In all likelihood, most lawyers will find that the reality of practicing law is somewhat different from the theory of practicing law, unless the attorney has some actual legal experience under his or her belt as a result of a college internship, or a paralegal job while preparing for law school. As an example, most attorneys don’t really understand that the average individual will strongly resist spending money on an attorney unless it is clear that significant consequences will result from failure to do so.
Because of this, it is especially important that a personal injury attorney is fully organized and prepared when meeting a potential personal injury client—and that you are able to show the client the benefits of hiring you.
The following five things an attorney should do prior to meeting with a new client to ensure you’re well prepared:
- Review the crash report. The police report can provide vital information about the accident since police officers are usually trained in assessing vehicle accidents and their causes. The report will provide you with the date, time and place of the accident, contact information from the other drivers as well as for potential witnesses, a basic description of injuries suffered by drivers and passengers involved in the accident, and a narrative of the accident details as well as what the officer believes was the cause of the accident. Officers will typically note contributing factors to the collision, as well as weather and road conditions, damages to vehicles, any tickets issued to those involved, and a diagram of the scene, which includes point of impact. Thus, the police report is a good overview of the officer’s perspective of what occurred.
- Take your own photos of the scene of the accident. Even if your client took his or her own photos, or if there are photos taken by the police officer, it is always good to have your own set of photographs. If you were called soon after the accident occurred, your photographs can document evidence of the severity of the collision and may be able to support or refute the manner in which the accident occurred, based on statements from the Plaintiff or Defendant and/or the accident report from the police. Photographs of the scene of the accident preserve evidence, which is crucial in a car accident claim and can provide definitive proof of fault and damages. Make sure to take general views of the accident scene, all vehicles involved, traffic lights and signals in the area, weather conditions, any objects damaged by the accident, detailed views of the damaged vehicles, conditions of roads and surrounding areas and people involved in the accident.
- Inspect the scene of the accident closely. A fresh set of eyes may see things the client and police officer missed. If you are able, inspect the positions of the vehicles involved in the crash, re-interview eyewitnesses, and document any and all evidence you believe to be associated with the accident. Remember that the role of a police officer, while extremely important, is to investigate the scene of the accident with an eye toward potential criminal violations rather than toward a civil lawsuit. Evidence from an accident scene can disappear quickly before a thorough evaluation can take place, therefore an immediate investigation of the scene can be extremely important. Further, an actual inspection of the scene gives you a firsthand perspective of the roadway and surrounding environment, which will allow you to better understand your client’s description of the accident.
- Get the initial details of the client’s injuries resulting from the accident. You will want to find out about any pre-existing conditions your client may have which could inadvertently derail your case later on. It is important that you have a thorough understanding of your client’s injuries sustained from the collision, as well as any prior conditions so you can build a solid personal injury case.
- Perform an initial background search of the at-fault driver and your potential client. These searches can help you decide if this is a case you want to take. You could find out that your client has issues in his or her background that could influence if you take the case, or you could find out things about the defendant which could help or hurt your case. It is always a good idea to have all the facts prior to meeting with a new client.
You will also want to prepare your client for your first meeting, by instructing the client to bring all documents and photographs related to the case. This can include the police report, medical expenses and records, insurance information, employment wage statements, estimates for repair of the damaged vehicle, charges for a necessary rental car, all correspondence and notes, and the declaration page of the client’s auto policy. Having all these items can move the case along much more quickly than if you must wait for them.