Chances are you never gave much thought to hiring an attorney until you needed one. Most people don’t retain a lawyer “just in case.” Many of the more mundane aspects of life that require lawyers – buying a house, divorce, creating a will, etc. – can be done without much thought as to the qualifications of the person drawing up the documents.

Not so with PI lawyers. No one plans on getting into an accident, slipping on a loose tile or getting burned by restaurant coffee. No one plans on getting sued, either. But when something happens and you need a PI lawyer, you usually need one fast.

You’re first impulse might be to find one online and it’s not a bad place to start. Professional PI lawyers will provide a trove of free information and not all of it self-serving.

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Here is some advice on how to choose the right PI attorney for your case.

Location

First, make a list of the factors that will be important in your choice. How close must the lawyer be? Is it important that his or her practice be within easy driving distance? What about the jurisdiction of the case? Your lawyer should be licensed to practice in the state in which you suffered your injury or are being sued.

Specialization

In what areas does your lawyer specialize? We’re not just talking about personal injury as opposed to contract law or real estate law. Check to make sure he or she practices in your particular type of injury. Automobile accident injury isn’t the same kind of case as homeowner negligence or defective products. If your case centers on medical malpractice, you want a healthcare attorney.

Reputation and Experience

It goes without saying that your lawyer should have a good reputation. Ask for references and do a little search online.

How long has your lawyer been practicing? Has he or she been doing PI work all that time? If not, when did he or she start?

Disciplinary Record

It is important to check an attorney’s disciplinary record. Have there been any complaints to the bar and what were the nature of those complaints? It’s not unusual for people to file complaints against attorneys, but was there any substance to those complaints? Was the lawyer disciplined for violations of professional ethics? Perhaps most importantly, have there been repeated complaints for the same behavior and is it relevant to your case?

Does your attorney have any trial experience? This is important for two reasons. First, although everyone wants to settle out of court, you should have someone who can win if you can’t settle. Second, just being willing to go to court increases the chances your opponents will accept a settlement.

Win record

What kind of experience does your attorney have at negotiation?What is your attorney’s win record? Nobody wins them all, but you will feel a lot better about engaging an attorney if his record shows he wins a lot. They are also less likely to take your case unless they feel confident they can win.

Knowledge

Does your lawyer have a depth of understanding of the technical areas of your case? If your case is medical, does he or she understand medical diagnoses and procedures? Can he or she spot medical  errors or inconsistencies in the records?

Once you’ve clarified what you need in a PI attorney, start to ask around among your friends and acquaintances. The ones with the finest reputations will be easiest to find through word of mouth.