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You have been injured in a wreck. The driver of the other car ran a red light and t-boned you. The insurance adjuster is leaning on you to settle your claim. "But my doctor says that I may need surgery." "What do you expect him to say? That's how he gets paid. My supervisor won't let me keep this offer open forever, and hiring a lawyer is just going to take money out of your pocket." Hmmm … those lines sound a lot like what you heard last month when you bought the car that just got totaled. You properly conclude that the adjuster is not on your side and if he is telling you not to hire a lawyer, it's time to start looking for one.

Here's how not to do it:

  • Call the guy you saw screaming into the camera when you awoke on the sofa at 2 a.m..
  • Hire the lawyer who has the best looking Yellow Pages ad (Wow! And she specializes in 17 different kinds of cases.) without further inspection.
  • Taking the advice(?) of a co-worker – "My cousin just got out of law school. He handled my son's DUI. Well, pled him guilty, but I am sure that he would do ok with your completely unrelated problem."

Here's how to do it:

  • If you know other lawyer, find out his expertise. It's right on their web site. If it's personal injury litigation, dig further. Google their name; carefully go through their website; ask others who also know this lawyer. If not, ask this lawyer for names (at least two – preferably three). If there's a blog on the web site, read several posts. If they all end with "if this has happened to you, call me," DON'T.
  • Meet in person. Are you hearing lots of promises and war stories or are you being asked a lot of questions about both the wreck and you? Is she giving you an idea of what your case is worth? Did he tell you that he could get your case settled in X days? These are all bad signs and tell you that this lawyer is either not qualified to handle your case, strapped for cash, is more concerned about a quick turnover or all of the above. Don't sign a fee contract until you have interviewed at least a few potentials.
  • Ask questions. How many cases have you tried to a verdict with a jury? How will my case progress – what are the steps involved? Do you have ex-clients that I can talk to?

If you compare how to with how not to, the common differences are research and patience. If you are willing to put the time in up front, the chances are much better that you will have a satisfactory ending. If you're not, it's a roll of the dice …

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