Your Initial Consultation with a Personal Injury Attorney
If you were injured in a car accident, you’ve likely called several lawyers in your area that handle personal injury claims. Pursuing a personal injury claim can be a long and exhausting process, and it is critical to get started off on the right foot. Being prepared for the first time you meet with your attorney is the first of many important steps you will take along the way.
The Attorney-Client Relationship
Due to the nature of the attorney-client relationship, establishing rapport is essential and is done through a relationship of trust, confidence and comfort. The goal for both parties is that you have a relaxing, painless and pleasant experience so that you leave the meeting with a sense of relief and confidence. The fundamental function of the lawyer is to help the client to understand the legal issues associated with the accident, as well as to advise the client about options for moving forward, to form a plan for dealing with the situation and to implement that plan.
With this being said, enabling your attorney to properly evaluate your claim hinges on your ability to accurately and effectively recount the details of your accident in the initial consultation. You should be prepared to discuss the event at length and in detail. While discussing your accident can be emotional, it is important you understand that your attorney needs these facts and details in order to effectively evaluate your claim. Therefore, the number one thing you need to bring to the consultation is yourself, prepared to thoroughly discuss your accident and injuries.
Good lawyers are there to serve your best interests. Remember that an initial consultation is as much about you getting to know your attorney as it is for them to learn about your claim. Ask questions about the process and how the claim will proceed. The initial consultation is an opportunity for both parties to feel comfortable with moving forward with an attorney-client relationship.
Candidness During Your Initial Consultation
Many times, clients tend to dull down or withhold information that they think might be embarrassing or incriminating. However, it is important to understand that complete disclosure of all pertinent facts is essential to your attorney’s ability to adequately evaluate your potential claim.
Neither you nor the attorney can avoid adverse facts; therefore, it is imperative to be candid throughout the entire consultation process. Facts that may be damaging to your case are important in assessing the merits of your claim. The bottom line is this: the sooner your attorney becomes aware of any potentially harmful facts, the sooner he or she can prepare to mitigate them.
The Importance of Being Prepared
Going in unprepared can potentially limit the relationship that is established at the initial consultation, which in turn leads to limited advice. It is more difficult for your lawyer to advise you on benefits, risks, costs, the probability of a favorable outcome, the legal and non-legal consequences of going forward, and what to do next when they don’t have a full understanding of what’s going on in your case.
While documentation can be important and is certainly helpful, you are the one who knows the most about the facts of your particular case. Therefore, the more you can do to better recall the facts and circumstances surrounding your claim, the better suited your attorney will be to adequately evaluate your potential claim.
Specific Ways to Prepare For the Meeting
One of the most important items you can prepare before the initial consultation is a written timeline. A pre-made chronological order of events as you remember them is an easy way for your attorney to get a quick overview of your potential claim. Your timeline should begin with the date of the accident and continue to the date of your consultation.
Typically, you should include things like the events that led up to the collision, where and when your collision occurred, and the dates of your treatment. Be as detailed as possible in your timeline. The timeline should not only include your present medical condition but also your medical condition prior to the accident and future medical treatments.
In addition to being easy to follow, another advantage of a timeline is that any gaps or potential oversights are relatively easy to spot. This is important because it will allow the attorney to effectively evaluate your current treatment plan and prepare for any pitfalls he or she may see. Furthermore, it will allow the attorney to adequately address any problems he or she may see with your current treatment plan. For more information on how gaps in treatment can negatively affect your case, please visit the following article.
What Types of Questions Will I be Asked in a Consultation?
While the facts and circumstances of all motor vehicle accidents are often unique, the same or a similar set of inquiries will likely be very helpful for your attorney to better understand your claim. Thus, there are several foundational questions that you should be prepared to answer at the initial consultation. Provided below are a few sample questions that will likely be asked during your initial consultation.
1. How did the accident happen? In preparing this answer, think about the circumstances that led up to the accident. Consider factors like time of day, weather conditions, flow of traffic, how many cars were on the road, who was involved, and who you believe is responsible for the collision and why. This will help your attorney to formulate their theory of liability.
2. What type of vehicle were you in, and where were you positioned in the vehicle? Knowing the type of vehicle you were in is important because it can help the attorney evaluate the severity of your impact by examining the type of vehicle and the amount of damages that were caused.
3. Where and when did the accident occur? To the best of your ability, recall the exact location where the collision occurred. Remembering exactly where the accident occurred will help your attorney’s investigation. Also, knowing the exact date of your accident will be pivotal in your attorney’s ability to thoroughly investigate your potential claim.
4. What are your injuries from the accident? Be as thorough as possible when you describe your pain. Also, be sure you include previous medical issues that have been exacerbated as a result of the collision, commonly known as pre-existing injuries. For more information on pre-existing injuries, read our article on Pre-Existing Injuries.
5. Have you sought medical treatment? You should see a medical provider as soon as you are able if you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident. Make sure you’ve recorded the names of your doctors and which facilities you visited so you can provide the information to your attorney. It is a good idea to be prepared for follow-up questions such as: “How much medical expenses have you incurred thus far?” and, “Has your doctor informed you of any future medical treatment?”
6. Have you missed time from work, and, if so, were you written out of work by a doctor? Knowing if a doctor has written you out of work is important because it allows the attorney to evaluate whether or not you have a viable lost wage claim. For more information on lost wages, please visit the Lost Wages section of the site.
7. Do you have health insurance, and, if so, with what company? Knowing your health insurance information is important for numerous reasons. For one, it can help your attorney evaluate your potential medical expenses. Moreover, your attorney will need to determine whether your insurance company is entitled to a lien or interest in any potential settlement that you may receive. For more information on liens, please read our Overview.
What Type of Documentation Do I Need to Bring?
As discussed earlier, relevant documentation is still important to your potential bodily injury claim. The following items are some of the suggested documents that you should consider bringing to your initial consultation. The first few listed in bold are highly recommended:
- Driver’s license
- Health insurance card, including private, Medicare, or Medicaid
- All letters from any insurance companies
- A copy of the police report and driver exchange form
- Discharge instructions from the hospital (if there was a hospital visit)
- All copies of medical bills to date
- Prescription bottles, receipts and instructions (related to injuries sustained during the accident)
- Pictures of all injuries sustained during the accident
- Any pictures taken of the damaged vehicle and/or at the scene of the accident
- Estimates for repairs to the damaged vehicle
- A copy of your auto insurance policy
These documents may prove useful in providing the attorney with essential information related to your personal injury claim. Therefore, any documents pertaining to your accident may be helpful to bring with you to your initial meeting with the attorney.
While it is important to remember all of your important documentation, you as the client and accident victim, are the best source of information for the lawyer to evaluate. Come to your initial consultation with an open mind, and be prepared to answer questions and tell your story.