Is My Personal Injury Attorney Right for Me?

Comfort and communication are keys

Most people who work with personal injury attorneys either haven’t worked with an attorney before, or—at the very least—didn’t expect to be working with one of this variety. We spoke with Paul R. Kiesel, a personal injury attorney and former president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, about selecting the one that’s right for you.

What is the most important aspect of selecting a personal injury attorney?

The key to selecting a lawyer is finding an attorney who you feel comfortable with. … It’s just like a doctor: You can go to a dozen doctors that are equally as good, one versus the other. But finding the doctor who has the bedside manner you’re comfortable with is the one you have to select. You are the client, and therefore you have the choice to decide who is going to represent you. Finding the person you feel most comfortable with, in my view, is the key to the decision-making process.

Are there any other important factors?

You need to have communication with the lawyer, and that lawyer needs to meet your expectations of the level of communication. The number one complaint that state bars have across the country is, “My lawyer is not getting back to me”—that lawyers, they do not return their calls or messages or emails. I believe that you have to set out, from the very beginning, what your expectation is in terms of communication. And that lawyer or firm needs to either reflect your level of communication, or you need to go to a different law firm.

There are some amazing trial lawyers who are never going to call the client back. It’s just not the world they live in, it’s not where they do best. And you might want that lawyer because they will be brilliant in the courtroom. But, on the other hand, if you want a lawyer who is going to have a connection with you, you need to make it clear from the beginning what your expectation is.

I’m assuming most of your clients haven’t worked with attorneys before?

In my world—personal injury—99 percent of my clients never expected to be retaining a lawyer for the kind of work that I do. It’s not as if these people have had experience with firms like mine. I like to tell clients that trust is something that’s developed, something that you build up. When you come in with a tragic situation, you need to go on your gut instinct for retention. But then that lawyer needs to fulfill your expectations of what it is you want, day in and day out.

In the personal injury world, everything is done on the contingency fee basis. These are not contracts written in stone—they’re contracts based on trust. Trust needs to be developed … and the client should not be afraid to make a change of attorney if they’re not getting what they want from their existing law firm.

And you screen clients before you meet with them, right?

The first screening level is to see if it’s a serious enough case for it to warrant our firm’s work. I probably turn down nine cases for every one case I take. Then, there will be an evaluation, both speaking to the client and getting a sense of what the actual claims are.

Any final advice?

I’m the easiest lawyer to reach in America. If I don’t call you back, it’s because I did not want to talk to you—not, that I didn’t get the message. I say to clients: “Call as often as you want, and if it becomes a problem, I’ll tell you it’s a problem. Otherwise, if you want to talk, pick up the phone and call me.” That communication tends to tell people that they don’t need to reach out, as opposed to feeling as if their lawyer is not getting back to them.

If you’ve been injured, reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney in California. And if you’d like more information on this area of the law, please see our overview on personal injury law.

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