A personal injury lawyer is a lawyer who provides legal representation to those who claim to have been injured, physically or psychologically, as a result of the negligenceor wrongdoing of another person, company, government agency, or other entity. Personal injury lawyers tend to practice primarily the area of law known as tort law. Even though personal injury lawyers are trained and licensed to practice virtually any field of law, they generally only handle cases that fall under tort law including work injuries, automobile and other accidents, defective products, medical mistakes, and slip and fall accidents. The expression “trial lawyers” can refer to personal injury lawyers, even though most cases handled by personal injury lawyers settle rather than going to trial and other types of lawyers, such as defendants’ lawyers and criminal prosecutors, also appear in trials.Content Rating: 10/10
ResponsibilitiesA personal injury lawyer has numerous responsibilities in serving his or her clients. These responsibilities encompass both professional and ethical rules and codes of conduct set forth by state bar associations where the lawyers are licensed. Once licensed to practice law by their state bar association, lawyers are legally permitted to file legal complaints, argue cases in state court, draft legal documents, and offer legal advice to victims of personal injury. Also referred to as a plaintiffs’ lawyer, a personal injury lawyer is responsible for interviewing prospective clients and evaluating their cases to determine the legal matter, identify the distinct issues rooted within the plaintiff’s larger problem, and research the issues to build a strong case. The ultimate professional responsibility of a personal injury lawyer is to help plaintiffs obtain compensation for their losses. Although personal injury cases often settle, a personal injury lawyer may have to take his client’s case to trial if a settlement cannot be reached. Personal injury lawyers must also adhere to strict standards of legal ethics when dealing with clients. While the guidelines vary according to state, the basic codes of conduct state that a lawyer must knowledgeably evaluate legal matters and exercise competence in any legal matter undertaken. Moreover, personal injury lawyers owe their clients a duty of loyalty and confidentiality and must work to protect their clients’ best interests. In the United States, specifically in the State of Indiana, lawyers are given some guidance from the comments to that state’s Rules of Professional Conduct: “A lawyer endeavors to sustain the client’s morale and may put advice in as acceptable a form as honesty permits. However, a lawyer should not be deterred from giving candid advice by the prospect that the advice will be unpalatable to the client.”
Certification and educationIn order to practice law in the United States, a personal injury lawyer must pass a written bar examination and, in some cases, a written ethics examination. Bar examinations vary on a state-to-state basis. However, most states require applicants to have completed a four-year college degree and a law degree from an accredited law school (California is one notable exception, but the non-accredited law school must meet certain requirements.) In most states, a personal injury lawyer is required to take the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) and a state bar exam. Some states require another exam, the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), as well. Once admitted to the state bar, personal injury lawyers must remain up-to-date on the latest legal and non-legal developments in their field of practice by completing a required number of continuing legal education (CLE) courses designed to help personal injury lawyers stay abreast of developments in their field. The number of CLE hours required varies by state. Lawyers can concentrate their practices to certain areas of law, which is typically true of personal injury lawyers. By limiting the range of cases they handle, personal injury lawyers are able to acquire specialized knowledge and experience. The individual states regulate the lawyers in their respective states and promulgate rules of professional responsibility. These rules are subject to the United States Constitution. Certification programs have set standards of competence, knowledge and experience that lawyers must meet in order to be recognized in their area of practice as a specialist. Lawyers who have completed a specialty certification program in personal injury law at an accredited certifying organization are recognized as personal injury specialists. Some states, such as New Jersey, offer a certification as a “Certified Trial Attorney”, which can be for both plaintiff and defense attorneys. Not all states recognize a specialty of personal injury lawyer . For instance, Ohio has no such official designation as a specialist in personal injury. Some states, such as Arizona, restrict the use of the words “specialist” or “specialize” in reference to a personal injury lawyer only to those lawyers who have obtained a certification from the State Bar Board of Legal Specialization.
Career structureThe career structure of most lawyers varies widely. Once licensed, a lawyer may take on any kind of case whether or not they have much experience in it. However, legal ethics require an inexperienced lawyer to enlist appropriate help or take the time to learn the issues to competently represent the client. Most lawyers prefer to stick to one area of the law to gain the knowledge and experience necessary to provide the highest quality legal representation to their clients. Personal injury lawyers choose to delve into a more specialized area involving only personal injury litigation. Personal injury litigation involves a large number of claims including accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, workplace injury, wrongful death, and more. Some personal injury lawyers choose to devote the majority of their time and energy to one area of litigation within personal injury law, thus becoming more experienced at handling very specific types of cases (e.g. medical mistakes, aviation accidents, work accidents).
Doing businessAs with other types of lawyers, personal injury lawyers may choose to start a solo practice or join a small, mid-size, or large law firm as an associate. Personal injury lawyers may also be partners (owners) of a law firm or strive to be a partner. Sole practitioners of personal injury law may offer a number of benefits to potential clients, which include more personal attention and a one-on-one working relationship between the lawyer and the client. Sole practitioners may be more willing to take on smaller cases and often have lower fees and costs. A small law firm generally consists of two to ten lawyers who can provide more expertise in a given area of personal injury law and can handle a wider range of legal issues. Mid-size law firms with ten to 50 lawyers offer legal representation in almost every major area of litigation and may house several highly experienced and knowledgeable personal injury lawyers. Large law firms with more than 50 lawyers are often the most reputable, having built up the firm for a number of years and consisting of lawyers with high levels of expertise.
CompensationTypically lawyers’ fees are based on a number of factors, which may include the time and energy spent on a case, the outcome of a case, the difficulty of a claim, the experience and prominence of the lawyer, and the costs associated with the case. There are several standard payment options a personal injury lawyer may offer his/her clients. These options include contingency fees, hourly rates, flat fees, and retainers. A contingency fee is a prior arrangement between lawyer and client in which the lawyer receives a set percentage of the amount of recovery awarded to the plaintiff in a case. In most cases, monetary recovery is obtained through settlement, mediation, arbitration or trial. Generally, when a lawyer takes a case on a contingency fee, a client has no obligation to pay his/her lawyer a fee unless the case is successfully resolved. Most personal injury lawyers who represent injured parties, or plaintiffs, work on a contingency fee basis. The average contingency fee for a non-complex case is thirty-three percent if the case resolves before it is filed, and forty percent if it is resolved after that. Lawyers who defend personal injury cases are usually hired by insurance companies, and may charge fees on an ‘hourly’ or ‘flat-fee’ basis. An hourly fee arrangement involves an agreed amount of compensation for each hour the lawyer spends on the case. A flat-fee arrangement involves a set amount for the lawyer’s handling of the case. These fee arrangements may also be combined. Professional regulations and associations Personal injury lawyers are regulated by codes of conduct established by state bar associations, which have the power to take disciplinary action against lawyers who violate professional or ethical regulations. The American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Lawyer Regulation offers assistance to state bars, helping them to draft, implement, and/or promote regulatory policies regarding personal injury lawyers. Personal injury lawyers may belong to any number of professional associations, some of which are mandatory and others voluntary. For instance, personal injury lawyers are licensed by their state bar associations, of which they must be members. Among the more common professional associations that personal injury lawyers may voluntarily join are the following:
- American Bar Association – a professional association dedicated to improving the legal system and providing accreditation for law schools and continuing legal education programs (
- Association of Personal Injury Lawyers – an association based in Nottingham, England; founded in 1990 by personal injury lawyers on behalf of accident victims
- American Association for Justice – An association of trial lawyers that was founded in 1946 by a group of plaintiff’s attorneys committed to safeguarding victims’ rights. Prior to 2007, this organization was called the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, or ATLA.The Mission of the American Association for Justice is to promote a fair and effective justice system—and to support the work of attorneys in their efforts to ensure that any person who is injured by the misconduct or negligence of others can obtain justice in America’s courtrooms, even when taking on the most powerful interests.
CriticismThe aggressive representation of injured parties by personal injury lawyers has spawned movements to establish tort reform in the United States in recent years. Tort reform proponents argue that such reforms are necessary because personal injury litigation has led to a substantial increase in health care costs; they further claim that many doctors have had to leave practice or relocate because of cost-prohibitive medical malpractice insurance rates. A publication by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found little evidence that traditional tort reforms affect medical liability costs or defensive medicine. A study conducted on a bi-partisan basis in Texas has found that tort reform, once enacted had no impact on reducing the cost of medical care, tending to throw doubt on claims made by tort reform advocates.
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