Personal Injury lawyers across North America widely advertise that they provide “free consultations“. It’s a widely accepted industry standard. I don’t know any reputable personal injury law firms who don’t provide a free consultation, or free consultations thereafter. You may be hard pressed to find another area of the law where face to face consultations are provided for free. A lawyer’s commodity is their time. Lawyers don’t have any dry goods to sell you like bagels, I-Phones or shoes. All lawyers have is their time, and the work product from that time which generally manifests in the form of thoughtful and meticulously prepared letters, pleadings and other documents which clients have requested or need for their respective cases.
So, when a lawyer provides you with a free consultation, it’s important for that consultation not to be a waste of time. How can we make these consultations as productive as possible for everyone involved.
Generally, the lawyer will already have done his/her research on you, the client, BEFORE you step foot through the door. A quick Google Search, or search on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter can tell us volumes. If the accident was a high profile accident that was covered on TV or in newspapers, then a quick internet search can give us a good starting point in terms of how the accident, where, and when the accident took place. It can also give the lawyer a starting point on the nature of the injuries, if these were reported accurately. Certainly, the client’s version of events will be more important than what’s been reported in the media as it’s not often accurate. But, it does give the lawyer a starting point.
From the client’s perspective, it’s important to attend at the free initial consultation prepared. What can you do to prepare? Here are a few tips:
- Arrive on time, or early. Don’t be late. If you’re going to late, call or email ahead so that the lawyer can best manage their time/schedule. The lawyer you’re meeting is likely busy and doesn’t want to cut your meeting short.
- Bring any and all documents you have in relation to your claim. Anything you have from the police, doctors, insurers, hospital, photos, accountants, any letters, names/contact information of any witnesses, video from your phone etc. Anything you have in relation to the claim, even if you think it’s not important/relevant, BRING IT TO YOUR MEETING! Even if what you have to bring is 4 bankers’s boxes in size… It doesn’t matter. The more you bring, the more the lawyer has to see and the more s/he will be able to understand your case. The more the lawyer understands about your case, the more s/he will be able to help you out at that initial consultation. Forgetting critical documents at home is not helpful for either the client or the lawyer. It will likely result in a waste of everyone’s time.
- This might be your first time meeting with a lawyer. That’s normal. The top reasons people see lawyers are for Real Estate (Buying/Selling a home); Wills/Estates (Somebody died or you need to prepare a will); Family Law (You’re going through a divorce/custordy dispute); Criminal Law (You or a family member has been charged with a criminal offense). Beyond those experiences, meeting with and retaining a litigation lawyer for your personal injury case is likely a brand new experience. So, if you’re meeting a lawyer for the first time you likely have 1000 + 1 questions about how the process works, what to expect, how much money your case is worth, when you will get your money, if your case will go to trial, why the insurer is putting you through the ringer etc. Write these questions down, and have them ready to ask your lawyer. Your lawyer, if they’re any good, will take the time to answer these questions so that you get the answers and peace of mind you need to move forward with the case. If your lawyer isn’t answering those questions, then perhaps that lawyer isn’t the right person to take on your case in the first place. At the end of the day, personal injury cases are marathons and not sprints. If you aren’t comfortable with your lawyer from the outset, and they aren’t answering your questions, then you may want to reconsidering retaining that lawyer.
- Research the lawyer who you’re meeting with. Try to learn as much about the lawyer you can, and learn about the work that his/her law firm does. Do they only practice in personal injury law, or do they “dabble” in personal injury law as an aside to their practice? This is important: If you were getting heart surgery, would you want the surgeon to be a dabbler in heart surgery, or somebody who only focuses only on heart surgery…..Food for thought.
- Make sure you’re in fact meeting with a lawyer. Don’t be fooled by titles like “Claims Specialist” or “Benefits Specialist” or “Benefits Coordinator” or “Intake Coordinator“. Odds are that person is NOT a lawyer. They are likely an employee, agent or contractor of the law firm whose job it is to run around Ontario and meet with new clients and tell you anything so that will will sign on the dotted line and retain the law firm they work for. The advice which they provide you is NOT legal advice because it’s NOT coming from a lawyer. They cannot answer your legal questions because they simply not qualified to provide legal advice. Know who you’re meeting with so that you’re not getting misled. Unfortunately, this has become a reality of client intakes in a hyper competitive personal injury field in Ontario. We often meet with people who were led to believe they met with a lawyer, when in fact they didn’t. Years go by and their case has been ruined, all because of what transpired at that initial consultation with the so called “Claims Specialist“. The next thing they know, their file is being transferred to a different office, with a different person. The client doesn’t know still to this day who their lawyer is (if they have one at all), and they’ve never even met their lawyer. These things happen more frequently than you think, and gives our profession a bad name. Don’t get hurt twice and think long and hard about who you’r meeting with.