Do I need a lawyer?

The short answer is, maybe not. If you are not injured and either your insurance company or the other driver's carrier is paying for your car, a lawyer probably cannot do you much good. The same is true if you are slightly injured and recover quickly. You can probably do as well on your own, and you won't have to pay a lawyer. If you take that route, read our section on Dealing with Auto Insurance after a Wreck so you know your rights.

If you have the misfortune to be seriously injured, you should at least consult with an attorney. There is too much at stake not to get some advice. In the long run, if there is adequate insurance, you will probably come out much better with an attorney's help.

What if you are injured, but seem to be getting better? This can be a close call. I generally suggest to clients that if they are fine in six weeks to six months, they can probably do OK on their own. A lot depends on the client. Some people change their own oil, build their own bookshelves and generally like to do things themselves. Some would rather not be bothered with dealing with health insurance subrogation, gathering medical records, and the like.

The attorney's job is to hear your story and do their best to tell that story. They will gather your medical records, bills and investigative reports, talk to witnesses and plan a strategy. If they do their job, the only thing you should worry about is getting well.

If I need a lawyer, who do I hire?

We are blessed in this state to have a lot of good lawyers. Naturally, do not go by the biggest billboard, the loudest TV commercial or the slickest ad in the phone book. Check them out. How many cases like yours have they actually tried to a jury? Are they board certified? What professional organizations do they belong to?  How many cases like yours have they actually tried to a jury? What is their win/loss record? What is their fee? How do they calculate it? Do they charge to collect on the no-fault coverage like PIP or collision coverage on your policy? How easy are they to reach when you need to talk to them? Are they the attorney who will actually handle your case? Look at the State Bar website for board certification, disciplinary history and other basic information.

Board Certification: Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Texas lawyers are board certified. Board certification requires a certain number of trials, recommendations by judges and other attorneys, a passing grade on a daylong exam, and continuing education and practice in that area of the law.

Professional organizations: The Texas Trial Lawyers Association is an important group for plaintiff's lawyers in Texas. This group networks freely, shares information, lobbies for consumer protection and provides continuing legal education.

The College of the State Bar of Texas: All attorneys must take a minimum amount of continuing legal education in order to maintain their license. If they are board certified, they must take even more. If they are a member of the College, then the requirements are even higher. An attorney who is a member of the college has made it a priority to stay well informed.

American Board of Trial Advocates: This is one of the elite trial organizations. Membership is by invitation only, and requires a minimum number of first chair trials. It also requires a vote of acceptance by the current members as well.

Next, what kind of firm do you want representing you? There are basically two choices. There are large, advertising firms and there are smaller boutique firms. There are advantages to both. The large, advertising firms will not give you the personal attention the boutique firm will. You will be dealing mainly with paralegals in these firms and may never actually meet an attorney. Still, if you have a routine car wreck, with limited damages they may be a good choice. They will get you the average settlement for a case like yours and they will have an efficient organization to accomplish that. That is their business model. Some of these firms employ good trial lawyers as well. Again, do your due diligence.

The advantage of a boutique firm, and here I am prejudiced since that is what we are, is that your case will get a lot more personal attention. You will know your attorney personally and will have greater access to their time. Still, check them out just as thoroughly.