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Do You Really Need a Lawyer?

By W. Stephen Graves, Juris Doctor

Attorney at Law

             If you’re unfortunate enough to become involved in an auto accident or suffer any other kind of injury because of someone else’s fault, you may be confused about what to do.  Your family and friends may urge you to see a lawyer and sue immediately, or they may advise you to act like a Texan and “tough it out.”  This article is about the times when hiring a lawyer is the right thing to do, as well as the times when it is not.

             Notice that I say hiring a lawyer is not always necessary or even a good idea.  In almost every case you would be foolish not to talk with a lawyer.  More on this later.

             The first kind of case where you should think twice about hiring a lawyer is where the only injury is to your property – your car.  Because the law generally lets you recover only the fair market value of your property loss, you can only get $10,000 for a car that’s worth $10,000, or $2,000 for a $2,000 repair bill.  If you have to pay a lawyer a portion of your recovery, you probably won’t have enough money left to repair your damage or pay off the lien, and you might be stuck with a deficiency.  This is true even if you weren’t at fault in causing the accident.  It is also true even if you own your car outright:  If you have to pay a lawyer a portion of your car’s value or the cost of repairing it, you won’t have enough money left to buy a similar car or put your present car back into its pre-accident condition.  To their credit, most lawyers like satisfied clients, and most won’t take your case knowing they can’t get you a satisfactory result.

             The second kind of case where you might be better off without a lawyer is where your injuries are very minor and you either don’t see a doctor at all or you visit your doctor only once and don’t require additional treatment.  In these cases insurance adjusters are likely to offer you only a minimal amount of money in settlement, with or without a lawyer.  If you can only expect a settlement offer of a few hundred dollars, you might as well keep it all for yourself.  It is CRITICAL, though, to get a lawyer’s advice early on, and do not use reluctance to see a lawyer as an excuse to neglect the treatment of your injuries.  In appropriate cases your lawyer may be able to help you get the treatment you need, even if you can’t pay up front.  DELAY IN GETTING NEEDED TREATMENT ONLY WORKS AGANST YOU.

             Now, in what kinds of injury cases and when should you see a lawyer?  In EVERY accident case, IMMEDIATELY.  Personal injury lawyers are not to be feared.  A lawyer who earns his or her living prosecuting injury cases usually works on the basis of contingent fees.  This means that that how well the lawyer does is related directly to how well he or she does for YOU.  Although there are occasional exceptions, statistics show that overall, injury claimants who are represented by lawyers receive larger net recoveries (after all expenses including attorney fees) than claimants without lawyers.  The reason is simple and obvious:  insurance adjusters know that if they don’t make reasonable settlement offers, lawyers can and will sue, while they have almost no fear that claimants without lawyers will sue or can sue successfully.

             So, the bottom line reason why you should always consult a lawyer is that you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.  You do NOT have to hire a lawyer just because you speak with him or her.  Talking with a lawyer immediately gives you the best opportunity to preserve evidence, avoid issues about delayed treatment and put your case in the best light from the beginning.  It also gives you an honest professional assessment of your prospects for getting a good result.  Because the lawyer’s fortunes rise or fall with yours in contingent fee cases, you can believe that a lawyer who offers to take your case on contingency is not leading you on -- if he or she sees no reasonable hope of a satisfactory outcome for both of you, he or she won’t ask for your case.

             At Graves Law Firm we pride ourselves on making our clients happy.  Satisfied clients are our best source of new referrals, so clients who keep us in mind when their friends or family members need help are VIPs when they visit us.  One important way we strive to make our clients happy is to not rope them into needless litigation, and to be as honest as we know how about their recovery prospects, UP FRONT.  We never charge for an initial consultation, and we welcome your phone calls and emails.  We’d also welcome you to drop in, except that we’re out of the office or in meetings so often that you’d probably miss us.  Call us at (210) 738-3230 in San Antonio or, outside area code 210, toll free 1(888) 360-6162.