You have one chance to get the right lawyer for your claim and it’s the most important decision you will make.
Congratulations, by reading this guide, you have separated yourself from all those other injured claimants who will make the critical and costly choice of choosing a Compensation Lawyer to represent them without knowing how to make sure you have the best lawyer for your case. There are lots of lazy lawyers who charge hefty fees without much result.
The internet has allowed lots of hype and stories of grand claims. Most Compensation Lawyers offer the same things on their websites, a free consultation, “No Win No Fee” agreements, and they all say they are “the best”.
For most people, there is no way to tell which lawyer or website is “the best”. You may ask a friend, but their recommendation may not work out. The only way is to make sure for yourself that the lawyer you hire knows what they are talking about. Ask them the questions we have outlined and compare their responses. Then, you know if they are the right lawyer for your case.
I have outlined the Nine essential questions you must ask your lawyer before you hire them. These Nine simple questions are the key to saving you thousands in lost compensation and legal fees.
If your lawyer does not answer these questions directly or tells you they are unnecessary, you should immediately get up and walk out of their office or hang up the phone. Your claim is far too serious to waste your time with them. Importantly, it is imperative to your success that you engage a lawyer who is always going to be straightforward with you.
You have one chance to get the right lawyer for your claim, and it’s the most important decision you will make.
9 Questions you must ask of any compensation lawyer:
1. What Area of Law Do You Specialise In?
You must retain a lawyer that is a specialist in compensation law. Like Doctors or other professionals, the best Lawyers specialise in one area of law. Examples of specialty areas include family law, criminal law, or employment law. For a personal injury case, you need a lawyer whose practice is 100% compensation law.
Compensation law is difficult and expensive and needs an expert lawyer. If you go to the local lawyer who does your conveyancing and wills and he tells you he can manage your compensation claim, you are not getting the best lawyer for the job. Some lawyers will accept any case that comes through the door, but you must make sure that your lawyer practices, almost exclusively, compensation law.
2. Are you An Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law by the New South Wales Law Society?
If the lawyer you are consulting is not an Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law by the NSW Law Society, then you have the wrong lawyer.
The Law Society of NSW gives specialist accreditation to those personal injury lawyers who have passed an exam demonstrating their skill and expertise and have also passed a peer interview with other expert Compensation Lawyers. Only these lawyers, who really are experts in this area, are accredited by the NSW Law Society.
3. Who in the office will actually be handling my case, and what are their qualifications?
This is potentially the most critical question that you must ask. The lawyer you might be speaking with at the initial consultation, who could be a partner and an Accredited Specialist, may not actually be the lawyer handling the case. Most of the larger law firms use the approach. Where you will initially speak to an impressive partner who is an Accredited Specialist, but then your case will be handed to a more junior lawyer. This junior lawyer will not be an accredited specialist and will be inexperienced and will make errors on your claim. The junior lawyer may be using your claim to gain experience.
You need to know the name of the lawyer who is actually doing the legal work on your claim. If that lawyer is not an accredited specialist in personal injury law, you have the wrong lawyer.
This issue is simple – do you want a lawyer you can call on with experience who knows what they are doing and will provide value? Or do you want to be treated like a commodity or a number? The larger law firms tend to treat clients like numbers and farm out the cases to junior lawyers. You will have difficulty ever speaking to your lawyer, you will probably never hear from the Partner again, and you will not get the result you deserve.
4. What is the chance of success for my case?
After discussing the circumstances of your claim, the lawyer should know immediately if your case is likely to be successful. If the lawyer is an expert in compensation law, they should know how long the claim will take and if you will succeed. If the lawyer does not answer these questions directly or says they need to do some “further research”, they are not an expert in compensation law. If they tell you that they are “not sure” if you will be successful, they are not experts in compensation law.
No lawyer can guarantee you success in any claim. However, they should give you a firm indication of the likelihood of success by percentage—i.e., 70% successful, 30% not likely to be successful.
5. How much is my case worth?
Again, if the lawyer truly is an expert in compensation law, they should give you a dollar range of the value of your claim. After the first consultation, it is usually reasonably clear within $50,000.00 or $100,000.000 what the value of your claim may be. Your lawyer should be able to give you the estimated value of your claim almost immediately.
On some occasions, the range may be greater than $50,000.00 to $100,000.00 on initial consultation. Your lawyer can narrow this once further information is obtained.
If your lawyer cannot provide such a value, they are either hiding something from you or are not an expert in compensation law.
6. How long will my case take to complete?
An experienced Compensation Lawyer will be able to give you an accurate guide as to how long the claim will take. It will be an estimate; however, they should give you a good idea at the very beginning. Anyone that does not give you a straight answer to this question is an indication that the lawyer is not very experienced.
7. How do you charge legal fees?
Most lawyers charge an hourly rate for their legal costs. Most compensation cases (but not all) do not require a lawyer to charge an hourly rate. Hourly rates can lead to conflict as you have no clear indication of how much you are likely to pay in legal costs at the conclusion of your claim. Will it take 10 hours or 110 hours? You have no way of knowing. If a lawyer is charging by the hour, he wants your case to be as complex as possible (so he can do lots of unnecessary work) and keep it going for as long as possible, charging you all the way.
On the other hand, you want your case to be simple and finalised as quickly as possible. You should ask your lawyer if they will charge a lump-sum amount either for stages of preparation or an agreed up-front amount. A lump-sum agreement provides an incentive to your lawyer to finalise your claim quickly and for the correct value. It is known as value billing.
If a lawyer tries to charge you a percentage of what your claim is worth, run. This is known as a contingency fee and is banned in NSW and Australia. Lawyers are not allowed to charge you a percentage of your settlement. If the costs agreement they provide you references a percentage of your verdict to calculate your legal costs payable, you will, unfortunately, be paying far too much in legal fees.
The lawyer may object to agreeing on a lump sum amount because they do not know how long the case will take or what is required, this is nonsense. If they are an expert in compensation law, they should precisely know the issues in your claim, how long it will take and what they need to do to win. The stages of preparation can easily be assessed and agreed to at the beginning of the claim, with a lump sum payable at the conclusion of the claim.
8. Please explain “No Win No Fee” cost agreements?
You should always understand the costs agreement that you are given. They can be confusing. Ask your lawyer to explain the terms contained in the cost agreement, particularly the ““No Win No Fee””.
Most Compensation Lawyers will charge on a “No Win No Fee” basis. This means that you do not pay any legal fees unless your claim is successful, it does not mean is that you do not pay any legal costs at all. Legal costs are still payable, but they are paid at the conclusion of the claim when you obtain your compensation. You will still be required to pay your lawyer legal costs.
Some lawyers also fail to explain that if you should lose your case, that while “No Win No Fee” means you do not pay your own lawyers’ legal cost, you may be required to pay the defendant’s legal costs.
In compensation claims, the loser of the case pays the winner’s legal cost. If you should lose your case, for example, by not proving that the other party was at fault, you will not need to pay your lawyer’s fees, but you will be required to pay the defendant’s legal costs. This could amount to thousands of dollars.
Before you enter into the costs agreement, you need to make sure you understand the following:
- How your lawyer will charge legal costs, hourly rate, or some other method?
- Is it a “No Win No Fee” agreement, and what does that mean?
- If you lose, will you be required to pay the defendant’s legal costs?
9. What are disbursements, and how are they funded in the case?
Disbursements are payments for medical reports, expert reports, and court fees, which require payment as your claim progresses. A well established and experienced Compensation Lawyer will fund these disbursements on your behalf, usually through disbursement funding. The disbursements will need to be paid back with an amount of interest when your case concludes. Usually, you will not be required to pay for these expenses yourself upfront; however, a lawyer who does not specialise in compensation claims will ask for payment upfront.
Make sure you understand what you need to repay at the conclusion of your claim.
Now you have the power!
Now that you are armed with these nine questions, you will be able to cut through and recognise the instant hype and be able to choose the best lawyer for your case. Do your research, ask the questions we have outlined and choose wisely.
3 more things to think about when choosing your Lawyer
1. Make sure you are getting straight answers and make sure you like your lawyer
You will be spending a lot of time talking to your lawyer, so make sure it is someone you will get along with and someone you trust. This is very important.
2. Don’t choose your lawyer because their office is close to home and is convenient
The truth is 95% of the best lawyers in NSW will have their office in Sydney CBD. This is where the Supreme Court is located and where the most experienced lawyers will be working.
3. An experienced lawyer – will get you the best financial result
You only have one go at getting the compensation you deserve. This means you need to put the very best case forward. To do this, you need a highly experienced lawyer who knows how to achieve the best result on your behalf. The more experienced lawyer, whilst charging, will work more efficiently, understanding immediately what needs to be done. An inexperienced lawyer will be charging you to learn on the job; that’s not whom I would want to handle my case.
The most important decision you can make in your compensation claim is choosing a Lawyer. Don’t just go for the first Lawyer you find. All Lawyers are not the same. There are good Lawyers and bad Lawyers. If necessary, you need to interview several lawyers before deciding on the one to represent you.
Make sure the lawyer actually handling your case is a NSW Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law.