This article is an extract from Episode 02 of the Ask The Hammer podcast, in which I talk about personal injury claims. I also discuss the documents you must bring to your lawyer’s appointment and how you and your attorney can create a great team.
Once a verbal agreement has been acknowledged, the client and attorney proceed to a written agreement.
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Is there a difference between a retainer agreement and a letter of engagement?
We sign a civil contract to make it simple. The contract gives the law firm written permission to represent and act on behalf of the client. And the client signs the agreement saying, “I authorize you as my attorney to handle my affairs and to get a recovery.”
Besides the civil contract, we ask the client to sign a medical authorization so we can talk to doctors or get medical records or documentation.
You don’t have to pay any money upfront regarding personal injury. There’s no retainer fee.
Who investigates at the crime scene or speaks to police officers?
We have an investigator who takes pictures of the scene. We get a truck expert if it’s a truck case. We like to bring experts to do our investigation.
The more the law firm can do, the better will be the case.
We want the client to take care of the medical portion, go to the doctors, and do therapies– as we handle everything else.
Many individuals get intimidated by lawyers. Therefore, we use a friendly approach and want to be accessible.
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Once the agreement and the attorney-client relationship begin, is it a team effort?
We use a case management system. So we contact the client every 30 days. Sometimes we bombard them with letters or emails asking, “How’s the treatment going? Do you have any bills? Is there anything we can do?”
We want an ongoing relationship and want the client to communicate with us. So, for example, if they went to a doctor, we want to know what the doctor told them, or if they need treatment, what kind of treatment is that?
The more information they can give us, the more we can help them with their case.
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What documents and information should I bring to the first meeting?
The police report is a must. We can get it if you don’t have it.
We would need any documentation which will aid us in understanding your injury and loss. It could be your car, auto insurance policies, check, or bill if you went to any doctor, hospital, or emergency room.
Paying an attorney
“If we lose, you pay nothing!”
What is contingency payment, and how does that work?
Contingency is a percentage of the recovery. So, for instance, if we work on your case for five years, it doesn’t matter if we put in 5,000 or 50,000 hours. You will have to pay us a percentage of what we collect.
Let’s say we have a trial and lose; you don’t have to pay us anything. It’s the best of both worlds.
But also, you’re not getting a nickel and dime for every phone call they may make on your case.
Let’s say today I met a doctor on a client’s case. The client will not pay anything for that. The attorney will do whatever they can to make the case get the maximum recovery. So contingency has just proven itself. It’s just one area of the law that the clients have an advantage over.
You often hear people going through a messy divorce, paying a ton of money whenever they talk to an attorney. So it doesn’t matter if they win or lose. They’re going to pay regardless.
Contingency is the opposite. Unless the attorney wins or settles your case, you pay them nothing.
How much do attorneys involve the client/victim in the claims process?
Standards have changed over the years. We charge 40%, and the clients get 60%. We advance or front any legal expenses on the case, so the client never even pays that during the case. And if we settle or win, we get reimbursed. If we put money out on the case and then lose or never recover, we don’t get that back. Therefore, the client is not out of pocket.
I’ve seen it anywhere from 33% to 50%. Some attorneys charge interest on the expenses. We charge 40% whether we file a suit or not or whether it’s appealed or not. It has worked well for the client and us.
I always like this incentive “The more you do, the better off everybody is.”
I’ll be leery of hiring an attorney who wants an hourly fee versus a contingency on a personal injury case.
My caveat is divorce bankruptcy, where you’re not going to do a contingent. But when it comes to personal injury, you want the burden on the law firm or the attorney to win or get a nice settlement.
I was injured in a car crash, but I don’t have enough evidence to proceed with the case. What is your suggestion for my next move?
Each state has a different requirement to bring a claim.
For example, in Kentucky, you must bring a claim for monetary damages if you’re in a car wreck. You have to have either a permanent injury, permanent scar, or thousand dollars in medical bill treatment.
Let’s say a person involved in an accident gets admitted to the hospital for three or four days, and then a couple of weeks later, he gets better. He might follow up with the doctor and think he’s not hurt that bad.
But being in the hospital and getting care for three or four days might be a $5,000 or $10,000 bill.
So they have a much better case than they can even imagine.
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