It can be a big waste of time for both you and the lawyer if you are not prepared for your first meeting. Being unprepared can end up costing you money, because it will take longer for the lawyer you hire to get up to speed on your personal injury matter.
The lawyer will want to know who you are and how you can be contacted, and a little about your personal background. Sometimes, a lawyer will also try to make a first meeting more productive by sending you a questionnaire to fill out. If this happens, be sure to fill it out and send it in to the lawyer's office before the meeting. Also send along copies of any available documents that may be requested in the questionnaire.
Before you get too far into a meeting or conversation, the lawyer is going to want to know about possible conflicts of interest. So bring the names of the company or individuals involved, including potential witnesses. If the lawyer or the lawyer's firm represents anyone on "the other side of the fence," he or she will have a conflict and will usually not be able to represent you.
Written documentation of your injury and damages is especially important in a maritime injury setting. Even if a lawyer doesn't ask for documentation beforehand, it's still a good idea to bring a copy of all documents relevant to your situation to the meeting:
- Copies of Coast Guard or accident reports detailing your injury
- Copies of hospital, doctor and therapy records
- A list of all care providers who have provided treatment or consultation on an injury
- Bills from medical care providers
- Information regarding any insurance coverage of your medical bills
- Reports from doctors regarding your diagnosis and prognosis
- Information about anticipated future medical costs
- Information regarding work you missed (and continue to miss) as a result of your injury
- A listing of all the ways your life has been affected by your injury
- A calendar, with all the important dates (date of injury, dates of surgery or other treatment and so forth)
- A description of any interaction with insurance companies
- Copies of correspondence with insurance companies
- Copies of any claims already filed with your employer or an insurance company
- A copy of your crew contract and settlement sheets for the trip you were injured, if you're a commercial fisherman or high-seas worker
- Documentation for any reimbursement you've received from your employer
- Copies of any procedural manuals given to you by your employer that relate to the manner in which you were injured
- Documentation regarding weather conditions (including Coast Guard warnings and so forth) when you were injured, if relevant
Questions To Ask Your Potential Lawyer
Prepare a list of questions to take with you to your first meeting. In theory, no question is too silly to ask. Keep in mind, though, that you don't want to scare a lawyer out of representing you. Some questions you might ask a maritime injury lawyer would include:
- How many maritime injury trials has he or she handled? Of those, how many did he or she win?
- What percentage of his or her practice is in the personal injury area of expertise that you need?
- How long has he or she been in practice?
- Does the lawyer usually represent injured people or defendants?
- What problems does the lawyer foresee with your case?
- What are your options?
- How would the lawyer go about handling your situation? What is the process?
- How long will it take to bring the matter to a conclusion?
- How would the lawyer charge for his or her services?
- What types of experts would the lawyer use to prove your case?
- Is there a time limit (called a "statute of limitations") by which you must settle the case or file a lawsuit?
- Would the lawyer handle the case personally or would it be passed on to some other lawyer or support staff in the firm? If other lawyers or staff may do some of the work, could you meet them?
You'll want to ask how the lawyer would charge for his or her services:
- Would a contingency fee be possible?
- What will be expert witnesses necessary to develop the case cost?
- What other out of pocket expenses does the lawyer anticipate?
- Does the lawyer advance out of pocket costs?
- Can the law firm financially afford to "carry" the case if it's necessary to go to trial and wait for payment on a judgment?
- Would there be a retainer payable up front?
- Would any unused portion be refundable?
Ask to be provided with a copy of the lawyer's fee agreement and have it explained to you before decide on hiring the lawyer or the lawyer's law firm. You may end up paying a lot of money to the lawyer who you retain, so make sure you understand what you are signing up for.
Jess G. Webster contributed to the information in these guidelines. He is a Maritime lawyer handling cases throughout the U.S. He is a principal with the Seattle law firm of Mikkelborg, Broz, Wells & Fryer, and he can be reached at email@example.com.