How Should You Choose a Lawyer?

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury at work, or due to the actions of a person, firm or corporation, Illinois law requires that their insurance compensates you.  Sadly, this way of thinking has gone astray as insurance companies save money by delaying and underpaying claims. In addition, insurance companies have the resources to pay for the most expensive lawyers who understand how to undermine the legal rights for the injured. Unfortunately, most if not all injured persons do not understand their rights.

Why Do I Need a Lawyer?

Many times people believe that they can negotiate on their own with the insurance company or that a lawyer will charge a fee that will take away too much of their settlement.  A good Chicago accident lawyer will always have the client’s best interest in mind, and this includes making sure their attorney’s fees do not reduce their client’s recovery to less than what the client could have recovered themselves. Insurance companies, on the other hand, will generally do anything they can to avoid justice or obtain the lowest possible settlement. They will prompt answers from you that ultimately damage your case.

Even with deducting the attorney’s fee from your settlement, you should receive significantly more by using an attorney than if you were to try and negotiate by yourself.

Plaintiff Lawyer vs. Defense Lawyer

Personal injury is quite broad – it covers construction injuries, car accidents, defective products, nursing home negligence, medical malpractice, corporate negligence, dog bites, environmental exposures, work accidents, riverboat accidents, railroad accidents and much more.  In fact, personal injury refers to any injury to the body or mind.

Most negligence lawyers in Chicago who concentrate in personal injury law will either represent the injured person (plaintiff) or the employer (respondent) or entity(s) that are allegedly responsible for the injury (defendant).  If you have been injured, then you want to hire an attorney who focuses solely on representing the injured – also known as a “plaintiff’s lawyer.”  Furthermore, you want to find a plaintiff attorney that has a reputation of trying his or her cases to a jury, commonly referred to as a “trial lawyer.”

Where Did the Injury Occur? 

Now that you understand the two types of personal injury lawyers and why it is in your best interest to hire one, you need to find a plaintiff’s lawyer who is licensed to practice in the state that you were injured in.

For example, let’s say that you live in Indiana, but travel to Illinois for the weekend. While in Illinois, you are strolling through the neighborhood when a dog breaks free from his owners’ leash and bites you causing a serious injury.  The injury happened in Illinois, so you may contact a personal injury lawyer who is licensed to practice in Illinois.  Or, for example, if you were hired in Illinois to work in Indiana, Illinois worker compensation laws (superior to Indiana laws) may apply.

The Statute of Limitations in Illinois

Once you have verified what state your injury happened in, the next step is making sure that the statute of limitations has not run.  Statutes of limitation limit the period of time that a person can file a lawsuit depending on the type of legal action they are trying to take.

The statute of limitations for most Illinois personal injury cases is two years from the date of the accident.  For example, let’s say that you are driving your car on August 24, 2014.  As you approach a red light, another driver slams into your car from the rear.  The statute of limitations (typically) will allow you until August 24, 2016 to file a lawsuit and try to recover damages against the party(s) responsible for your injuries sustained during the car accident.

Illinois workers’ compensation cases generally have a 3 years statute of limitations; however, some construction injuries will have a four year period before the statute of limitations expires.  On the other hand, cases against municipalities or government entities generally have a one-year statute of limitation.  Just remember, there are different statutes of limitations depending on the type of case and the type of defendant – the sooner you consult with an attorney the better.

What to Look for in a Lawyer

The next step is searching and comparing lawyers in your area.  This is probably the most tedious step in finding a lawyer, but also the most important.  Start by looking at the lawyer’s biographical page: Do they have experience in the area of practice that you need?  Do they represent injured people and not insurance companies?  Do they belong to associations for personal injury trial lawyers such as the American Association for Justice, the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, the Million and Multimillion Dollar Advocates Forums, and so on? Do they belong to peer-reviewed groups like SuperLawyers and LeadingLawyers that their fellow peers in the field of law have voted them into?  Do they have a proven track record of success?  Do they secure record verdicts?

Once again, it is paramount that you find a plaintiff’s lawyer or law firm that has a reputation for trying cases to a jury.  Some attorneys or law firms settle every case – these firms are commonly known as “Settlement Mills.” Run-of-the-Mill Justice, by Stanford Law professor, Nora Engstrom has the best definition of settlement mills, “high-volume personal injury law practices that aggressively advertise and mass produce the resolution of claims, typically with little client interaction and without initiating lawsuits, much less taking claims to trial.”  These settlement mills will not work for the best interest of their clients.  Insurance companies love them because they can settle cases fast and at a discount, which is terrible for injured individuals that have deserving cases with large damages.

In addition to finding a plaintiff’s lawyer or law firm that has a reputation for trying cases to a jury, it is also important when looking for a lawyer or law firm to represent you that they do not and never will represent insurance companies or corporations.  An experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer will prepare your case as if it is going to trial. They understand how to prosecute and develop your case.  They understand how to negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance company and if not fair, properly try your case to jury verdict, a task that takes extraordinary effort and work

Does My Injury Require a Specific Type of Personal Injury Attorney?

Many times, attorneys will focus their personal injury practice towards a specific type of case.  This is important because many lawyers do not handle medical malpractice or workers’ compensation cases – medical malpractice is a highly specialized field and workers’ compensation is handled through a separate court system.  Hence, you want to find an attorney who concentrates his or her practice in the type case that you have.

Do I Have to Hire an Attorney If I Meet With Them – The Consultation?

Once you have found an attorney that meets your qualifiers, it is time to schedule an initial consultation.  Most personal injury lawyers will not charge a fee for the initial consultation.  If an attorney charges any fee for an initial consultation, skip that lawyer. The only fee that the lawyer should charge is known as a “contingency fee.”  This means that the lawyer will only be paid based on a percentage of what you collect on the settlement or judgment (if the case were to go trial per your decision).  The initial consultation is the first meeting with your lawyer; it is during this consultation that a relationship built on trust is founded. For the initial consultation, it is important that you bring any necessary documents that you already have in your possession, such as: copies of the accident report, photographs of the accident scene, notes from your doctor(s) about your injuries, medical bills, proof of lost income.  If you do not possess these items, then it is the job of your attorney to obtain the documents.

The initial consultation is not only for the attorney to determine if you have a case, but also for you to determine if they are the right person to prosecute it!  You should be asking questions also.  How long has the attorney been practicing?  What percentage of their practice involves personal injury cases?  Will the lawyer personally handle your case or pass it along to another attorney?  If there is another lawyer who will be involved, ask to meet them as well.

If you can tell that the lawyer has tested experience with a proven track record of successful verdicts and a strong team of lawyers to help them, chances are you’ve found the right one to help you!  An important factor aside from an experienced personal injury lawyer with proven success is that you feel confident and trust your attorney to always have your best interests in mind.  The best personal injury attorney will aggressively prosecute your claim, guide you and offer their opinions, but ultimately give you the final decision on how you wish to move forward.