What are personal injury lawyers?
Personal injury lawyers provide legal representation to people who have been injured as a result of someone else’s actions. They seek payment from the responsible party to help their client recover. Some personal injury lawyers will also help clients navigate medical treatment, get their car repaired, and more.
Finding the right legal representation after an accident can put you on the fast track to recovery, ensuring you get the settlement you need to get back to normal, or your new normal. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of billboard lawyers who see you as nothing more than a paycheck, putting their own interests over yours.
So how do you sort the wheat from the chaff?
A good place to start is by answering the question, “What is a personal injury lawyer?” so that you know what to look for in a good one and how to identify a bad one.
What Does a Personal Injury Lawyer Do?
Personal injury is a broad term, and it applies to cases involving:
- Auto accidents
- Aviation accidents
- Animal bites
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home abuse
- Slip and fall accidents
- Construction accidents
- Defective products
- Wrongful death cases
- Insurance claims
While researching for your personal injury case, you might run into the term “tort law.” A tort, generally speaking, is a civil claim made after one has suffered harm as a result of someone else’s actions. Personal injury lawsuits are a specific type of tort actions.
Basically, personal injury can encompass any physical or mental harm that you experience due to the actions, or lack of action, of another person.
“Personal injury attorneys wear many hats–they are advocates for their clients, they make court appearances, they are skilled negotiators, and they should always be trustworthy confidants.” — Andrew Larson, Mighty Law Attorney
In theory, personal injury lawyers take on many responsibilities for their clients, ensuring the legal system works in their client’s favor and they get what’s owed to them.
In practice, that isn’t always the case. Let’s take a look at the personal injury lawyer job description and see how these duties should play out with good personal injury lawyers — and how they often do in the case of bad personal injury lawyers.
“A personal injury attorney should always be accessible to his or her clients. If you find yourself feeling lost about what is happening in your case, this is never a good thing.” — Andrew Larson, Mighty Law Attorney
Protects Your Rights
First and foremost, a personal injury lawyer needs to protect their clients’ rights. They should be the guard at the front gate who protects you from everyone looking to take advantage of you and compromise your case.
A good personal injury lawyer will protect your rights by:
- Stopping irrelevant personal information from being disclosed
- Acting as an intermediary between you and the insurance company
- Ensuring you get what you’re owed
In practice, it doesn’t always shake out that way. Many lawyers only have dollar signs in their eyes and seek a quick settlement that will likely leave you far from a state of recovery.
The lawyer can afford to do this because they’ll move on to do the same thing with another case and another payday. You, the injured party, don’t have that option. That’s why it’s so important to hire a lawyer who has their priorities in order.
Hollywood has produced countless movies of lawyers performing gritty detective work to find that key piece of evidence to finally break the case.
While lawyers do conduct investigations throughout the lifetime of a case, it’s mainly limited to poring over paperwork. If a field investigation is required, they usually hire a private investigator who is more suited to that line of work.
So what does a personal injury lawyer do in reality when it comes to investigating cases? A good personal injury lawyer investigates cases by collecting:
- Police reports
- Medical records
- Witness interviews
- Videos or photos of accidents
- Evidence from the scene of the incident
- Insurance information
The primary investigations that a lawyer conducts revolve around the merits of the case to see if the claim is legitimate.
Discovery is the legal term for exchanging information between the plaintiff and the defendant. During this phase, a good lawyer will:
- Take depositions
- Disclose witnesses
- Share other evidence pertinent to the case
All of this is done to prevent either party from being blindsided once the trial begins — if there ever is one.
A lawyer needs to have a clear plan for how to engage in discovery so that they have all the facts before entering into negotiations. A bad lawyer will cut corners or bend the rules in their favor, but this can ultimately ruin your case if it’s discovered by the court.
Damages refers to the monetary compensation you’re entitled to as a result of your personal injury accident.
A good personal injury lawyer will look at several factors to determine a fair value for your damages, including:
- Past medical expenses
- Future medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Punitive harm
When your lawyer is calculating your damages, it’s important that they take into account how you’ve been affected in the present, as well as how it will affect you in the future.
For example, if your injury prevents you from working while you recover, that’s one sum. But if the injury prevents you from returning to your current job, then that also needs to be factored in.
Provides Guidance and Realistic Expectations
It’s no secret that personal injury law is complicated business and you shouldn’t be expected to be an expert.
Your accident and injury attorney should be a dependable voice of wisdom from beginning to end. They can give a realistic timeline for how your case will progress so that you know what to expect. If needed, they can recommend competent doctors and help you find funding for medical treatments.
Whenever you’re at a loss on the best course of action to take, your lawyer should be the first point of contact, and that’s why their integrity should be above reproach.
And this takes us to our next point.
Represents Your Interests
Your lawyer works for you and should be representing your interests every step of the way.
Unfortunately, many personal injury lawyers lose sight of this, putting your needs on the back burner.
A good lawyer will never:
- Ask for a settlement that’s different from what you want
- Accept an offer without your approval
- Decline an offer without speaking with you first
Even if your lawyer disagrees with what you want, they should still put your desires first.
As stated previously, paperwork is a lawyer’s bread and butter, or at least it should be.
A good lawyer will handle it all, including:
- Corresponding with the insurance company
- Filing your lawsuit
- Sending demand letters
- Drafting settlement agreements
Even an airtight case can be derailed by sloppy paperwork, so your lawyer needs to be highly organized while having the proper knowledge regarding what’s needed.
Distributes Your Settlement
After your case has been resolved, your lawyer is the one who collects the money from the insurance company. This amount is known as your gross settlement.
A good personal injury lawyer will distribute your settlement in this order:
- To themselves
- To lienholders (doctors, lenders, insurance companies, governmental agencies etc.)
- To you
Before accepting a settlement, know what you’ll actually walk away with after everyone else has been paid, because it may be drastically lower than what you’re expecting.
When Do You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Choosing to pursue a legal claim is a big decision, and trying to represent yourself doesn’t always lead to the best results. Knowing when to hire a personal injury lawyer can increase your payout and reduce your workload.
So when should you call in the legal cavalry? Aside from large, complicated cases, here are some telltale signs you need legal help.
“Even the small cases can present an injured person with complex situations to try and navigate through. When in doubt, seek legal help so that big insurance does not take advantage of you.” — Andrew Larson, Mighty Law Attorney
Your Claim Is Denied
Sadly, it’s a common occurrence for an insurance company to deny a claim even when it’s clear their client was at fault. In those situations it’s a good idea to consult with a lawyer.
Their opinion can reveal your possible options to appeal, if there are any.
You’re Offered a Settlement
Even when an insurance company recognizes the legitimacy of your claim and offers you a settlement, it is sometimes a good idea to consult with a personal injury lawyer. A quick offer may be a clue that the insurance company wants to close your claim quickly for a lesser amount than you’re likely owed.
An experienced lawyer will have a good idea of how much you’re entitled to based on what similar claims have settled for in the past. They can then use this knowledge to negotiate a fair amount.
Multiple People Are Involved in the Case
A surefire way to complicate a case is when there are multiple parties involved, like when multiple vehicles are involved in an accident on the highway. In these situations it can be difficult to identify who is at fault.
A personal injury lawyer may be able to determine which party (or parties) are responsible for your damages. They can then guide you on the best course of action to take.
You Need Legal Advice
Not all cases are clear-cut enough to easily identify damages to an injured party or fault by an aggressor.
If you’re unsure if you should pursue a personal injury case, simply meeting with an experienced lawyer for personal injuries can clear up any doubts in your mind.
They can also provide answers to related questions and help you plot your course of medical treatment.
Making your own assumptions about injury laws based on internet research is like forgoing a doctor’s visit in favor of WebMD. When in doubt, consult an attorney who can point you in the right direction.
What Should You Look for When Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Knowing when to seek the help of a personal injury lawyer is only half the battle. Finding a lawyer who has the skills you need and will fairly represent your interests is easier said than done.
We’ve laid out the top qualities to look for in a personal injury lawyer to ensure you get the best legal help possible for your situation.
“In addition to a potential attorney’s level of experience,, but your comfort level dealing with the person is extremely important. Ask as many questions as possible so that you can build a level of trust with this person to help you through a difficult time in your life. ” — Andrew Larson, Mighty Law Attorney
Hiring an experienced lawyer may sound like a no-brainer, but there’s more to it than simply finding someone who’s been practicing for over a decade.
Finding an experienced lawyer means finding someone who has experience in your type of case. When you meet with a lawyer for your consultation, ask about the cases they’ve handled in the past that are similar to yours and what the results were for those clients.
They’re Transparent (Upfront About Prices and Fees)
It’s normal in the personal injury field for a lawyer to charge a 33.3% contingency fee, with some charging as high as 40 or even 45%.
That’s a significant portion of a settlement for you to pay after living with an injury, and you deserve to know what you’re in for from the start.
If a lawyer avoids talking about their rates or gives you a long-winded speech that leaves you with more questions than answers, that’s a big red flag.
Legitimate personal injury lawyers are able to give you a straight answer about what you can expect to pay for their services. Mighty leads by example by making no secret about charging 10% below the industry standard.
They Allow You To Change Lawyers
Sometimes after hiring a personal injury lawyer, a client will want to change their representation. This can happen for a number of reasons, like something as simple as feeling ignored.
A lawyer who is confident in their abilities will even allow you to try out their services before asking you to commit. Mighty provides every client with a 60-day no-strings-attached trial period, so you can be confident we are what we claim to be.
If a lawyer tries forbidding you from changing your representation in the future, they’re doing it for their benefit, not yours. A client should feel free to change their lawyer if they feel it is the best route for their case.
That being said, you may still owe them for the work they’ve performed on the case up until that point. This could take the form of paying their hourly rate for the services they’ve provided, and possibly paying a percentage of their contingency fee.
All of these terms should be disclosed upfront so you aren’t hit with unexpected bills later on.
They Assist in Other Areas Related to the Case
Another trait of a quality personal injury lawyer is their willingness to go above and beyond a lawyer’s standard responsibilities.
If your lawyer’s only concern is the final settlement amount, you’ll be on your own regarding many case-related challenges until that payday.
Mighty does things differently by helping clients navigate the murky legal and financial waters that most people aren’t experienced in. That means we help coordinate transportation to medical appointments, provide crisis assistance and more.
All this to say, hiring a personal injury lawyer shouldn’t feel like a leap of faith.
Now that you have your answer for “what is a personal injury lawyer?” you have the foundation to begin your search.
Head to Mighty's Accident Attorney Directory to find a trusted attorney in your area today.
Written ByMaly Ohrenschall
VP of Customer Experience
About the author
Maly is a seasoned professional with over 15 years of experience in the insurance sector, specializing in multi-line claims and customer service for personal injury cases. As the leader of Mighty’s Client Experience team, she leverages her extensive background to ensure clients involved in auto accidents receive the highest level of care and support. Maly’s expertise plays a crucial role in delivering exceptional service and fostering long-lasting client relationships.
About the reviewer