Qualities to Look for in a Personal Injury Lawyer
Posted on June 30th, 2019 by Zane Cagle
It’s no secret that personal injury attorneys are often stereotyped. What comes to mind when you think of a personal injury lawyer? A bad jingle or even a shyster attorney role in a movie? In reality, personal injury attorneys are among the most dedicated lawyers in the United States because they don’t get paid unless you do. Most personal injury attorneys work without pay on each case, often for years, if they believe you’re entitled to compensation for your injuries. Most personal injury law firms even cover the cost of litigation and take only a minority share of your recovery.
Unintentional injuries—accidents—are the primary cause of death and injury for those younger than 45. Injuries caused by car accidents, falls, violence, and youth sports result in over 30 million hospitalizations each year and almost $700 billion worth of damages. However, many of these injuries are preventable because they are caused by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional conduct of another. This is where experienced personal injury attorneys step in.
If you or a loved one was injured due to another’s wrongful conduct, a qualified St. Louis personal injury attorney at The Cagle Law Firm may be able to help. To schedule your free, confidential Missouri personal injury consultation, call us today at (314) 276-1681 or contact us online. We hold ourselves to the highest standards at The Cagle Law Firm, and you should always look for the following qualities in a personal injury attorney.
Litigation Experience and Medical Expertise
You wouldn’t hire a dentist to perform brain surgery. Likewise, you shouldn’t hire an attorney who doesn’t have a focused personal injury practice. Personal injury law involves complex insurance regulations and medical expertise. Personal injury cases often have two major elements. First, a qualified attorney must prove liability under Missouri law. This means he or she must prove your injuries were caused by another. Second, your personal injury attorney must prove you suffered damages from your injuries such that you’re entitled to compensation. Here, your personal injury lawyer needs to have more than just law knowledge. He or she must have enough medical knowledge to analyze and interpret your medical records, discuss your case with medical experts, and present this information to insurers, mediators, and possibly a jury. Understanding how your injuries have and will impact you is essential to recovering proper compensation.
Especially in the following cases, always ask your personal injury attorney how he or she has successfully handled similar litigation:
- Traumatic brain injuries: These are some of the most complex personal injuries to litigate, as it’s difficult to assess the long-term effects and needs of patients with a brain injury.
- Paralysis: A few years ago, paralysis was permanent. Now, technology is improving and those once thought permanently disabled are able to walk with specialized implants. An experienced personal injury attorney will take all future medical needs into consideration when negotiating a settlement, including the cost of breakthrough procedures.
- Full-thickness burns: Only burn victims truly understand the pain of third and fourth-degree burns. Serious burn victims often need multiple skin grafts, specialized medications, and lifetime treatments.
- Birth defects/injuries: Certain medications taken during pregnancy may result in birth defects. If your child’s condition is linked to a dangerous medication, contact a personal injury attorney with experience in the area of birth-related injuries. As well, certain procedures during birth may cause or contribute to cause a birth injury. Immediate consultation with an attorney is strongly recommended to find out your options.
- Nerve damage and spinal cord injuries: Unlike other areas of your body, nerves in the spine do not typically regenerate. They can cause pain, numbness, and involuntary spasms. Your personal injury attorney should understand the full extent of nerve damage and the pain management needed to control its effects.
- Traumatic injuries to children: Children injured before they’ve established an earning history need specialized economic experts to assist in litigation. Just because your child doesn’t have a tax return doesn’t mean an insurance company can sell short their claim. When children are injured, they haven’t even attained maturity, thus the child’s entire lifetime has to be a focus.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Sometimes the physical injuries aren’t the most severe. PTSD is a real, diagnosable condition that requires treatment and lifestyle changes. Be sure to work with a personal injury attorney who understands the evidence needed to support a claim for PTSD damages.
- Latent diseases: These don’t develop until months, years, or decades after the event in question, typically exposure to asbestos particles or silica dust. There are special laws that apply to such cases.
Permanent injuries or those difficult to “see,” i.e., PTSD, often require personal injury attorneys with specific experience handling related litigation in Missouri courts.
Fee and Cost Transparency
Unlike attorneys who charge by the hour, most personal injury attorneys charge a contingency fee. This fee is typically set at 33 percent of your recovery prior to litigation. Once a petition is filed, the contingency fee percentage is typically 40 percent. Personal injury attorneys are also permitted to cover the essential costs of litigation. These generally include:
- Ordering medical records
- Paying expert witness fees
- Court fees
- Hiring court reporters, and
- Covering witness transportation costs.
Clients must sign a retainer agreement with a personal injury attorney who accepts the case. This agreement should clearly set forth the proposed fee structure. For example, if you recover $100,000 for your injuries, your personal injury attorney will typically take 33 percent ($33,333) in addition to reimbursement for fees and costs, i.e., $10,000. This means you will receive approximately $56,666 of a $100,000 settlement. Each case is unique and our attorneys are up front about the costs and produce a final cost sheet itemizing all charges and payments.
Ask your personal injury attorney to explain his fee structure, reimbursable expenses, and for an honest assessment of your potential recovery. The fee structure should be in writing for your reference. Most personal injury attorneys do not charge for consultations, require a retainer fee, or take a penny out of a client’s pocket. While there are some exceptions to this rule, any upfront costs are a red flag in personal injury cases. Consult another St. Louis personal injury attorney if you’re asked for upfront payment of any kind.
Reviews, Certifications, and Bar Standing
Every qualified Missouri personal injury attorney will appear on the Missouri Bar’s Attorney Directory. This directory tells clients whether an attorney is in good standing with the bar. If they are not, call the bar or another attorney to discuss any discrepancies. Some personal injury attorneys are also members of local organizations that promote the practice of personal injury law and public safety or have public review pages on websites such as AVVO. Reviewing these websites can allow clients to see other client reviews, an attorney’s overall rating, and any red-flags, such as whether an attorney has been cited for misconduct. Experienced personal injury attorneys with a history of success and community involvement will generally make this information available to potential clients. If you’re unable to locate an attorney’s bar status, official website, or client reviews, this may be a red flag.
Professionalism and Local Connections
Not only is every court different, but every judge also has a different method of controlling their docket. Having a St. Louis personal injury attorney who’s familiar with the local court system, judges, and insurance adjusters/attorneys can expedite your case. Our attorneys practice in Missouri and Illinois and are very familiar with many courts across Missouri and Illinois. Further, your personal injury attorney’s professional reputation is essential. Your Missouri personal injury attorney should be cordial and well respected by other lawyers, court personnel, and insurance agents. The better your attorney’s professional reputation for honesty, organization, and respect, the more willing opposing parties will be to come to the table.
Look for attorneys who focus on litigating cases in the area where the injury occurred. If necessary, ask a family attorney (or trusted attorney you know) to review the reputation of your personal injury lawyer. You may even call a local bar association to ask if they are familiar with your potential personal injury lawyer. The most effective way of gauging an attorney’s professionalism is how he or she interacts with potential clients. You’re the bread and butter of an attorney’s business, and he should always put his best foot forward. Look for an attorney who is attentive, respectful, timely, and has a professional work environment.
Honesty and Investigation
Everyone wants to hear they have a great case, but sometimes the law isn’t on your side, and a lack of evidence may preclude a personal injury attorney’s ability to litigate even valid claims. An experienced personal injury attorney will always investigate a claim after they have made an agreement with you. Legally, an attorney must have a signed agreement to investigate and request reports on your behalf. Personal injury attorneys who don’t ask questions may make promises they can’t keep. This also shows a lack of concern for the integrity of their practice, which can reflect poorly on their professional reputations.
When a personal injury attorney takes your case, he or she should believe you’re entitled to financial recovery for your injuries. Often, the investigation into the claim must be done on behalf of the attorney to gather all of the information before he or she can confirm that they can pursue the case. He may do this by requesting and reviewing the following documents:
- A police accident report
- Hospital and ambulance records
- Medical records, including prior records
- Your insurance file
- Tax returns and income statements
- Applicable photographs, and
- Witness statements.
Be cautious of attorneys who make quick, big promises before investigating your claims. A good personal injury attorney will be honest in his or her assessment of your case after reviewing your case file. Many injured claimants are relying on personal injury settlements to replace lost wages, pay medical bills, and cover future medical expenses. Don’t settle for a personal injury attorney who only tells you what you want to hear. Look for an attorney who will be honest about your chances of recovery, the law applicable to your case, limitations on your financial payout (such as public assistance liens), and the litigation timeframe.
Organization and Quality
If your personal injury attorney is late for appointments, misses deadlines, loses paperwork, and has an unkempt office, he’s too overwhelmed to handle your case. The number one complaint filed against attorneys is failure of communication with clients. This includes failing to return phone calls, letters, or emails and brushing aside client meeting requests. Remember, without clients, a personal injury attorney has no business. If he can’t put his best foot forward for a client, he won’t do it for a judge or jury. Look for professionalism in that way he communicates with you, his staff, and his colleagues.
Empathy and Availability
Many personal injury attorneys review life-changing cases each day. Large personal injury firms may have 150 traumatic brain injury cases, but you’re more than a file number! If a serious personal injury has changed your life, it follows you each day. You may struggle to cook, shower, and sleep. Things that were once easy are now impossible. Knowing you have a personal injury advocate who understands your pain and is on your side is essential in Missouri personal injury cases. A file can be put away, but your pain can’t. We understand this at The Cagle Law Firm, where our clients are more than a number.
Find All of the Above With The Cagle Law Firm’s Personal Injury Lawyers
At the Cagle Law Firm, your personal injury case is safe with us. From birth injuries and car accidents to slip and falls, we have an array of experienced Missouri personal injury attorneys ready to hear your story. We take a straightforward, honest, and client-based approach to personal injury litigation in St. Louis, where our professional reputation precedes us.
Whether you need a personal injury attorney, are concerned about your current lawyer, or simply have questions about the legal process, take advantage of your free, no risk personal injury consultation with the Cagle Law Firm by calling our St. Louis office today at (314) 276-1681 or contacting us online.