Do I need a lawyer?  Every client who comes through my door has asked that question prior to picking up the telephone and calling my law office for an appointment.  It is, of course, a very good question that every person with a law-related issue should ask.  It is a fundamental question that leads down two very different paths.  Either you hire a lawyer to help you or you do not.  Depending upon your answer, the two experiences you will have are completely different.

The problem, in my view, is not that people fail to ask this question.  The problem is how people answer it.  In my experience, people do not spend enough time thinking about whether they actually need to get a lawyer involved in their situation.  And even when they do make that decision, they run out as quickly as they can and hire the first lawyer who agrees to take their case without doing a lot of homework.  (How you choose the best lawyer for your case is a topic for another frequently asked question.)

When a person who has been injured asks me whether I will agree to take their case, this begins an evaluation process at my firm during which I determine if the matter is a case I would be willing to handle.  Not every legitimate personal injury case requires a lawyer to settle it.  Particularly in cases that: (a) involve clear liability on the part of the defendant and (b) do not involve significant medical bills or other out of pocket expenses (damages), it is often better for the injured person to resolve (settle) their case directly with the other person's insurance company without using a lawyer.  Despite what many personal injury lawyers will tell you, settling your own case without a lawyer is not only possible, it is often better for the injured person.

Why is that?  The answer is attorney's fees.  In the case of a person who has been injured, lawyers typically will earn a fee that is calculated using a percentage of the recovery (the settlement or judgment amount).  This is called a "contingency fee" because the lawyer's fee is not guaranteed.  It is "contingent" on (dependent upon) the outcome of the case.  A typical contingency fee is 33%, or one-third, of the recovery.  So, if you have a case with low "special damages" (such as medical bills, lost wages, other expenses) and it is clear that the other side is responsible for the injury, you should at least try to resolve the claim directly and save on the attorney's fees.

So, what damages are significant enough to get an attorney involved in an injury case.  Every lawyer is different.  In my own law practice, I typically require medical bills in excess of $3,000 before I will agree to consider a case.  But even that depends upon the type of case, how the injury is still impacting the person, and what happened to cause the injury.  It really depends upon the circumstances.  So it is best to at least establish contact with a lawyer to discuss your matter.

The foregoing comments apply to personal injury cases.  If your case involves another situation, like a business dispute or a family estate dispute, then you most certainly will require an attorney to consult with you on your case.  Cases in these two categories are very unique and can be very complicated, and it is highly unlikely that you're dealing with an insurance claims representative on the other side.  Thus, the issue is not as much about resolving your case for a fair amount as it is understanding your rights and the other party's duties and obligations to you.  Again, these situations tend to be so unique, case-specific and complicated that you really need a lawyer experienced in these areas to help you.

Kevin W. Mottley
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Richmond, VA trial lawyer dedicated to handling brain injuries, car accidents and other serious injury claims