23 Attorneys Share Their Best Advice For New Personal Injury Lawyers
Being a lawyer is not an easy job but it can be very rewarding. The same as doctors, lawyers can’t be experts in all fields of their work. If you try to be good at everything you won’t be excellent at anything. That’s why you need to make a choice and decide in which aspect of the law you want to specialize. In this article, we are going to focus on what it takes to become a personal injury lawyer.
It’s important to understand the benefits and the challenges that you will face in your career. You will have the opportunity to help people, but you will often have to fight with large corporations for which you need a lot of strength. You must have empathy for your client and defend his rights like a warrior.
First, you need to see if you have the necessary qualities and skills to become successful in this practice of law. Second, you have to follow a plan to action that will guide you in your professional journey.
To help you achieve your goal we reached out to 23 experienced lawyers and asked them:
What is the best advice that you would give to a new lawyer that wants to pursue a career in the personal injury field?
Keep reading this post to find out what they had to say.
Farid Yaghoubtil – Downtown LA Law
Here is some advice for someone looking to pursue a career doing personal injury.
You have the opportunity to not only change your own life but also the life of others. Learn to dream big. In the beginning, you will not get the best cases. This can be disheartening, but you need to dream big and focus on the cases you do have. Dream big that you will one day be securing high-level settlements and verdicts and making a difference in the lives of the people you represent.
Honesty is important. You will be measured by your degree of honesty. Never compromise your integrity for money and always be honest with your client. Keep in mind how important the client is in your practice. A happy client is worth thousands of dollars in advertising.
You will have to work hard no matter what. No substitute for hard work and the harder you work and apply yourself the better you will beat your craft. Take the time to listen to speakers, read the books on jury trials, damages and understand the profession. The more time you spend learning how it works the better off you will be.
This profession is filled with failures. It is challenging and can have its own set of issues. Never accept your failures.You can always do better. In many cases, you may not land the case you want, or get the verdict you wanted on a case. Do not give up. Often times the difference between being successful as a personal injury attorney is whether you are willing to get back to work after a loss.
Don’t be Afraid to Try Cases
You can only truly recover justice for your client at trial. Trial by jury is the only method in which your client will have a chance of getting the best possible outcome. Juries can be unpredictable and a trial can be challenging, but it is necessary. The more cases you try the more likely you will be to get a good verdict and develop a reputation.
Kristina Paulter- Cornerstone Law Firm
As a new attorney, it was important for me to find mentors that I could go to for legal questions or procedural issues. When I had questions about strategy or how to handle a difficult case or client, I could reach out to my mentor and receive some guidance and direction.
Being a brand new attorney is tough and I can’t imagine trying to figure it all out without having at least one seasoned attorney to help navigate the waters.
At this stage in my career, I own a successful law practice and a title company. I have two young children and I have sought out Mentors who have been in my shoes. When I feel overwhelmed trying to maintain the ever-elusive work-life balance I can turn to them for advice on how they handled juggling a career and a family.
Having someone who has traveled the same path before me helps keep me grounded and reminds me that it can be done. They are able to assure me that my children are fine and don’t feel like orphans if I come home late a few nights a week, and conversely, the business will be fine if I take a day off to go on a school field trip.
I have begun to pay it forward by speaking at my Law School and being available to students and new attorneys who may need advice and encouragement.
Justin Lovely – The Lovely Law Firm
The best advice I can give to a new lawyer that wants to get into personal injury law is to immediately seek out an experienced mentor.
When you decide to practice personal injury law you need to understand that you are helping clients who are often facing the most difficult time in their lives. They are hurt and suffering the financial drain involved from medical treatments and lost wages.
This is not something you can simply jump into and try to practice without knowing all the pitfalls and strategies that can maximize the potential recovery the injured client can receive.
An experienced mentor can keep you from falling prey to a quick settlement or the low ball tricks insurance companies utilize to devalue a claim.
The mentor will help you with the practice of law and allow you to develop as a young lawyer in this area of practice. He or she can introduce you to judges and the “players” in your local injury bar. He or she can help you build your medical provider network to ensure your clients are getting the care they need with no gaps in treatment.
Seasoned advice from a mentor is the quickest way to get up to speed if you choose to practice in this field.
Thomas Simeone – Simeone & Miller
The best advice is to make sure your personality and skills match what is needed of a personal injury attorney. Many attorneys consider personal injury because they want to help people.
However, while we do help people, we do so by being aggressive and fighting powerful forces. As I tell people, masseuses also help people, but we no one wants a mellow, caring personal injury attorney.
So, if you are not comfortable being aggressive, fighting, disagreeing and otherwise pushing back against people, which may cause them not to like you, then you should find another way to help people.
Related to that is to remember that while we help people, we charge them for doing so – sometimes a lot of money. In return, clients have expectations and demand high-quality service. So, we are not treated as angels.
Instead, we sometimes feel pressure from both the people we are making a claim against and our own client, who may want us to do more and more. That realization that your client may not appreciate your assistance can be startling, particularly if it results not only in their dissatisfaction with your representation but in a bar complaint or them firing you and hiring another attorney.
So, again, the best advice is to have a realistic view of what helping people as a personal injury attorney is about. It can be stressful and frustrating.
Paul Edelstein – The Edelsteins, Faegenburg & Brown
The best advice I have for a new lawyer wanting to pursue a career in the personal injury field would be to make sure you truly believe in what you are doing.
Truly believe what you are doing can make a difference in a person’s life, can make a difference in the way people do things, make a difference in the way society conducts business.
Because what we do at its’ essence is help people who can’t help themselves. Is fight for people who have no one to fight for them. Is fight for change in the way things are done to make them safer, make them better for everyone.
Too often the new lawyer pursuing a career in personal injury is motivated by money when the strongest personal injury lawyer is motivated by what’s right.
Lin McCraw – McCraw Law Group
The advice I would give to a new lawyer wanting to pursue a career in the personal injury field is
1) Find a seasoned mentor to teach you where the tricks and traps are in your locality. The right mentor will keep you from making some very expensive mistakes as you learn. Your statewide and local trial lawyer association (TLA) is a good source to find great mentors and get good solid advice to learn the nuts and bolts of personal injury law.
In Texas, TTLA provides a valuable resource in the form of a well-run listserv that is designed specifically to encourage questions from young lawyers. The mentoring given on the listserv is superb and non-judgmental.
Most states have them, and most states listserv’s are Boolean searchable. The lawyer can search to see past questions and answers before posting. Even for seasoned personal injury lawyers, these state and local TLA listserves are invaluable for the newest case law, good motions and responses to relevant personal injury topics.
2.) Understand that your education starts today. Always have a good book or two by your bed stand. Any books by Don Keenan (especially Reptile), Winning With Stories by Jim Perdue and virtually all books published by Trial Guides will have lessons you can take and make your own. Always have a good trial book you are reading and experiment with the lessons.
Develop a CLE plan that makes sense for the cases you will be trying. AAJ and state TLA’s have great CLE and wonderful opportunities to develop friendships and mentoring opportunities, but do not overlook Trial Lawyers College and Reptile continuing education.
The Trial Lawyers College (TLC) will teach you how to tell a story, how to build connections, and how to overcome your education so you can talk like a human being again. It is very hands-on and very tactical. Reptile works for hand in glove with TLC to teach you what story you need to tell and how best to develop evidence to allow you to tell that story.
Nothing I have found is more strategic then Reptile continuing education. I cannot imagine how much further along I would be if we had the tools 25 years ago that we have today. Set up your long-term plan to achieve board certification. There are many good lawyers who are not board certified, but virtually all board certified lawyers are excellent. It is a good goal to have.
3) Use every case as a learning opportunity. Study the medicine in every case you have. Use the case as an opportunity to talk to and learn from your client’s doctors. You would be surprised how many will let you buy them breakfast and ask questions.
For cases, you have not handled before, affiliate a lawyer who has plowed the ground already. Split a fee and insist on doing everything you can do and go to everything you cannot yet do. You get to keep all of the education and you build your professional network. Some of the most rewarding professional relationships I have had have grown from just these types of referrals.
4) Try some cases. Nothing forces you to learn like actually having to try some cases. Pick out a case or two (Allstate cases are good because you are not going to get a decent offer anyway) and just try the case. It will force you to really study and understand what you are reading. If you can see if lawyers you respect will let you carry their briefcase during their trials. Sitting second chair on a bigger case will give you tons of insight as you prepare to try your own cases.
5) Be a person of integrity. The last piece of advice for a young personal injury lawyer is to do what you say and say what you do. No exceptions. In a profession of wanna-bees, a person of integrity attracts people who can help you and people who want to help you. Nothing will help you more than a well-earned reputation of being reliable and trustworthy.
Jessica Hoerman – TorHoerman Law
It is critical to start networking early.
The most successful personal injury lawyers have a network of referring attorneys and other professionals that assist in making them a valuable member of any personal injury firm or give the new lawyer the opportunity to start her own law firm.
It is important to remember that a good referral relationship is two-sided – referring out is equally important to referring in.
Paul Cannon – Simmons and Fletcher, P.C.
The advise I have for a young personal injury lawyer starting out:
1) Go to work for another attorney in the field vs opening your own office straight out of school. There is so much more to being a successful personal injury attorney today than 23 years ago when I started. You have to understand how to build a successful practice by more than just networking.
You need to be a marketer both online and offline because search engine marketing companies are a dime a dozen and some of them will rake you over the coals if they sense you do not understand what they are talking about. Out firm was taken advantage of by some 10-12 years ago until I took the time to focus on online marketing and learn it.
2) Unlearn all of the legal jargon you learned in school. Clients and jurors do not trust personal injury lawyers. If you try to sound like you are well-educated and trained, the average person will assume you are a know-it-all trying to trick them. They will decide right off the bat that you cannot be trusted.
3) Drop the “I’m a tough guy” routine you see on tv shows and recognize these simple facts:
a) Insurance adjusters can either be your enemy or your ally—this is often your choice. If you have a reputation for being a jerk, they will not want to pay you money. Nobody likes to see a jerk succeed. Give them the evidence they need to document their file and cover their rears and they will be happy to pay the claim and move on to another one of their 100s of files. It is not their money, they just want their boss to say “you did the right thing paying the claim” when their performance review comes up.
b) A happy paralegal is a covered butt. If your paralegal and the rest of your staff feel appreciated when they do well and not just yelled at when they make a mistake, they will work harder to make you look good.
Tina Willis – Orlando Personal Injury Lawyer
If a new lawyer wants to pursue a career in personal injury law, they really should start by working for an insurance defense firm (which is where I started), where they will learn invaluable techniques about how the other side fights these cases.
They will also be exposed to a wider variety of personal injury lawyer work styles (than if they started with a personal injury law firm), which will eventually mold them into a more well-rounded and more effective personal injury attorney when they decide to switch sides.
For example, they will receive, review and analyze the facts and law presented in demand letters for things like car, truck and motorcycle accidents, construction accidents, negligent security cases, premises liability cases, slip and fall cases, and possibly medical malpractice cases (if their defense practice includes medical malpractice defense), from countless different lawyers.
Once litigation begins, they will see what motions personal injury lawyers typically file, what experts they hire, deposition questioning strategies, quality of motion filings and replies, and most effective ways to counter bad evidence, and present good evidence, during any mediation of the case. They will also begin to learn the extensive medical knowledge needed by all personal injury plaintiff and defense lawyers.
Because some cases will go to trial, they will also see many different personal injury trial lawyers select jury panels, and present their best evidence and arguments before jurors.
Of course, they will also learn the best insider strategies employed by the defense in personal injury cases. That’s critically advantageous knowledge, which they cannot learn as effectively if they start their career at a personal injury law firm. (Along those lines, when working for a defense firm, they should try to shadow as many defense lawyers as possible, so they are exposed to as many defense strategies as possible.)
When they become a personal injury lawyer, because of their experience seeing many different injuries and accident lawyers in action, they will know exactly what it takes to produce the best outcome for their clients. They will also understand which cases to avoid, problems that they need to solve, and techniques that need to counter effectively (and how).
So I think the best advice for a new lawyer entering the personal injury practice is to work for several years (as many as they can tolerate) for the other side. Once they’ve finished that part of their career, they will feel very comfortable opening their own practice or will be much more attractive to any accident and injury law firm that might be hiring.
If they want to work in Orlando, Florida, and they’ve followed my advice, then we’d like them to call us anytime we need a new personal injury or car accident lawyer. We often want more former insurance defense lawyers on our team.
Chris Hildebrand – Hildebrand Law
My goal was to create a practice that had more work coming into the Firm than we could handle to enable us to carefully choose the cases we take. The result of that philosophy is that we have great clients with good cases and, as a result, prevail in the cases we have to take to trial. To do that, we had to master marketing in-house and have a thorough understanding of the law and strategies to implement to secure the results our clients deserve.
The best thing a new personal injury lawyer can do is to be immersed in the law. Read every secondary resource related to personal injury at least twice, read every published appellate decision applicable to his or her practice area, and attend judicial meetings, if the judges in his or her state hold public judicial meetings. Your goal is to be a walking encyclopedia on your area of the law. Trust me, you will get noticed.
A new attorney should also understand that you need to be a rainmaker if you ever want to have control of your career and truly be at the top of the salary range for attorneys. This enables you to earn more money and, if necessary, allows you to start your own law firm to take total control over your life and career.
You should read as much as you can regarding search engine optimization, search engine marketing, social media marketing, and networking. You may even consider creating and building online marketing assets that bring business to you even if you are employed by a Firm, unless your law firm for some reason does not want the additional business.
Paul Byck – Kreiter, Byck, and Associates
The best advice I could give to you, a new lawyer entering the plaintiff personal injury arena, is to be true to what motivated you to become an attorney in the first place. If you are like most of us, you have a passion to help those in need. Unfortunately, it is all too common for the passion to be replaced by greed, and the compassion to be diluted by numbers.
Many lawyers forget the importance of communicating with their clients. Since we get paid contingency fees – a percentage of what we win, rather than hourly fees, some develop the attitude that there is no benefit in answering their clients’ calls.
As cases pile up, and days fill with the pressure of litigation, responding to a client’s inquiries – sometimes repeated inquiries – may seem trivial. The biggest complaint against attorneys in our industry is the lack of communication with their clients. Sometimes, it is simply not returning calls. Other times, it is having secretaries, law clerks or other attorneys who know little about the case returning calls. This attitude shows a lack of interest in the person you chose to represent.
A client should not be kept in the dark about their case. Attorneys who excel in front of a jury certainly should know how to talk to their own clients, explaining details in layman’s terms. We represent people who are not only suffering from their injuries but have to deal with medical bills, lost income, and the stress that normally falls on the family. They deserve respect.
In addition, the lawyer who fails to regularly communicate with his or her client risks losing or diminishing the value of their case. I have my clients contact me at least after every doctor visit. I document my conversations so that I have the information at my fingertips, which allows me to always be prepared when talking with my opponent. It is essential to maintain a reputation of zealous representation. The other side must know that I am prepared and aware of every detail of my case. This will translate into much better settlements.
Moreover, a good attorney knows the importance of enhancing their client’s credibility. I am always painting the best possible picture of my client and my facts. This requires communication and consultation. For example, if my client’s injuries result in a loss of employment, I want to make sure he or she engages in a good faith job search at the earliest time possible.
My client will need to know how to search for work and how to document their efforts in order to allow for admissibility. If I am unaware of my client’s employment status until much later, the delay in looking for work will be exploited by the defense, thus painting the wrong picture for the jury. Regular communication will allow me to direct the case the way I want to, rather than being surprised by something completely preventable.
Be passionate, show compassion and always remember why you chose this profession.
Brian Wagner – Wagner Law Associates
Approach every case knowing two things:
First, the case is important to the Client. It might not be the largest case the firm is handling, but it is definitely the largest case the Client has.
Keep that in the back of your mind. Treat every client and case as if it were your family members. Make sure the Client knows that is your goal.
Second, the ability to go to trial—and win—is the best negotiation tactic. The opposing side will not settle a case for full value, unless and until they are convinced the plaintiff lawyer can go to trial and win for an amount much larger. Only then can you demand—and receive—full value for an injury.
Alex Megeredchian – Megeredchian Law
The best advice I would give to a new lawyer who wants to pursue personal injury is show compassion to your clients, address their need and make sure you fight aggressively for their rights.
Often times insurance companies will try to take advantage of your client and his injuries, you as the attorney are their support.
Make sure you fight for every penny they deserve and make sure to keep the communication lines open and transparent with your client.
After all, one of the biggest complaints clients have about their attorneys is that they are either unresponsive, or there’s never any communication about the status of the case.
Marc Lamber – The Lamber-Goodnow Injury Law
The first thing I would do is to encourage them to pursue a career in law — in any area. It can be a noble profession and one in which you can truly make an enduring and positive difference.
Personal injury lawyers can help people during their most trying of times. It is a privilege to assist them during this time. Accidents are not expected and people can feel like their lives have been turned upside down.
First and foremost, you can help them get answers which, often times, they cannot get without the help of a lawyer, such as what happened, who was at fault, etc.
Second, you can help your client navigate a tragic circumstance and “counsel” them based on your experience dealing with similar tragedies. Ultimately, this hopefully will bring them some sense of closure.
Third, you can ensure that they are treated justly under the applicable legal framework and, if appropriate, that they are compensated fairly for their injury or loss.
And, fourth, you can affect change, whether that is making the law, or the product, or the roadway, safer. You can help prevent someone else from having to go through the same tragedy.
Evan Walker – Evan Walker Law
Have enough cash. Here’s why that matters.
First, understand that personal injury is contingency based, which means that you will not get paid unless and until a settlement is reached or a judgment is rendered. That can take 6 months, 2 years, or anywhere in-between. You can go far long periods of time without getting paid.
Second, everything you do costs money. For example, you need money for records, private investigators, process servers, court fees, mediations, experts, depositions, etc. And most clients won’t have the funds to help you pay for costs.
In addition, you still have ongoing business expenses (e.g. lease, advertising, phone) and taxes (payable quarterly if you’re a sole proprietorship). Cash matters.
Michael McCready – McCready Law
The successful personal injury practice tracks and makes decisions based on numbers. These are often referred to as “Key Performance Indicators” (KPI’s). While there are dozens of metrics, the most important ones are your cost per lead, your cost per case and average fee.
Other important metrics include the make up of the type of cases in your office, the source of all new leads and the time it takes to resolve cases. Tracking this data will allow you to make informed decisions on the direction of your practice. Once you become accustomed to tracking numbers, the possibilities are endless. In today’s world, decisions should be based on data.
In starting a personal injury practice, it is essential to develop a client mailing list. Even if a caller does not have a case you want, they should go into your database. If you spend a few minutes and treat them decently, no matter how absurd their case, they are more likely to remember you in the future should they or their family and friends need a lawyer. These past contacts do not cost you any marketing money if they lead to a case.
Keep your overhead low. Do not spend more money than you have to because it eats into your bottom line. While business may be good at the time, personal injury practice is notorious for swings in income and you do not want to have excess overhead when you hit the inevitable down times.
Hire a good accountant, one familiar with personal injury practices, and have your books set up correctly from the beginning. It will cost much more money and cause more headaches to straighten them out down the road.
George Tragos – Law Offices of Tragos, Sartes & Tragos
Be prepared to do a lot of marketing.
Personal injury is one of the most competitive areas of the law.
The only way to distinguish yourself from the rest is marketing. Because of this, be prepared to spend money to make money.
Successful marketing also requires quality legal work and ethical conduct.
Steven Gursten – Michigan Auto Law
One of the most important things to consider about entering the personal injury field of law is to determine a region where there are enough personal injury cases to balance your books and also bring in new clients.
Take the time to make sure that your personal injury firm will fill a need for people who have been and will continue to be mildly or severely injured.
Attracting personal injury clients across the state and/or country can improve the likelihood that your law firm provides meaningful legal services to people in need.
Another area to focus on is to develop a proper support network of personal injury attorneys across the country who can share advice, best practices, and practical solutions to any problems you may run into. Combine this with the forums and e-mail lists that exist for personal injury attorneys and you have a very good pool of resources you can pull from to improve the legal services you provide.
Every personal injury attorney has to market the service that they or their firm provides because you will only be able to bring in new clients if people know who you are and why they should choose your firm over another firm. A succinct message about why your firm has a competitive advantage over another personal injury firm can go a long way.
If you market your law firm, determine that there is a need for a personal injury attorney or law firm in the state/region you will practice in, and develop a legal network of attorneys online and in-person, you can excel as a personal injury attorney.
Donald Petersen – Law Office of Donald E. Petersen
MOST IMPORTANT TIP :
The effect of advertising is cumulative and crosses media. Chose a geographic market and a niche practice area where you can gain a foothold to build your practice upon.
Choose a path that will lead to the type of practice you want. Most recent law school graduates do not have substantial experience in an industry related to personal injury. If you already have work experience in a related field such as automotive engineering, pharmaceuticals, or health care, it may be realistic for you to establish your own practice (on in a small group). Most lawyers will benefit immensely from starting with a firm where they have the opportunity to observe experienced members of their team.
If it is helpful to choose a geographic area and practice area where you can gain a foothold to build your practice upon. In larger, more highly competitive markets, it is often advantageous to identify the types of cases that you would like to eventually focus upon. In less densely populated areas, you will probably have a broader trial practice and fewer opportunities to become a specialist.
Focusing your marketing on personal injury early will help establish your reputation in your community. I’ve seen far too many recent law school grads in Orlando, FL advertising for up to twelve unrelated practice areas ranging from traffic, criminal, divorce, wills and probate, employment discrimination, workers compensation, *personal injury*, and *products liability*. Several years of experience are required to become competent in any *one or two* of these fields and I believe most potential clients would be skeptical of such advertising.
The effect of advertising is cumulative and transfers across marketing channels. The top advertisers in their community frequently enjoy a name recognition from years of advertising on radio, yellow pages, billboards, and television which transfers to their internet outreach. When you start your practice you’re competing against your competitors’ cumulative advertising expenditures. Focusing your practice often helps you in competing against Goliath.
Jay Ruane – Ruane Attorneys
The advice is simple – find a niche and own it.
Too many lawyers try to be “Attorney Everything” in personal injury – but the field is large and it is impossible to handle every type of PI case well.
If you find a niche that intrigues you, deep dive, and learn everything you can – take anatomy courses, physics classes and know more than your opponent about the law and the mechanics of your injury.
They won’t be able to compete because defense lawyers by professional have to be generalists. Nobody will pay them to super-specialize.
Matt Pinsker – Pinsker Law
My advice to a new lawyer interested in a career in personal injury?
Don’t. From all areas of practice, it is one of the most stressful, risky, and the highest turnover.
If you disregard that advice and are one of the few with the fortitude for this path, then it would be to get hired wherever you can get hands-on experience.
Many lawyers look for low-level associates to do the grunt work. This will give you the experience and training to demand higher wages later on, or to go off and create your own practice.
Michael Rehm – Santa Cruz Personal Injury Attorney
Just do it. A lot of attorneys are intimated by the personal injury field because of the large dollar amounts involved, the fact you do not get paid up front, and the costs associated with bringing a successful case. It is worth it.
If you ask most lawyers what area of law they would like to practice, if they were guaranteed they would be successful, most would choose personal injury since it is such a lucrative area of law. If you believe in yourself and believe you will be successful in any area of law, you will succeed with personal injury.
I practiced criminal law for years and spent an untold amount of hours just sitting in court waiting for my case to be called. This is a waste of time and energy.
The personal injury practice will allow you to help a lot of people, you will have the financial security to pursue whatever charitable causes you desire on your own time, and you will be in an area of law that allows you to work for yourself and avoid having to be in court for the entire day for issues that take two minutes on the record, and if you have any experience in criminal or family court, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Tor Hoerman – Tor Hoerman Law
You better love it! There will be moments of serious doubt when defendants, judges, insurance companies and even at times, your own clients, will make you question your career choice.
But, when you love what you do, and understand the purpose of what you do, it will buoy you and make you even stronger.
Passion will be your life vest. Make sure you have it or find a different path.
Thank you so much to all the lawyers that contributed to this post! Hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you have, then share it on social media so we can share more light on what it means to be a personal injury lawyer.