Law school does not always prepare lawyers for the day-to-day realities of a legal practice, however, one key fact to remember is the better prepared you are the first time you meet with a new personal injury client, the better the entire relationship is likely to go. After all, when your organizational skills are apparent to your client, he or she is more apt to trust you—and your legal skills.
If you, as an attorney, have done your due diligence on this new personal injury case, then you have already: checked out the scene of the accident, taken photographs at the scene, gone over the police report with a fine-tooth comb, looked into your client’s prior medical history, and performed an initial background search into both your client and the defendant.
At this point, you are meeting with your client to execute necessary documents, including the following:
- You will first want to present a written agreement to your client which discusses your fees (including how they are calculated), and your contingency fee agreement. Contingency fee agreements generally state that the attorney or law firm receives no fee unless they make a recovery, and that the attorney will “front” any expenses related to the case. Your fee could be anywhere from 33.3 percent to 40 percent, and if you charge your client for court filing fees, the costs related to deposing witnesses and other similar charges in the event of a recovery, these fees will be clearly spelled out in the agreement. Make sure your client clearly understands the retainer/employment agreement, and that any questions he or she has are properly answered.
- Next, you will need your client to sign a medical/HIPAA release. A HIPAA authorization form is a document which allows your firm to obtain your client’s specific health information. You will want your client to sign a general HIPAA form from your firm, as well as specific HIPAA forms from the hospitals and health insurance carriers used by your client following the accident. If you collect all the HIPAA information you need at this first meeting, it will be easier to get the ball rolling on the personal injury case. Your client’s HIPAA authorization will state that he or she is disclosing health information to you, and will include a description of the information being disclosed. The form will also include an expiration date, meaning after the case is over, the HIPAA can be discarded.
- It can be helpful to have a form which contains essential questions regarding the personal injury claim. This could include questions regarding the client’s background, employment, witnesses to the accident, whether the client has been involved in prior or subsequent accidents, medical treatments, injuries, lost wages, medical and automobile insurance, responsible party information, police report, and any other questions related to the accident you deem necessary.
- Depending on the circumstances, you may also need your client to sign a wage loss authorization, and/or an insurance authorization. You could also ask your client for copies of auto and health insurance cards—you could need these when the case reaches discovery, and they will also be helpful if any issues regarding coverage or the submission of medical bills to the insurance company come up.
Sending your client a follow-up letter, thanking them for retaining you, explaining (or probably re-explaining) the process for a personal injury claim, and detailing the client’s responsibilities during the case is also a good idea after your first meeting. Those responsibilities could include keeping you informed of any changes or developments, providing you with all necessary records and documents and documenting any further or ongoing consequences from the accident. You may need to reiterate to your client that he or she should only speak with you regarding the case, and should not sign anything without consulting you first. When you are organized and prepared, your relationship with your client is off to a great start and is likely to remain that way throughout the case.