You have a good and substantial legal case, and you have retained the best possible personal injury lawyer. Is it reasonable to expect smooth sailing from the outset of your representation?
A brief survey of local personal injury attorneys suggests that the answer is not simple. Indeed, it is quite common to hear personal injury attorneys gripe about their clients almost as much as the insurance companies.
The reasons for this disconnect are illustrated by a couple of recent cases. In one, the personal injury client presented her attorneys with a substantial amount of documentation but then changed her e-mail address and home address. The attorneys presented the claim to the insurance company, but they were unable to obtain updates and badly-needed records and documentation.
In another such case, the insurance company asked to take a routine deposition of the injury victim, but he could not or would not make himself available. The insurance company’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
In cases like this, the most common problem is a misconception by personal injury clients. Their cases are not simply footballs to be handed off to the attorney while the client waits for a check. Personal injury cases are much more like partnerships than sole proprietors. To do his job well, the personal injury attorney needs a constant flow of good and accurate communication. Here then is a short list of things that you can do as a personal injury client to get the best possible result through your counsel:
- Have reasonable expectations about communications. Your attorney will want to hear from you frequently, and you will want to hear from her. But, not every development requires a telephone call or voice mail message.
- Be efficient in your communications. The easier it is for the attorney and client to communicate, the more those communications will be encouraged. Our office has become fond of encrypted e-mail which allows for quick easy and secure communications on small but important matters. We always encourage a telephone call directly to the attorney involved if there is any thought that the client needs legal advice. Often more routine matters can be handled by the paralegal.
- Stay in touch! It sounds basic, but if you have any change in address or telephone number, you need to let the attorney know. Very often, our office spends a significant amount of time simply trying to get in touch with our clients. This is time that could be better used in pursuing the case.
- Advise the law firm of any significant medical or other developments. Our office wants to know about significant medical developments immediately. Often we are able to intervene when we see that the client has been referred to an inappropriate healthcare provider. It is important to let the law firm know of significant developments before you see any new doctor or entertain the idea of surgery.
- Keep good records. While the law firm will likely obtain all records and bills (so that you do not have to), you will have to assist the law firm in many miscellaneous areas of loss. Examples include sole proprietors claiming income loss, prescription receipts, medical assisted devices, parking and mileage charges, etc. If the law firm does not receive this documentation, it cannot make a proper claim on your behalf.
In summary, the attorney-client relationship really is a two-way street. Most competent law firms can obtain a good result on your behalf, but they want more, not less, involvement with the client. The client should never feel like she is bothering the law firm—there really is no such thing as a “dumb” question. Overall, most attorneys prefer a client who is “over involved” in the case than one who simply disappears after the beginning of representation.
Your lawyer really wants to do a great job on your behalf. The bottom line is that you need to help your counsel in a collaborative way to achieve a goal you both have set.