Answer: take a big deep breath– you’ve got this!– and do a bit of research. If you don’t have the time luxury to spend time online, start talking to a lawyer now– not a paralegal, a clerk, a receptionist or other law office employee but a member of the Utah State Bar with a bar number. There is a difference. If you like how the lawyer sounds on the phone, meet them in person.
Whether you have time to do some online research or are on a short fuse, here are a few things to consider when hiring a lawyer to help you achieve a measure of justice for your injury or the wrongful death of a loved-one:
Who will be working on your personal injury or wrongful death case? If you are contacting the equivalent of a ‘big box’ law firm (think big billboards, lots of advertising), you are talking to a ‘mill’ that will likely have your claim reviewed, worked on, and settled by a staff member. An attorney may be a ‘team member’ but will do little more than be the face of the team when they sign you up. I recommend a more personal approach and have a lawyer reviewing, working, and fighting for you. You will pay the same fee whether it is to a ‘mill’ or some other law firm or lawyer. In this instance, it’s not a case of ‘you get what you pay for’ because all firms will charge relatively similar fees.
Where is the lawyer located and where were you injured? If you were injured in Utah or the death occurred in Utah, get a Utah lawyer. If your wrongful death or personal injury claim needs to be filed in Utah, get a Utah lawyer. There are times when you are injured while visiting another state. If that is the case, I do not recommend hiring a lawyer where you live only to have your claim filed where you were injured in another state.
For example, if you assume you are just going to quickly settle your claim, you may think that it does not matter where your attorney is located. Not so. If you hire your local attorney, he or she will spend time on your case and will be required to be paid at some point regardless of whether your case settles immediately. If you fail to settle your case before you have to file a wrongful death or personal injury claim in court, you will then have to hire new attorneys where the claim needs to be filed in another state. This will require your first attorney to likely split a fee with the second attorney. And, the second attorney will have to get up to speed on the case and spend more time. It’s inefficient, unnecessary, and time-consuming.
A divided pie gets less attention and, in my experience, tends to get watered down. It also creates a negative incentive for your first attorney to recommend to you a settlement that might be less than what the claim is worth so that they don’t have to split the fee with another attorney. Also, the other side (i.e., insurance company), will know that your attorney is not local and will be aware of this negative incentive. They will also know that your attorney does not have the local knowledge necessary to properly evaluate the claim based on local judges, juries, and experience.
The result: hire an attorney where you were injured. Attorneys are very technologically adept and can communicate just fine over long distances. If the attorney is not, find one who is. I am!
Do you feel comfortable talking to the lawyer? A personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit is a very personal experience. It will delve into your health, finances, and relationships. You need to feel comfortable discussing the details of your life with your attorney. If you do not feel comfortable now, you may withhold information that you may not realize is important to your case– especially damages. For instance, if your injury has negatively affected your sex life but you don’t feel you can discuss it with your attorney, you may not ever mention it and your case suffers. This is another reason you should pay attention to #1 above. Talk to a lawyer, not a staff member.
What is your measure of success? Your personal injury or wrongful death case is and always will come down to a dollar figure. This does not mean, however, that this is the only thing that will matter as you go about pursuing and resolving your claim. You may not realize it yet but your physical injuries or your loss has harmed you in ways that go beyond physical. Meaning, if you do not obtain some closure to the injuries or loss and how you feel about them and the person who injured you, your recovery from the injuries will be stunted and limited. Part of your attorney’s responsibility is to understand you and what you need to obtain some justice for your injuries or your loss.
Money is a poor measure of justice— especially where it is an insurance company that is paying the money. You should expect to get more from your experience with your attorney than a check. It feels much less satisfying than you would initially think when you get a check for your injury. You will look back and in nearly every instance you will admit that you would rather not have had the injury at all than to have the money; you would rather have your loved-one back than to have the money; you would rather be able to walk without pain than to have the money.
This takes us back to the initial question: what is your measure of success? Yes, money is important but there is more. At the end of your experience with your attorney and the legal process, you should have obtained some measure of non-monetary relief from your loss. This should come from your experience with your attorney, your experience with the process, or your opportunities during the process to interact with the one who caused your loss or injury.
Your initial interaction with your attorney should provide you some insight whether the attorney is going to be positive for your long-term mental health and recovery or not. If your attorney is dismissive, inattentive, or negative towards you, take this as a sign of things to come. Ask yourself if you want this person part of your recovery from your loss or injury. Choose wisely.
Now, go and do your research. Call an attorney. While this is simply a short-list of things to consider, it is certainly not comprehensive. Use the resources you have been given: an internet connection, friends, family, and acquaintances, and your own intelligence and experience. I have twenty years of legal experience dealing with personal loss and injury. Let me help you with yours. Call me or contact me and we’ll talk about how to obtain the justice, recovery, and healing that you deserve.