Choosing a solicitor for your personal injury claim

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Today more than ever, all solicitors specialise in a particular area of Law. The days when your local solicitor would deal with your Will, your divorce, buying/selling your house and whatever else life might throw at you are long gone

Why it’s so important

Although all Solicitors study many different areas of Law when they qualify, once we have finished our training we will choose our specialism and become an expert in that type of work. I chose Personal Injury work because I wanted to make a real difference to the lives of people who had been victims of accidents which weren’t their fault.

Even within the field of Personal Injury claims, not all solicitors will be experts in every type of injury claim. Some will specialise for example in industrial disease, road traffic accidents, or claims involving spinal cord or brain injury. It is therefore important that you choose a solicitor with the right expertise for your type of claim.

Personal Injury claims rely on evidence and opinions from medical and other experts and we often involve barristers as part of the legal team. A specialist Solicitor will have the necessary contacts and be able to choose the right experts and barristers to maximise your chances of success, meaning that you recover damages that properly reflect your injuries and financial losses.

A specialist Solicitor will make sure that all potential claims are made, including for example, claims for the cost of future care, medical treatment, loss of earnings and more, which can make a huge difference to the amount of damages that you receive. It is always important to look at the worst case scenario and ask ‘what if..?’ to make sure that if your recovery is not as good as might be hoped, you will still be fully compensated in order to be able to access any additional support you may need.

In a Personal Injury claim, you have only one chance at settlement, and (with very few exceptions) you cannot come back in the future for any more compensation. It has to be right first time.

Personal Injury claims can take 2-3 years to bring to an end, sometimes even longer when more serious or catastrophic injuries, or children, are involved. You need to be happy that the person you choose is someone that you can get along with, have faith in their ability and have a good open working relationship with them for all that time.

You need to be confident that you will feel at ease calling or meeting them, and they explain things to you in a way that you can understand. Bringing a claim can be a stressful experience, and your Solicitor is there to support and advise you, not to add to the stress.

You therefore need to choose your Solicitor very carefully.

So how do you make that choice?

Here are some top tips:

1. Recommendations – many of my new clients come to me because a former client of mine has recommended me to them. It is always pleasing to me when this happens. Even so, as mentioned above, you still make sure that the Solicitor does have the experience relevant to your own claim, as that may be different to the person who is making the recommendation. That Solicitor can still be your first point of call though. If I am contacted by someone who needs help which I can’t give then I will always point them in the right direction.

2. Recognition – Solicitors can be recognised as specialists in their area of expertise by independent organisations such as the Law Society and Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL). They vet applicants to make sure that they have sufficient experience in dealing with claims, and they can provide you with recommendations in your local area if you give them a call or check their website. For example, I am recognised as a Senior Litigator with APIL and Enable Law have industry-wide recognition.

3. Affiliation – many firms of Solicitors dealing with Personal Injury claims will have connections with charities and like-minded organisations set up to provide support to victims, such as Headway, Spinal Injuries Association or Global Brain Injury Awareness. Having those connections indicates that the Solicitor is likely to have expertise in that type of claim.

4. Contacting a Solicitor – many people are worried or nervous about contacting a Solicitor – don’t be. Making an enquiry will not cost you anything or commit you to using them to deal with your claim. Most Solicitors will offer a free call or face to face meeting to discuss your claim, and video calls are more popular now. If the cost of a meeting hasn’t been discussed then ask them; make sure that there will be no charge for their time. It’s a good idea to take someone with you to that first meeting too.

5. Ask questions – for most people this will be the first time they have been involved in bringing a claim, and your Solicitor will understand this. They should be happy to answer any and all of your questions, however long that may take. There will be lots of information for you to take in, some of which can be quite complex and difficult to understand. If we say something that you don’t understand don’t ever be afraid to ask us to explain it again, however long that might take. Remember it’s our job to make sure you understand what we are telling you. Don’t ever feel embarrassed about asking questions and never be afraid so say what is on your mind. You need to walk away reassured that you know what is going to happen and where you stand, not more confused and worried than when you started!

Don’t be put off if your Solicitor talks about potential problems with your case. Our job is to assess both the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Beware of Solicitors who brush over the negatives in order to secure you as a client. Those problems don’t go away, they will still need to be addressed and is better that you have realistic expectations from the outset.

There is some information which we won’t be able to give you straight away. Two things many people want to know are – ‘how long will my claim take? and ‘how much damages can I expect to receive?’ and these questions are usually impossible to answer at such an early stage of your claim. So, beware of Solicitors making promises about money which they may not be able to keep.

6. Speak to more than one Solicitor? – absolutely! This is an important decision and if you speak to more than one Solicitor you will probably feel that you get on with some better than others. Be open and let them know you are speaking to other firms and that you will need to make a decision and come back to them. Until you have signed the paperwork to confirm an appointment you are not committed.

7. Legal costs – the Solicitor should explain in plain English what your liability for legal costs will be. Personal Injury claims are usually funded by a Conditional Fee Agreement (known as no win no fee) and they will explain how this will work. They will ask you whether you have an insurance policy called Legal Expenses Insurance which may cover the legal costs of bringing a claim. Most of the legal costs of a successful Personal Injury claim will be paid by the Defendant’s insurance company on top of paying your damages. However you may be liable to pay a contribution to the legal costs known as a ‘success fee’ out of your damages, which the Solicitor will explain to you.

8. Making the decision – once you have made the decision as to which Solicitor you want to deal with your claim, you will be asked to sign the paperwork to confirm this. This is known as ‘instructing’ the Solicitor. By signing the documents you will be entering into a legally binding agreement and it is important that you have understood the commitment that you have made.

What if I’ve made the wrong choice?

Sometimes it becomes apparent during the claims process that you haven’t chosen the right Solicitor for the job. It may be that you lose trust or confidence in them or you come to realise that they don’t have the necessary expertise. It is possible to change Solicitor.

If you have identified a new Solicitor who you would like to take over the case then they will be able to discuss this with you, explain how this can be done and advise you where you stand, for example in relation to liability to pay for the work which the original Solicitor has already done. In most cases your new Solicitor will be able to take over your case fairly easily and any costs incurred will come out of the defendant’s insurance and your success fee.

Changing Solicitors would not make your claim more expensive for you, it just means that the 2 firms will need come to an agreement so that your initial Solicitor will still get paid for the work they did once your claim is completed.

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