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11 Tips to Choose the Right Personal Injury Lawyer

Pink coloured piggy bank with words 'Save on Legal Costs'. Author: Tim Bradley | Published: 6 July 2016

If you have been injured, it can be difficult to tell which personal injury lawyer won’t overcharge you.

As an expert senior personal injury lawyer, the following is a simple list of my practical tips to help you find a lawyer who is more likely to charge a reasonable sum. These come from many years of experience working on personal injury claims at law firms of all sizes, national and small.

These tips may save you $1,000s of dollars!!

I will provide a short explanation for each tip but if you simply want to read them as a list, or would like to jump to a specific one, you can use this index here:

  1. Use “Free Lawyer Consultation” Offers & Shop Around
  2. Truly Free Consultation or Charged if you Proceed?
  3. Talk to the Lawyers on the Phone
  4. Prefer a Senior Lawyer Over a Junior Lawyer
  5. Prefer a Specialist over a Generalist
  6. Consider Small Local Firms, as well as Big Firms
  7. Avoid Legal Teams
  8. Two words: Electronic Files
  9. Cost Estimates Are Indicators Only
  10. Avoid Above Scale Legal Rates
  11. Avoid Firm Charging Internal Expenses
  12. Bonus Tip: Avoid Fancy Trappings

That said, let us get started.

Use “Free Lawyer Consultation” Offers & Shop Around

If you were paying for consultations, you would not want see as many lawyers as you reasonably can. The total bill would be huge. Most personal injury law firms, however, offer a free consultation service. Use that service.

The benefits of using the free consultation service are several, including:

  • You get different and varied advice which will better inform you about your personal injury claim;
  • You get to feel out the personal injury lawyer or firm and can decide whether you think you will work well with them;
  • You should be able to get a quotation for the likely cost of your case, and which you can compare.

Truly Free Consultation or Charged if you Proceed?

Some firms offer a “Free Consultations” while others offer “Free Consultations (*Fine Print: On condition You Do Not Proceed)”. In other words, the latter firm will charge you if you sign up with them.

You might want to prefer the law firm offering a truly free consultation over the law firm who conditions it with “free-if-I-don’t-proceed firm”.

Not just because you will be paying for the initial consultation, but because structuring the offer like it is free is not really entirely honest (although not dishonest either) and may indicate they are sensitive about their costs - perhaps for good reason.

IMPORTANT: This is not a deal-breaker issue. You should still speak with those law firms because they may be brilliant for you in all other respects.

Talk to the Lawyers on the Phone

You are likely to consider fewer firms if you see lawyers in person. The effort of scheduling appointments, driving in and see them will cause you to run out of puff. In the time it takes you to organise an appointment and attend it, you may be able to speak to 5 different personal injury law firms.

Apart from being much easier to simply call the lawyer, another advantage of calling is that you will be less susceptible to suave lawyers with slick sales pitches or impressive premises. Remember: Your focus is to find a competent and reasonably priced lawyer to run your claim.

Prefer a Senior Lawyer Over a Junior Lawyer

A Senior Lawyer has more than 5 years experience. Although senior lawyers generally charge at a higher rate, they usually more than make up for that by getting the work done more quickly. Moreover, the quality of their work tends to be higher, and which can also lead to better results.

Prefer a Specialist over a Generalist

Many legal jobs do not require particular expertise. Almost any lawyer can do them as well as the next lawyer, and at same or similar cost.

Personal injury compensation litigation is not one of those areas. Experience as a personal injury lawyer, and being set up for personal injury claims, does impact the bottom line.

A firm set up to provide personal injury services and with experienced personal injury lawyers will do a better job, and should result in lower fees.

Consider Small Local Firms, as well as Big Firms

People instinctively trust large law firms more. This is because they know of them. They have usually seen their advertising, branding and press releases, and already aware of their presence. Simply knowing about a firm makes people trust that firm over a firm they do not know. That is why big firms spend big money on branding and often do press releases.

BEWARE: That instinct could cost you.

Specialised small and local law firms, sometimes called Boutique Firms, should definitely be considered. Often they will offer better, cheaper and more personalised services than a big firm.

A personal bug bear of mine is the ‘legal team’. And I am not being curmudgeonly here.

A legal team usually includes a Partner or Senior Lawyer, a Junior Lawyer and a Paralegal. There may also be associates and other roles, like an Associate. Each role may charge at different rates.

Many firms proudly announce that they work on matters as a team, and that they can use cheaper labour for those jobs that do not require the experience. That is both right and usually wrong.

It is true that they may use cheaper labour for some tasks, but in my experience a team will cost you MORE.

Why? The involvement of more than one person means more hands ‘touch’ each peace of work leading to more cost units and a greater overall cost. In the team, for example:

  • The seniour lawyer may instruct a Junior Lawyer to prepare a letter to a doctor (2 Units, 1 Unit for each).
  • The Junior lawyer then dictates the letter (3 Units).
  • The Paralegal prints the draft and gets attachments together and gives it to the Junior Lawyer (2 Units).
  • The Junior Lawyer checks and amends the draft, and gives it to the Senior lawyer to sign (1 Unit).
  • The Senior Lawyer then checks the letter, signs it and sends it (1 Unit.)

The total here is about 9 units of work at different rates. Whereas one experienced personal injury lawyer working with electronic files (see below tip) may simply type the letter, check it, and send it electronically. Doing the entire task in one go they may be able to do it for a charge of 3 or 4 Units. Even accounting for different rates, that is going to be cheaper.

But that is just one reason I do not like team-based work environments.

Another reason is that teams tend to be less effective generally. For example, information communicated to one person may not reach all relevant people and time can be wasted relaying messages and information.

Prefer a firm where you will have just one lawyer working on your matter.

Two words: Electronic Files

A legal file is where all the documents for are kept for your case. Many law firms still work with a paper file. Others take a hybrid approach, working with partly electronic and partly paper files.

You want a firm that uses entirely electronic files. Much time is wasted dealing with paper, and in the law game time equals money. If you look at the team example above, you can see that being able to attach documents with a click of button saves on costs. Ask the firm how they keep their files - hopefully it is electronically.

Cost Estimates Are Indicators Only

Cost estimates are just that. Estimates. You can not rely on a costs estimate as being accurate in personal injury claims because the lawyer truly cannot say what will be involved with your case.

While estimates are unreliable, they can provide a valuable indicator of the efficiency of the law firm.

For example, if Law Firm A estimates their costs will be $10,000 to get you matter to a Pre-Trial Conference (a sort of Court-enforced settlement conference) and Law Firm B estimates $20,000, you should probably go with Law Firm A - assuming both have estimated a similar level of work is required.

NOTE: Estimates become less valuable indicators when matters are potentially complex and the ‘ranges’ of costs fluctuate more.

So condiser the different costs estimates from each firm, analysing what they have provisioned for, but remember that they are not reliable indicators.

The Scale is a State Costs schedule used for many different purposes. One of those purposes is decide the rate for work that can be recovered from the another party.

If your lawyer is charging above the Scale rate, you are already behind the 8 ball if you are successful because the recovery rate for applicable work will not cover the rate charged to you by your solicitor.

Most firms will charge out at rates equivalent to the Scale rate, so you should not have difficulty finding firms that do not charge above the Scale rate.

Ironically, the benefit of a cheaper than Scale is not as important. Charging at a rate cheaper than scale just means that the rate for work that is NOT recoverable is less and because that is usually a smaller portion of the overall bill, it is less important. A lower rate is still good though.

Avoid Firm Charging Internal Expenses

Expenses are an inevitable part of personal injury litigation. There are Court fees, medical expert fees, and more. Normally these third-party costs are recoverable if you are successful.

Apart from charging for their time spent doing work, some firms also charge costs for “internal expenses” for things like photocopying, scanning, deliveries and emails. Internal expenses are generally not recoverable and can add up. You should prefer a firm who doesn’t charge these over a firm who does.

Bonus Tip: Avoid Fancy Trappings

Some firms are very impressive. Housed on the top floor of well located city skyscrapers, with marble lined receptions looking out over coveted river, park or sea views. Letter heads embossed on lovely grainy paper, and magazine-like brochure packages. Well heeled lawyers attired in the bespoke suits, sporting soft leather briefcases and alpine-ski tans.

Very nice. But my advice: Run.

Despite the air of success engendered by these trappings, they also point to an opulence funded by costs-driven practice. To practice law well, you just need a working phone, a functional computer and a suit that will pass muster before an old-school Judge.

Yes. Merely having those three simple things does not mean that the lawyer will be good, but the point I am making is that anything else is “surplus to requirements”. Moreover, the excess will usually come at a cost.

I hope those tips prove useful to you. Please feel free to email me feedback, or call me if you have a question about the above or any other matter relating to personal injury law.