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Q
How Do I choose a the right lawyer for my personal injury or car accident case?

A

All lawyers are not the same.  All personal injury lawyers are not the same. There are many different types of law that someone can practice: divorces, criminal defense, contracts, corporate law, wills, estates and trusts, bankruptcy, workers’ compensation and personal injury.  You hire a lawyer based on his or her knowledge of that area of the law, his or her experience in dealing with insurance companies and juries, and his or her handling of personal injury cases.  Does that lawyer know how to maximize the value of your bodily injury case?  Is he or she willing to put in the time and effort to do so?  When talking to a lawyer you should feel free to ask him or her, "What types of law do you do?"  Does he or she do personal injury cases?  Is he or she a generalist, who does a little bit of everything? Does his or her firm do anything besides personal injury work?  All of these are important and relevant.


If a firm does other things, that is similar to an orthopedist’s office having someone who works on knees, someone who works on hands, and someone who works on backs and necks.  It’s just a more well-rounded firm.  However, if the lawyer who is handling your case does multiple types of law, you should ask more specific details.  I would not go to a personal injury attorney to close on a house.  Why would I use a real estate attorney to do a car wreck? I get calls all the time asking do I handle this or that type of case.  Do we do wills or handle child support cases?  Can we help a small business collect on an owed debt?  Can we handle a criminal defense case?  

When we first started our own firm we tried to do several different types of cases.  Very quickly, I learned that my clients were best when I did what I do best.  Now when a former client calls and says can you do this type of case, my answer is almost always the same – sure I can, but you don’t want me to.  Let me refer you to someone who does this all the time.  I know this lawyer and he can help you better than I can.  I then refer the client to a lawyer I know will take care of his or her matter, a lawyer who knows that particular area of the law as well as I know personal injury work. 

What percentage of your cases is personal injury?  How many personal injury cases have you handled?  How many cases like mine have you handled?  Does your staff know how to do personal injury cases? These are important questions that you should ask.  If you had a knee injury, would you want to go to a doctor who does surgery on the entire body, or someone who just works on knees?  The same is for your personal injury case.  Hopefully, you will not have more than one car accident or personal injury case.  Therefore, how do you feel most comfortable having that case handled?  Do you want someone who does a little bit of everything, who does a few personal injury cases a year, or do you want someone who only works on personal injury cases?  That’s entirely up to you.  It is important to know the experience level of the attorney you are working with.  Is this a brand new lawyer?  Does he or she know a lot about personal injury work?  Has he or she only recently started taking personal injury cases?

Any lawyer should be willing to talk to you about his or her experience, about prior case results, especially cases similar to yours.  Remember every case is different, which is why you want an experienced lawyer. 

 What is the lawyer’s experience in handling cases?  Has he done personal injury for six months, a year, five years or ten years?  Has he handled ten or twenty personal injury cases, or has he handled hundreds?  A lawyer with experience in personal injury matters is going to be best able to advise you on whether a settlement offer is fair or not.  He will be best able to advise you on whether you need to go outside for further medical care.  He can best advise you on paying back the health insurance companies.  He can best advise you whether there are things in your past that will make filing a lawsuit a bad idea in a personal injury case.  If you’re paying for a lawyer’s services and come to him for advice, just make sure that the lawyer you hire can give you good advice and help you with your personal injury case.

Beware of the "family friend" lawyer, or lawyer your friend used for something else.  A phrase I’ve heard quite often is "a family lawyer."  A family lawyer is a lawyer your family uses for everything.  This may not be the best person to handle your personal injury case.  A lawyer who writes wills all day long may not know how best to negotiate with the insurance company.  A lawyer who focuses on divorces may not know best how to prepare a demand to send to the insurance company that documents the full range of your injuries. A lawyer who does contracts may not be prepared to file a lawsuit on your personal injury case.  A lawyer who has not handled many personal injury cases may not be in a position to tell you whether your offer is fair or not.  A lawyer who doesn’t know a lot of medical doctors may not be able to help you get the medical care you need if your case is more complicated, and if you don’t have health insurance.  A lawyer who only dabbles in personal injury may not be able to help you maximize the value of your case, or even know how to push a personal injury case to a rapid resolution.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard people say, “we have a family lawyer.”  These clients often come to me in the middle of a case and want help.  Their “family lawyer” was going to help them and then the case fell apart.  Why?  Many times, the family lawyer doesn’t do personal injury work, but does some other type of law and was just going to help out.   I don’t do other types of law.  I do personal injury work. 

Shane Smith
Advocate for the Seriously Injured in Georgia