Questions to Ask a Personal Injury Lawyer in California

The Best Questions to Ask A California Personal Injury Attorney about Your Case

If you’ve been injured in an accident, there’s probably a number of questions going through your head as you try to manage the various aspects of both your life and the incident. There’s work, your home life, your medical expenses, insurance companies, and your recovery. Of course, there’s also the legal side of things. If you believe you have a lawsuit against the individual who injured you, you probably have a number of good questions for a California personal injury attorney. While we at Sally Morin Law would be more than happy to answer any questions you have, we’ve written answers to what we believe are the top questions for those who are exploring their options.

So what are some of the best questions to ask a personal injury lawyer? Let’s have a look.

#1. How does your fee work?

This is the first question asked of personal injury attorneys. How does your fee work? Or, How do you get paid? Or, How much do you get out of a settlement?

Virtually all personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. That means if you don’t recover any damages (money for your claim) neither does your lawyer. Nor would you be expected to pay your lawyer out of pocket for any of the work done on your case. 

The fee should be based upon a set percentage of the total settlement or judgment in your case. It should be clearly set out in the written attorney-client fee agreement you sign. Since this is a standard among personal injury lawyers, it would be somewhat suspicious if you found an attorney who did not offer a contingency fee arrangement.

Most injury attorneys in California advertise that there is no fee if there is no recovery. That doesn’t mean you won’t be paying them anything or that their services are free. They will be paid out of your personal injury settlement or judgment after you win your case.

You should not be expected to pay for either fees or case costs if your attorney fails to win the case by way of a settlement or judgment.

The premise behind contingency fee arrangements is that they play a critical role in providing everyone access to the courts. When someone is seriously injured in a traffic accident, they often suffer a significant loss of earnings because they are physically unable to perform their job. Further, they are likely facing large medical expenses, with bill collectors ready to pounce.

For these reasons, a contingency fee arrangement - rather than up front hourly lawyers' fees - may be the only way for the injured party to seek just compensation from the party who caused their injuries. It also affords them the opportunity to hold insurance companies, corporations and negligent individuals accountable for illegal actions that might otherwise go unpunished.

Make sure to ask about their particular fee arrangement when interviewing attorneys.

Note About Case Costs

Expenses - often called “case costs” – are separate from attorneys’ fees. A “fee” is what the attorney charges you for their expertise and work on your case. Expenses can include any out-of-pocket cost the attorney paid in order to try your case such as document production costs, expert witness fees, etc. Commonly, case costs are advanced by the attorney until a favorable resolution is reached in your case, and then they are paid out of the settlement or judgment at the end of the case. Be sure to ask your personal injury attorney about their case cost policy.

#2. Will I End Up Owing You Money When My Case is Over?

Here is another one of the best questions to ask a California personal injury lawyer. It also is about the financial outcome of the case. “Will I end up owing you money in the end?”

A common (and very reasonable) concern people with personal injury cases have is whether or not they will be in a worse position financially if they hire an attorney to handle their injury case. Hiring a personal injury attorney can be a daunting task. Clients in personal injury cases typically have never had such a case before and have never even had to think about injury lawyers, except maybe to chuckle at a cheesy late-night ad for a “1-800-we’ll-get-you-a-million-dollars” accident attorney.

People making the decision about hiring an attorney for their traffic accident case often say: “I am afraid that if I hire an attorney I may find myself in a situation where I am out of pocket more money than I already am since my accident.” For example, if the medical expenses, legal fees and legal costs end up being more than the settlement or judgment.

Make sure “Will I owe you anything if we don’t win my case?” is a question you ask any California personal injury attorney you speak with.

At Sally Morin Law we do NOT leave our clients owing any money after their cases are said and done. Unless there is some egregious circumstance in the case that was not disclosed at the inception of the attorney-client relationship, but this has never happened in 20 years. One of the many reasons we love what we do is because we put people in a better financial position than they would have been without our involvement in the case.

Be sure to ask potential attorneys what they will do if there was not enough settlement money to cover all of your damages and the legal fees and costs. Find out if that attorney is willing to work with you for a fair resolution of the case with regard to attorneys’ fees. If he explains that his fee will be taken out of any settlement or judgment before your bills are paid, regardless of the outcome, this is a red flag that this attorney may be more concerned about earning his fee than compensating you for the damages you suffered in the case.

You want to be sure to find an injury lawyer in California who will determine their fee at the end of the case – even though you have a fee agreement with them in writing that sets out their fee up front. Most skilled personal injury attorneys will not discount their fee up front. They don’t have to. But, they will work with you on the backend for a fair division of the settlement funds.

Discount Lawyers

WARNING: If you see personal injury law firms advertising “discounted” fees or are willing to reduce their fee for you up front… BEWARE! They are typically high volume law firms, or are desperate for business.

It’s simple accounting. If a law firm discounts its fees it has to take on more cases to make the same amount of money. So, you and your case won’t get the attention it deserves. These “discount lawyers” will try to get you to settle your case too fast for less than full value, so they can increase their turnover.

So, you may save on fees, but you will end up with less money because your settlement is lower. 

Remember -- You almost always get what you pay for.

#3. Have You Taken A Case Like Mine Before?

There are some lawyers that are the legal equivalent of general practitioners. Much of the process of personal injury law is the art of negotiation. Those that come into a case without having a secure background in the process of dealing with insurance companies and opposing lawyers are not going to be able to leverage the best settlement possible for their clients.

Thus, there are three aspects to the case that a lawyer needs to have some expertise in to handle your California personal injury case:

  • 1
    Fault. Being able to successfully argue that the defendant is at fault requires experience in the kind of personal injury case they are litigating. If an attorney specializes in product liability cases, you would not want them arguing a traffic liability case, and vice versa.
  • 2
    Injuries. You’re going to want an attorney that understands the sorts of injuries you have and has managed cases with plaintiffs that sustained these kinds of injuries before.
  • 3
    Negotiation. There’s nothing worse for a personal injury case than an inexperienced attorney going up against trained insurance adjusters and defense attorneys who handle dozens of these negotiations daily. This is also why it’s so important to vet your attorneys beforehand.

Remember, to find the BEST personal injury attorney for your case it’s not enough that the lawyer you select has “personal injury” experience, but they should also have specific experience – and ideally a LOT of it – in your particular case niche.

For example, at Sally Morin Law we exclusively focus all of our time, energy and resources on just five narrow types of major injury personal injury cases:

Make sure any attorney you are interviewing has a laser-focus on your particular accident type.

Beware! There are various attorney “rating” sites that reward attorneys who pay for listings. Just because a lawyer has a dozen "Awesome Lawyer" badges on their website, doesn't mean they are actually awesome. They may have just paid for the badges.

#4. Will I Have Access to You as My Lawyer Throughout My Case?

This is one of the top questions to ask any personal injury lawyer you are interviewing. The number one complaint lawyers get from their clients is they are not accessible. They don’t return phone calls or emails or, they simply “disappear” for months on end and leave the client wondering what is going on with their case.

Make sure to face this issue head-on before you hire a lawyer and find out what their communication style is, so you aren’t left in the dark.

Ask them how accessible they will be. This is crucial!

Daniel H.

Bicycle Accident Client


Attorney-client communication is top priority for us at Sally Morin Law. 

If you read any of our customer reviews, you'll see that most of our former clients talk about how well we communicate and how much we keep people informed about the process. We love to educate our clients along the way. Obviously, it depends on how much information they want to know as we go along, but you will have direct access to your assigned lawyer, so that means you can email your lawyer if you have important legal questions about your case.

We work as a team, so you'll have a legal assistant to help you with logistical, clerical stuff like collecting bills and getting medical records and things like that, but... You will have direct access to your attorney, and we do return emails and phone calls. You can expect great communication from your lawyer if you work with Sally Morin Law.

#5. Do You Litigate Cases and/or Take Them to Trial?

The majority of traffic accident cases will not go to trial. And frankly many of them don’t even require a lawsuit, as they can be resolved in the personal injury insurance claims process. There are however some injury cases that do require litigation and/or trial. These involve some of the more tragic instances when an individual has either suffered a catastrophic injury, or they were killed in the accident.

In those cases, it will be necessary to have an attorney that has litigation and trial experience.

At Sally Morin Law...

We get solid, quick results without litigation in about 94% of our cases. But, when getting a fair settlement for our client requires litigation, we take on the challenge. We have 20 years of experience litigating personal injury cases in California and don't shy away from it when it's in the best interest of our client.

Make sure you choose the best personal injury attorney for your particular case and injury type. You want to make sure the law firm is a good fit for your own style of conflict resolution and your risk tolerance.

#6. Can You Provide References from Past Clients?

This is not an unreasonable request for a client to make of their attorney. However, due to attorney-client confidentiality, personal injury lawyers cannot simply give out their past clients’ contact information. 

Instead, take it upon yourself to do diligent research online to see what past clients are saying about this lawyer or law firm. In the instance where there are few, no or poor reviews online from former clients, there is likely a problem. If there are several reviews, be sure to read them closely to make sure the reviewers are touching on the top qualities you are looking for in a personal injury lawyer.

While riding my bike in Golden Gate Park I was struck by a car that did an illegal maneuver and ran directly into me, resulting in a great deal of injury. The driver's insurance company (AAA), which also happened to be my insurance company, wrote a letter to me declaring that the driver was not at fault and that nothing was going to be paid out toward my medical bills. I was furious, and it drove me to the decision to retain an attorney - something that I had never done before in my life.

After doing much research and reading many reviews, I elected to go with Sally Morin. She and her team were absolutely fabulous to work with throughout the entire process. Rebecca was my day to day contact, and she was superb in her follow up to any questions that I had, and pretty much hand held me through each step of the entire process. 

In the end, Rebecca negotiated a settlement for me that exceeded my expectations and that will help me pay off all past debt related to my expensive medical procedures, as well as extra to pay for future expenses and procedures related to the accident.

If you're someone who is considering an attorney for a personal accident, I highly recommend Sally Morin and her professional staff of attorneys. If you would like to know more details, feel free to contact me via Yelp and I would be happy to share more details. While I use Yelp quite often, I rarely post reviews... unless I'm truly blown away by great service (or angry with horrible service). If there were a sixth star, I would certainly give it to Rebecca and Sally!

Walt W.

SF Cyclist

Check out Sally Morin Law's California Client Reviews and Testimonials

The team at Sally Morin Law prides itself on providing unparalleled customer-service. 

#7. What Can I Do to Ensure the Success of My Case?

This is a very important question for your personal injury attorney. There are several things you can do throughout your case to strengthen or damage the case. This could mean the difference of thousands of dollars in your pocket.

For instance, more cases are destroyed by social media nowadays than ever before. Even well-meaning folks who just want to comfort their friends and family run the risk of negatively impacting their settlement.

For instance, if you’ve been seriously injured in a car accident, you may want to put your family and friends at ease by posting to social media that you’re “doing ok.” Nonetheless, that bit of information can be used against you by the insurance company or an opposing lawyer. They will take it as evidence that you are not as seriously injured as you claim to be.

For that reason, it’s extremely important to avoid posting on social media or talking about the case during the insurance claim and litigation processes.

Ask your personal injury attorney what you can do to help and what you should do to avoid hurting the value of your claim.

#8. How Long Will My Case Take to Resolve?

While no attorney will be able to predict with 100% accuracy when all the legal proceedings will be completed, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a ballpark figure. Much of this depends on what the insurance company does or how opposing counsel defends their client.

Most cases can be resolved relatively quickly... if things go smoothly. However, in many instances, negotiations can get difficult and neither side will seem like they want to budge. Medical exams will need to be taken and plaintiffs will need to be present in order to answer questions. This can result in time taken away from work and other disruptions to your schedule. The timeline is really going to depend on many factors in your case. That’s why you’ll want to add this to your list of the top questions to ask the personal injury attorneys you are interviewing.

The Best Questions to Ask a California Personal Injury Lawyer for a Case in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose and Oakland

Whether your accident was in your home city or you were a tourist who was injured while traveling in California, you want to ask some specific questions of your personal injury lawyer to make sure they know the area well.

The Best Questions to Ask a San Francisco Personal Injury Attorney

For instance, if you have a San Francisco MUNI accident, you’ll want to ask any San Francisco injury lawyer if they have ever filed a claim against the City and County of San Francisco. Are they familiar with the governmental claims process in the City? What is the statute of limitations on such government actions against a San Francisco city agency?

You might also want to ask any potential lawyer you consider hiring for your San Francisco accident if they are familiar with the scene of the accident. Do they know how to request video footage from the scene? Can they get someone down to the scene to document it and photograph it?

If you are asking questions of a San Francisco injury law firm, be sure they know the in’s and out’s of gathering all the information from local hospitals and medical providers to build your case.

The Best Questions You Should Ask a Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer

Los Angeles probably has the largest selection of personal injury law firms in the Country. You will want to be careful to ask any potential Los Angeles injury lawyer the best questions possible to make sure they are a good fit for your case.

One of the top questions to ask the injury attorney you are considering is “are you familiar with the Los Angeles Courts and their Local Rules?” If you suffered major injuries and have a significantly large case, chances are you might end up having to litigate your case. So, you want to be sure you ask if the LA attorney has experience with Los Angeles Superior Court. There are many local rules set by the Court that take time to learn. You want to be sure you ask this question of any personal injury lawyer in the Los Angeles area that you are considering.

The Best Questions to Ask a San Jose Personal Injury Attorney

San Jose and the Silicon Valley is a unique area that presents some interesting questions for personal injury lawyers who handle cases there. For instance, many of the tech companies in the Valley have disability and time off policies for their employees that are unlike the traditional “sick leave” rules of older industries. You will want to ask a San Jose injury attorney if you can make a loss of earnings claim in your traffic accident case if your company has this sort of “take as much paid time as you need” system in place.

Another one of the best questions to ask a San Jose personal injury law firm who you are considering to represent you is how much time and energy they expect from you in your case. You are busy. You have a demanding job. You have family and friends. You don’t have time to spend hours and hours helping your lawyer with your case. So, be sure to ask them what their expectations are of you through the case.

The Best Questions for an Oakland Personal Injury Lawyer

One of the best questions you can ask an Oakland injury law firm is whether they are willing to litigate your case if that becomes necessary. There are several large, high-volume law firms in Oakland. You know the ones, they are all over the billboards on the 880, the 580 and downtown. They take on a lot of cases. They have so many cases that they can’t afford to fight for you in court if your case won’t settle for a reasonable amount. Ideally, your case will settle quickly for a fair amount, but if it doesn’t, you need an injury attorney who will litigate your case to get you a fair deal.

Oh, another great question to ask Oakland injury lawyers is if you will actually be working with a lawyer on your case. In these big Oakland personal injury firms sometimes each lawyer can have over a hundred cases, most of which are assigned to “Case Managers” who are not licensed attorneys. You want to ask if you will have a dedicated lawyer on your case. Otherwise you could end up dealing with someone who isn’t even a lawyer.