school world, it is no secret that the top downtown law firms (i.e., those who pay first-year attorneys well above $100,000 per year to start) screen their candidates using class rank. In fact, many of them will not even accept or read a resume if the applicant did not finish in the top 10% of their law school class.
With this in mind, ask your prospective attorney what their class rank was when they graduated law school. Did they finish in the top 10%? Top 25%? Top 50%? Or bottom half of their class? Did they receive any academic scholarships while in law school? Ideally, you want the “smartest person in the room” negotiating on your behalf or trying your case.
Question 6: Have you been published or written any books in the field of insurance or auto accident injury law?
Along with grades and class rank, publications are an additional window into an attorney’s capabilities. It is well-known that authors are typically thought of as experts and/or leaders in their field. At a minimum, it shows the individual attorney particularly cares about his or her chosen practice area, and set aside significant time to research and write about the subject in an effort to better themselves and, as a result, their clients’ outcomes.
Ask your prospective attorney if they have published any articles, reports or books that relate to insurance or auto accident injury law. If so, ask them for a copy of the article(s), report(s) or book(s) they have written. Take a moment to review these materials as they may provide insight or help you determine if the attorney with whom you are dealing is right for you.
Question 7: Have you received any awards, recognition, or ratings as an auto accident attorney?
Reputation can be an awkward subject to address when interviewing an attorney. However, it remains extremely important to address. Instead of asking an attorney “What’s your reputation?”, ask them if they have received any awards, recognition, or ratings as an auto accident attorney.
For example, ask the attorney if have they been nominated and won any awards based upon client reviews. One such example is the Avvo “Client Choice Award.” This award is only granted to those attorneys who have received numerous superior (5 out of 5) ratings by former clients of the firm.
Additionally, ask the attorney if they have they received recognition from any legal or industry organizations for being a “top” player in their chosen field of law. Examples of these include the National Trial Lawyers “Top 100,” and the American Academy of Trial Attorneys “Premier 100” distinctions.
Further, online legal directories, like Avvo.com, provide excellent reputation references. Avvo rates lawyers on a scale from 1-10 with 10.0 Superb being the highest rating available. Unlike some less reputable sources, the Avvo rating cannot be purchased. Rather, it is calculated using a proprietary mathematical model that considers many factors such as a lawyer’s years in practice, disciplinary history, professional achievements, and peer (other lawyer) reviews.
Finally, client testimonials and reviews are probably the best source of reputation information. In addition to any online reviews of attorneys by former clients (e.g., Google+, Avvo, etc.), you should ask your prospective attorney for copies of any client satisfaction reviews he or she may have. What better way to judge an attorney’s performance than by hearing from other people who have used them before.
Question 8: What is your fee, and what costs do you charge for?
While most auto accident injury attorneys charge on a contingency basis (meaning there is no fee if there is no recovery), and the actual amount of their fee is based upon the value of the claim, not all charge the same rate. Instead, there are some who charge less than the “traditional” fee of 33-40% in an effort to put more money in their clients’ pockets.
In addition to fees paid to the attorney, most attorneys require that the client bear the “costs” of the case. This can include, among other things, charges by the clerk of court for filing suit, costs of the sheriff for service of pleadings, copy costs, postage, and court reporter fees. It is important to understand what costs you will be responsible for and, more importantly, if you must pay them regardless of the outcome of your case.
With this in mind, ask your prospective attorney to detail what his or her fee will be, and what costs you will be responsible for. Ask them for a copy of the exact fee agreement you will sign (click here to view our Fee Agreement), and review it before your meeting with the attorney for an initial consultation. If you do not obtain a copy before you meet with your prospective attorney for an initial consultation, ask if you can take a copy home with you to review before you sign it. Any reasonable attorney who has nothing to hide will not have a problem with this.
Question 9: Do you offer any guarantees?
It seems there is not a day that goes by when we as consumers are not enticed by businesses who offer a “money-back guarantee” as a way to remove any risk associated with purchase of goods or services. It is easy to be skeptical of such guarantees as many of us have been “burned” at one time or another by an unethical company or vendor.
Certainly, any law firm that guarantees a specific or favorable result for its clients is not only to be avoided, quite frankly, it is engaging in unethical behavior. However, a law firm that guarantees a client’s satisfaction with their service is merely displaying a healthy professionalism based upon years of experience and prior successful cases.
Ask your lawyer whether they will guarantee your satisfaction with their services. Click here to view our 100% Client Satisfaction Guarantee. Ask them what will happen if one day, as a result of poor customer service you decide to “fire” them and take your file to another attorney. At many law firms, if a client were to leave, the law firm would be entitled to file a “lien” against the case, and the client would owe the firm money for work already performed on their behalf. However, there are firms who stand behind their promise of excellent client service, and provide written satisfaction guarantees noting that the client can walk away, no questions asked, and the attorney will waive their lien. If given the choice between two or more seemingly equal firms, and one will stand behind their promise of excellent client service through issuance of a written “no questions asked” guarantee while the others will not, the decision of which firm to hire would seemingly be simple.
Question 10: What rights do I have as a client of your firm?
Filing a claim following an auto accident can be extremely stressful and confusing. Any attorney who you contact regarding handling of your case should understand this, and have written policies and procedures to ensure you are treated with respect and dignity by all members of their firm, and that you receive timely updates regarding the status of your matter.
With this in mind, ask your lawyer whether he or she has a written client “Bill of Rights,” so to speak. If they do, ask them for a copy and review it. Click here to view our client Bill of Rights document. Does it provide how you should be treated as a client? Does it provide that you shall be told the truth about your case at all times? Does it mandate that you are to receive prompt attention, and will only pay a fair fee and not be overcharged? Does it promise that the attorney and his or her staff will handle your matter compassionately and professionally at all times?
Those attorneys who have taken the time to prepare such written policies and procedures obviously take client satisfaction seriously, and should probably be moved to the “top of the pile” when considering who to hire.
Question 11: Do you carry malpractice insurance and, if so, may I have a copy of your declarations page proving it?
Attorneys are human. All humans are capable of making mistakes. God forbid if the attorney representing you for your auto accident makes the mistake of failing to file suit on time as your claim will be forever lost. This is where the safety net of malpractice (errors and omissions) insurance kicks in.
Unfortunately, unlike certain other states’ Bar Associations, Louisiana’s Bar Association does not require its members to carry malpractice insurance. Because it is not mandatory, there are attorneys who choose to practice law without malpractice insurance in an effort to save money on insurance premiums.
In light of this, it is vitally important that you ask whether your prospective attorney carries malpractice insurance. If the answer is no, you probably want to steer clear of that attorney or firm. If the answer is yes, do not simply take their word for it. Instead, ask them for a copy of their declarations page provided by their insurer, proving they have it and for what amount. Click here to view our current “Lawyers Professional Liability Insurance” declarations page. This is the only way you can rest assured that you will be protected in the unlikely event your attorney makes a mistake that costs you all or part of your claim.