Updated on: 2/17/2020
If you have been injured in a car accident or have suffered the wrongful death of a family member, you need quality legal representation from a qualified personal injury attorney who will protect your legal rights. But if you have never hired a lawyer before it may be difficult to know how to choose an attorney.
You may be asking yourself questions like, How do you measure a lawyer's quality? How do you compare the dozens of 'super lawyers' that come up in Internet searches? How do you choose the law firm that can give you outstanding client service, sound legal representation and give you the advantage when negotiating with insurance companies? Who is the best lawyer for you?
We know what a difficult choice you must make. We encourage you to research attorneys and interview lawyers before making this important decision.
This form is designed to assist you in evaluating the qualifications of the individual personal injury attorneys and law firms that you are considering handling your case. Print this form and use it for your personal attorney evaluations. As you search for attorneys online, review their websites, scrutinize their qualifications, and visit their offices use this scorecard to make it easy for you to compare attorneys.
24 Evaluation Criteria For Finding The Right Injury Lawyer For Your Case
Print out this form and use it to take notes as you research law firms.
1. Focused on Personal Injury Law?
Does the attorney only handle personal injury cases or does the attorney have a ‘general law’ practice?
Note: If family law (divorce), employment law, real estate law, trusts and estates, wills, business law, etc. appears on the attorney’s website then they do not focus exclusively on personal injury and may not have extensive personal injury experience.
2. Number of Years Practicing Injury Law in Washington State?
How long ago did your attorney pass the bar exam and begin practicing law in Washington State?
Resource: Search the Washington State Bar Association’s member directory. Look for ‘eligible to practice’, ‘license status’, and WSBA admit date’ (when they became licensed).
3. Licensed to Practice Law in Washington?
Is the founder of the law firm; the attorney that you have spoken to or met with; and/or the attorney that would be handling your case actually licensed to practice law in Washington State? Note: An out-of-town-based law firm might "consult" or "associate" with local attorneys but not actually have any local attorneys on their payroll.
Resource: Search the Washington State Bar Association’s member directory. If an attorney does not appear in the directory, then they are not licensed in Washington.
4. Is the Law Firm Locally Owned & Operated?
Is the law firm or attorney’s main office in Washington State or is it an out-of-state law firm operating a satellite office?
Note: Out-of-state law firms often advertise for cases in states where they are not licensed to practice; have a small office staffed by less experienced attorneys; or refer the case to a local lawyer for a share of the fee.
Resource: Read ‘Why hire a local attorney?’ to find out the disadvantages that come with an out-of-state law firm. And use the Washington Secretary of State’s corporate search feature to find out if the firm Washington-based or ‘foreign’.
5. Experience Handling Legal Claims Like Yours?
Does the attorney frequently handle cases that are similar to yours?
Tough Question: Some attorneys will use their previous firm's successes to try to sell themselves. If an attorney at a small or solo-lawyer firm boasts big settlements/verdicts or experience with complex cases, ask, "did you work on these cases here or at another law firm where you worked? If it was at another firm were you the primary or lead attorney on these cases?"
Resource: Can you find information about cases somewhat similar yours on the law firm’s website?
6. Has The Attorney Been Recognized With Honors/Awards/Distinctions?
Has the attorney been recognized by professional legal organizations for outstanding achievement?
Resource: You should be able to locate awards and distinctions on the attorney website. If not, look for the attorney on websites such as SuperLawyers, and others.
7. Does The Lawyer Have Excellent Client Ratings, Reviews & References?
Can you find dozens of five-star ratings, excellent client reviews, or reference letters written by actual clients on the attorney’s website or lawyer rating sites?
Resource: Look for client reviews on Google and Avvo.
8. Does The Lawyer Have Trial Experience?
"Does the attorney take cases to trial or only go to court for hearings? If so, how often? Frequently? Occasionally?
Tough Question:Ask, "when was the last time you took a case to trial? In what state was the trial? Did you handle the trial on your own or merely assist another lawyer at trial?"
9. Does The Attorney Win at Trial?
Does the attorney win at trial? Do you see trial verdicts posted on the attorney’s website? When the attorney goes to trial does the verdict typically exceed settlement offers?
Resource: Going to trial and winning at trial are two different things. You can ask for the names of the cases as jury verdicts are a matter of public record and thus are not confidential. You should be concerned if they do not have trial experience in Washington State and/or are not willing to share case information about verdicts.
10. Does The Firm Have Media Experience?
Do members of the media frequently interview the attorney about client cases and/or ask the attorney to give legal commentary on the law and/or discuss the firm’s newsworthy cases?
If your accident has been on the news you may want to work with an attorney that has experience handling high-profile, newsworthy cases.
Tough Question:Ask the attorney, "how many times in the last year have you been interviewed by reporters from reputable local or national news outlets?" Then ask for links to videos or stories.
Resource: Use the search bar on the websites of your local TV and radio stations or use Google’s news search feature to find out if the attorney has media experience. Read: News Media Coverage: Asset or Liability For Legal Claims.
11. What Is The Overall Quality of Website Content?
Does the attorney’s website content help you to research, the attorney, cases like yours, applicable laws, or improve your understanding the legal process? Does the attorney offer books, articles, videos, or other information to the public?
Resource: Search the attorney’s website, YouTube, Amazon, etc.
12. Do The Lawyers Have Regular Public Speaking Engagements?
Is the attorney frequently invited to share knowledge and expertise with legal organizations, law schools, community groups, etc.? This indicates reputation and community involvement.
Resource: Search the attorney’s website for this information.
13. Is The Firm Involved With The Local Community?
Do the attorney and/or members of the firm actively participate in local community service projects and/or support worthy causes?
Resource: Search the attorney’s website for this information.
14. What Was Your Phone Experience With The Firm?
When you called the office was the attorney’s case evaluation and scheduling staff courteous on the phone? Were you able to schedule an in-office consultation at a date and time that was convenient for you? Was a meeting confirmation, directions and additional information sent to you in advance of your in-office meeting?
15. Were You Offered Other Consultation Meeting Options?
Were you offered other options (conference call, FaceTime meeting, Skype meeting, in-home or hospital visit, transportation) if an in-office meeting was impossible for you?
16. What Was The Office Environment & Experience?
Was the office clean, organized and professional? Were you greeted and made comfortable? Did you have to wait long? Is the law firm operating out of it’s own office or is it sub-leasing space within another firm’s offices or virtual/shared office space?
Note: A firm without it’s own office could be an indication that things are not as they seem. Did you see other employees or just the receptionist?
17. Was The Lawyer Knowledgeable & Confident?
Was the attorney and/or staff able to address most of your questions? Did the attorney appear confident?
18. Empathetic: Did The Team Listen to Your Needs & Concerns?
Did the attorney and/or staff listen to your description of the accident, injuries, impact on your life, etc.?
19. Truthful? Answering the ‘What is My Case Worth? Question
Many injury victims and their families are focused on how much the case may be worth and may be inclined to hire the attorney that gives them the number they want to hear. The truth is there is no formula for determining the value of a personal injury claim. The circumstances of every accident are different. Every person and their injuries are different. The impact injuries have on one's life is different. Any attorney that says, “your case is worth….” is either speculating or lying to you to convince you to hire his/her firm.
20. Was There A Personality & Character Fit?
More than half of Americans focus on personality and relationship when choosing an attorney or physician, according to a 2014 survey from The Associated Press. But remember you are hiring someone to protect your legal rights, you aren’t hiring someone to be your friend.
When hiring a lawyer, you want someone who is motivated to perform, does not have a big ego; demonstrates empathy; has a strong sense of judgment and skepticism (will never allow themselves or you to be duped); cares about efficiency; cares about relationships; is resilient and reliable. In addition, you want someone who values honesty, fairness, candor, trustworthiness, observance of fiduciary responsibility, respect for and obedience to the law, and respect for the rights of others and for the legal process.
Note: You can get a good sense of the above you’re your interactions with the attorney and their staff. But also do you research to find out if there are any malpractice claims or disciplinary actions.
Resource: Search the Washington State Bar Association’s member directory. Look for ‘disciplinary history’. You might also Google the attorney’s name using terms like “child abuse” or “drunk driving” to find out if they had their own legal problems.
21. Is The Law Firm Financial Stabile?
Is the firm asking for a retainer? Is the law firm successful enough to independently finance all the case costs until the conclusion of the case? If so, will they be charging you interest on the costs? Or will the firm need to use a bank or legal finance company? Or will they be asking you to take a loan to cover case costs?
Note: Ideally you want to work with a firm that has the financial stability to finance the case without loans or charging you interest. You want to firm to have ‘skin in the game’. You want the attorney to care as much about the outcome of the case as much as you do.
22. Is There A Written Fee Agreement?
Did the attorney take the case ‘on a handshake’ or ask you to sign a written contingency fee agreement? If so, did they give you an adequate amount of time to review the agreement before signing?
Note: In Washington State the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys require that a contingent fee agreement must be in writing, signed by the client, and should state how to calculate the fee, including the percentage due to the lawyer and application of any costs or expenses. See RPC 1.5(c).
Tough Question:Do you discount your fees?
Note: Why would a successful attorney need to discount their fees? Is he/she desperate to sign up cases? Are they not as busy as they seem? Read: Discount Personal Injury Attorneys Are A Trap And Can Hurt Your Case.
23. What Was Your Experience With the Legal Support Staff?
Were the office staff (receptionist, legal assistants, paralegals) helpful, polite, responsive? Did you get to meet any of the other people who will be assisting with your case such as the paralegals? Will the attorney who founded the firm be personally working on your case?
24. Were You Pressured To Sign Up Immediately?
Did you feel pressured to “sign-up now” or make a hasty decision? Or did the attorney give you the space you need to evaluate attorneys and make the best decision for you and your family?