If you have been in an auto accident in the Myrtle Beach area, you may be wondering how to find the best car accident lawyer in the area to handle your case.
Especially if you have never retained an attorney before, you may – understandably – be nervous about an important decision like this. Will they be competent? Will they answer the phone or reply to emails when you have questions? Will they care about you and your case, or will you get taken advantage of?
First, let’s reframe your search – “best” is subjective, and might mean different things to different people. Although results are surely the most important criteria when people think of “the best car accident lawyer,” what you are really looking for is the right attorney for you and your case.
In this article, we will try to give some general guidance to help you find the “best” attorney for your case, and, hopefully, ease your mind in what we understand is a difficult and stressful time for you and your family.
Finding the Best Car Accident Lawyer – Where to Look
The first question is, “where do I look?”
Decades ago, if you needed a lawyer, you were limited to a search of the Yellow Pages and word-of-mouth from friends and family. Today, you have the tools to research attorneys and discover who they are before you even pick up the phone.
Websites and Blogs
Most law firms have websites and blogs with descriptions of the areas of law in which they practice, the types of cases they accept, results or testimonials, their office locations, and pictures and bios for the office staff.
An attorney’s website may be the most complete source of information, even though the content is tailored to make the law firm appear competent (you generally won’t find attorneys who are critical of themselves on their own websites).
Although you should never make a decision based solely on an attorney’s website or blog posts (some of the best attorneys may not bother with a website, and some of the worst attorneys may have incredible websites that don’t reflect their personalities or experience), you can glean some information from their web content.
- Most attorney websites are built, maintained, and updated by web developers or marketing professionals, but, per the ethics rules that govern attorneys, the attorney is responsible for all content – if the firm’s website does not appear competent or professional, that may (or may not) reflect on how the firm handles their cases or business dealings as well.
- Are the website and blog posts filled with grammatical errors or inaccurate information about the law? If it is, does that reflect on the attorney’s competency and ability to write and communicate effectively?
- Although you should not choose an attorney based on their physical appearance, most firm sites have photos of the attorneys and their office staff – if there are no photos, you may ask why?
- Are blog posts or articles associated with the firm’s website written competently and do they communicate effectively? The attorney who will be handling your case may be writing or reviewing that content, and it may reflect how your case briefs and written motions will appear in court.
- Are you comfortable with the tone of the attorney’s web content – is it too abrasive, is it not “tough enough,” or does it make you feel comfortable with the attorney’s style of representation?
- Does the attorney or law firm’s website reflect knowledge and competency in cases or legal issues like your case?
One of the best ways to find the right auto accident lawyer is through word of mouth – talk to your friends, family, or coworkers and find out 1) what law firm they used when they had a car accident, and 2) what they thought about the attorney who handled their case.
Sometimes, you may find an attorney who is highly recommended. Or, just as importantly, you may discover who to stay away from based on how they treated your friend’s or family member’s case…
The SC Bar’s Lawyer Referral Program
The SC Bar has a service where you can call or look on their website, tell them the type of case you have, and they will match you with an attorney in your area who handles that type of case.
They are not, however, sending you to the best attorney who is a fit for you and your case – “prescreened” means that the attorney says they accept your kind of case and they are licensed to practice law in SC.
Attorneys sign up for this service by checking boxes that say what practice areas and types of cases they accept, and then the Bar’s lawyer referral service sends you to the next attorney on their list…
Meet Your Potential Attorneys in Person Whenever Possible
Although there are many ways to identify potential attorneys who could or would handle your case – referrals, web searches, billboards, television ads, etc., the most important step in finding the best car accident lawyer for you is to meet the attorneys and talk with them.
Identify at least three attorneys who you think you may be comfortable with, call or email, set up consultations, and then see what you think, using the criteria below or your own criteria. If the first attorney you meet is perfect, you can cancel the rest of your appointments. If the third attorney you meet still doesn’t feel like a fit for you, continue meeting with attorneys until you find the one that you feel comfortable with.
Choosing the Right Car Accident Attorney – What to Look For
Once you have identified potential attorneys, what should you look for when choosing? At the end of the day, we think it comes down to who you feel like you can trust to handle your case effectively and who you are comfortable with.
Some factors that might go into this decision include:
Most car accident cases do not go to trial – as much as 95% of crash cases are settled before the trial starts. That doesn’t mean that you do not need a trial lawyer, though.
First, what happens if your case does not settle? If the insurance company or defendant refuses to pay full and fair compensation for your injuries, your attorney must be willing, able, and ready to pick a jury and try your case to a verdict.
Second, if the insurance company knows that your attorney does not try cases, they are likely to offer less compensation in any settlement because they know the attorney will not call their bluff…
Ability to Negotiate
On the other hand, because most cases end in negotiated settlements, your attorney should have experience negotiating to maximize your settlement amount. Effective negotiation is a skill that comes from both training and years of experience handling car accident cases and dealing with insurance companies.
Experience with Your Type of Case
Make sure that the law firm you are talking with has experience with your type of case. If you are looking for a car accident lawyer, you probably should not be meeting with an attorney who primarily advertises for real estate transactions on their website…
Whether it is through jury verdicts or effective negotiations before trial, the criteria that matter the most for many people are results.
How do you identify an attorney’s results in prior cases? Some attorneys will put a “representative cases” page on their website that lists verdicts and settlements, or testimonials from former clients.
Other attorneys will discuss non-confidential settlements with potential clients if asked, but, in either case, you must keep in mind that results in one case do not necessarily translate to similar results in other cases – every case is different.
Not every person thinks of this when looking for the best car accident lawyer, but an attorney’s ethics are everything when it comes to reputation in the community and the courtroom.
Whether it is on their website or in person, if an attorney appears “shady” or if they are violating the Rules of Professional Conduct, you may consider looking for someone more straightforward.
For example, these may be red flags when you are talking with a potential attorney about your case:
- Trash-talking other attorneys. Yes, the attorney knows who the worst lawyers are, and you want to know also. But, if an attorney is disparaging other attorneys to get your case, they are violating the ethics rules that govern attorneys in our state.
- Not providing a written fee agreement. Every attorney should provide a written fee agreement in every case that contains the attorneys’ and the client’s responsibilities including the fees and costs that must be paid.
- Promising any kind of results. First, no attorney can ethically promise you results. It is a fact that the one thing that is consistent in the practice of law is that nothing is consistent, and anything can happen. Second, it is a violation of the ethics rules that govern lawyers to promise any result.
You can search the SC Bar’s website for records of disciplinary violations for any licensed attorney in SC, but even this can be misleading. Keep in mind that:
- An attorney who has not been disciplined is not necessarily ethical, it could mean they just haven’t been caught yet, and
- You should read the disciplinary opinions for an attorney before making a decision – was the attorney disciplined for harming a client, or were they disciplined for marketing errors or even for standing up for a client?
Most car accident lawyers will charge 33 1/3% of your recovery as their fee in a personal injury case. This “contingency fee” arrangement is intended to motivate the attorney to do their best for you – the more money you make in your settlement or verdict, the more the attorney makes.
Keep in mind that:
- Attorneys may charge more for difficult cases or in areas of law that are more “specialized” like civil rights or patent law.
- You must pay your expenses in addition to the attorney’s fees. Although most attorneys are not going to sue you for expenses if they lose your case, the ethics rules prohibit attorneys from paying costs unless the client agrees to repay the costs.
- If an attorney wants you to pay fees up front in a car accident case, it could mean 1) the attorney doesn’t ordinarily handle car accidents, or 2) your case is especially risky, and the attorney knows there is a good chance they will not win.
These days, there are more and more attorneys who we sometimes refer to as “cell phone attorneys.” They don’t have an office location or office staff, and they are trying hard to get by and bring in clients using only their cellphones and working out of their homes.
This may not be a bad thing, depending on the attorney’s experience, but you may want to look for a law firm that has 1) at least one physical location, 2) office staff to help them with litigation, and 3) the resources that may be required to successfully litigate your case.
We’ve often heard that an attorney is only as good as their office staff. This isn’t necessarily true, but then again:
- Many of your communications will be with office staff,
- Much of your non-critical paperwork, form motions, and communications with court personnel will be done by the office staff, and
- The office staff truly is the firm’s “public face.”
If you have a bad experience with a law firm’s office staff when you haven’t even retained the firm yet, it’s not unreasonable to start looking elsewhere for a law firm that makes you feel like you and your case matter.
If you email a law firm or call them and leave a message to request a consultation, and they do not respond within a reasonable time, that may be an early indicator of how they will respond to you if you retain their office. If an attorney ignores you before you have even hired them, why would you think they won’t ignore you after you have signed a fee agreement?
Be reasonable, though. An attorney, and sometimes the entire office, may be entirely focused on another client’s trial, and it may not be unreasonable to get a call back at the end of the day in some circumstances.
The most important factor when you are choosing the best car accident lawyer for your case is whether you are comfortable with the attorney and their staff.
They may not tell you what you want to hear, but, based on your research and your conversations with them, do you trust them to handle your case effectively?
Car Accident Lawyers in Myrtle Beach, SC
Your Myrtle Beach car accident lawyer at Coastal Law can help you to recover full and fair compensation after an auto accident in Myrtle Beach, Horry County, SC, or the surrounding area.
Call us now at (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation, and to find out if we are the right law firm for you and your case.