Every now and then, someone asks me what was the most important thing I learned in my three years of law school at the University of Washington. My answer, without hesitation, has been the same since I graduated in 1995: “If you have a legal situation, hire an appropriately qualified lawyer.”
I know, I know. That advice is biased, and somewhat self-interested. Still, it’s the best advice I can give, and it’s advice I took myself when I had a personal injury claim. When I meet with an accident victim for the first time, I often tell her it’s okay if she chooses not to hire me, but it’s imperative that she find a lawyer she feels comfortable with to represent her in her claim. The reasons are plentiful. The law is complex and an unrepresented person could miss something important or give away information she is not legally required to provide. Even more importantly, a skilled attorney will help an injured person evaluate her claim and the insurance company’s position in a more rational, less emotional way than is possible for an injured person (or even a family member) to do on her own.
If you’ve ever bought or sold a house, you may have thought to yourself, “I can do this. Why should I pay a realtor 3 or 6 percent to do it for me?” The answer is obvious. The transaction is simply too important, and there are too many things that could go wrong to justify doing it yourself. That’s not to say people can’t successfully buy or sell a house without a realtor-it happens all the time. But for the typical person, the hassle of learning everything you need to know, and the stress of wondering whether you made every required disclosure and completed every required form justifies the expense of hiring a professional.
Likewise, a person certainly could effectively represent herself in an injury claim. It happens all the time. But there is so much to learn, so many rules that must be followed, and so many rights that insurance companies are more than willing to violate if you let them, that the expense of hiring an attorney is almost always justified. A skilled lawyer not only maximizes your recovery, but he relieves you from the burden and the stress of trying to deal with the insurance company on your own. You already have a job and a family. Why try to learn another whole job when an attorney can do it for you?
In my years as an attorney, I’ve had a few situations where I or a loved one had an injury claim, including claims for major back injuries to myself and my wife resulting from auto accidents. I even tried representing myself and my wife for a short time, but I quickly realized that was a mistake. Although I certainly know how to handle a personal injury claim, when decisions are clouded by anger and indignation, it is impossible to be objective-even for an experienced attorney. Once I hired my own attorney, I was free to focus on recovering from my injuries and being a supportive husband. I have more than once told my wife it’s impossible for me to be her loving and supportive husband and her effective attorney at the same time. When it comes to my family, I prefer to be loving and supportive and let someone else do the legal analysis and negotiations or even try the case if necessary.
That’s not to say there is no place for anger or indignation, or a deep sense of loss for the effects of an injury in a meaningful analysis of every claim. Indeed, it is an awareness and understanding of the profound loss suffered by the injured person and his family that makes good lawyering possible. However, a good lawyer can objectively provide the injured person and his family with all of the available options and make recommendations based on probabilities and hard experience. This objectivity gives the family members a meaningful counterbalance to their justifiable emotions regarding their claim, and hopefully, it empowers them to make the decisions that are truly best for them and most effectively facilitate healing and closure from the loss they have suffered.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, and you are wondering whether you should hire a lawyer, give us a call. We’d be glad to discuss your situation with no fee and no commitment, and let you know whether you would benefit from having an experienced personal injury lawyer on your case.