Woodland Hills personal injury lawyer Barry P. Goldberg understands that most people are nervous about meeting a lawyer for the first time because most people have been able to avoid legal disputes most of their lives. When you have met a lawyer, it is usually for “bad news” and is (almost) always expensive. Besides that, the media portrayal of lawyers as aggressive and unscrupulous does not help ease any anxiety. So, what should you expect if you were involved in an accident and you are about to meet with your personal injury lawyer for the first time?
A little homework will go a long way. Make certain that your prospective lawyer is well established and well qualified. These days a little background search is pretty easy and can be conducted from most computers and mobile devices. Take a look at the lawyer’s website. Determine 1) whether he/she is likely to handle your kind of case and 2) whether he/she has the kind of experience necessary to achieve a great result. I recommend that you look for testimonials, rankings, awards and an expressed desire to handle your kind of case. Be wary of lawyers that do not have an actual physical office or do not disclose a primary location. Remember— you are interviewing the lawyer as well as the lawyer interviewing you!
Setting Up Your Appointment
I strongly recommend that you arrange to meet your prospective lawyer personally. Many law firms employ “signer uppers” that are neither lawyers nor even paralegals. If you are incapacitated from the accident or otherwise, a reputable lawyer will make time for you and will come to you. When you call the law firm, ask if the consultation is free and ask if the lawyer has any particular requests for documentation or information. Inquire whether the law firm will validate parking or whether it has other parking instructions. If language is an issue, make certain that there is an interpreter or bring a family member or friend to assist with interpretation.
What to Bring With You for Your Appointment
I like to answer this question with: “Bring everything even possibly related to the accident.”
Some of the information needed is obvious. For example, most people will remember to bring information on the adverse driver and a description of the accident. If there was a police report, you will probably remember to bring the report or “information card” given to you by the police. If you were seen by any health care provider, you should bring the initial paperwork, including ambulance information, if necessary. Bring property damage estimates, if any. Bring names and phone numbers for all witnesses. If your car was towed, you should bring the tow receipt and storage receipt. Also, bring car rental paperwork. I often advise clients to change rental companies, change vehicles and change rental car “extra insurance” charges.
In today’s world of instant media, there is no excuse not to take numerous photos of the accident scene, property damage photos of both vehicles involved in the accident. Many accident victims have substituted written exchange of information with cell phone photos of the driver’s license, insurance card and (important) vehicle license plate number. You can bring all of that information in your cell phone to your meeting. I also recommend asking when you make the appointment if you can send that information by e mail in advance. This will allow the lawyer to more effectively use the time when you are together.
Most people miss this. Not only do you need the adverse driver’s insurance information, but, you need to bring all of your “meaningful” insurance information. As for your automobile insurance information, your insurance card is not enough. You should bring your Declarations Page which actually shows your coverages. “Full Coverage” means nothing to an experience accident attorney. Even if the other party is obviously at-fault and appears to be “fully covered”, your own insurance may well be implicated. Most prospective clients do not understand how “Medical Payments” coverage works or how Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverages are implicated. Given that over half of all accidents are either Uninsured or Underinsured, your insurance coverage and policy is critical.
Don’t forget to bring your Health Insurance information. Even though you think the other party may be paying for your accident, accessing your health insurance may be necessary to obtain all the care you need and often results in a higher “net” recovery. An experienced injury lawyer can explain to you why this is so!
What Else Should You Bring?
In addition to all of the above, bring any and all correspondence from any insurance company regarding the accident. This will usually contain the most accurate information about the claim number and who is adjusting your claim. Take few minutes to write down a detailed description of the accident. Many clients are somewhat nervous and fear that they will forget some critical fact.
Finally, write down a list of questions you want answered before you will commit to hiring a lawyer. A face to face meeting with your lawyer is an excellent time to get all of your questions answered. The law firm probably knows what to do if it handles accident cases on a regular basis. However, you do not regularly deal with accidents and lawyers. So—- ask away! With a little preparation, meeting with your lawyer can be very informative and put all of your fears to rest.