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Best Practices for Handling Complex Personal Injury Cases

Personal injury cases run the gambit. They can include slip-and-fall injuries, car or traffic accidents, dog bites, workplace accidents, construction accidents, accidents in public locations or involving public transit, harm caused by defective goods or products, medical malpractice, nursing home abuse and wrongful death. Each type of personal injury case can also involve complex scenarios where more than one party is liable and multiple lawsuits are necessary. 

While personal injury cases can be a lucrative niche for a law firm to pursue, they can also be quite costly to prepare and see through to settlement or your day in court. Personal injury cases require an immense amount of time on the part of your firm's professionals in addition to the investment in collecting expert testimonies. Plus, your time and costs are often offered with a "no win, no fee" agreement, meaning your firm must foot the bill until you win your client's case. As a result, personal injury cases have the potential for considerable financial losses. 

Since personal injury cases – especially more complex cases – can involve a high amount of upfront risk for your firm, it's essential that you use caution when deciding whether or not to pursue a new personal injury case. To ensure your law firm's reputational and financial health, consider the following best practices for handling personal injury cases. 

16 Best Practices for Attorneys and Law Firms Handling Personal Injury Cases

1. Develop a Strategic Intake Process

If you were to accept every personal injury case presented to you, you likely wouldn't have enough time, manpower, or money to handle them all. The financial health of your law firm would also likely suffer. This is because not every personal injury case has what it takes to be fought and won successfully. For this reason, your best practices for handling personal injury cases must start at the very beginning – your client intake process.

Your client intake process should consist of a carefully curated client and case screening process. Use a basic questionnaire and interview to quickly determine whether or not your potential client's case meets a set of basic requirements. To ensure you aren't missing any essential information from the start, create a specialized intake process for each type of personal injury case. Tailor your intake process to ensure you decide to take on the right cases based on their anticipated strength, work and time costs, and projected results. 

2. Diversify Your Case Portfolio

As a lawyer, you can think of your portfolio of current personal injury cases as investments. You're investing your time and resources into the process with the expectation that a case will be won and produce a return. As is the case with financial investments, diversification of the cases handled by a law firm is important. 

While it can be advantageous to go after "big fish" clients, these types of cases often require a significant investment of time and other resources. If the "big fish" case wins, then you're sure to enjoy a big payoff. However, when large cases are not successful, the sunk costs can be large enough to sink a law firm. 

The safer strategy for taking on personal injury cases of different types, sizes, and complexities is to create a diverse portfolio of cases that seem reasonably likely to complete with a satisfactory settlement or a successful day in court. 

3. Communicate, Question and Coach Clients

When handling personal injury cases, lawyers should schedule plenty of time for talking with their clients and their families. In these cases, getting to know your clients can be especially important. Your clients can provide insights into their cases and experiences while their families can help you understand the observed changes or struggles that your client has undergone. 

Getting to know a client on a more personal level can help you tell your client's story in a more personal and compelling way. Without this kind of personalization, a judge or jury might not feel moved to award damages. 

It's also important to ask plenty of questions throughout the process. For example, do not assume that your client knows all of the types of costs and damages (past, present, future, financial and otherwise) that can be quantified and recovered in a personal injury case. 

Throughout the process of handling a personal injury case, it's also important to remember your role as an advisor to your client. Be sure to provide plenty of coaching to help them successfully complete all of the necessary steps in the process of litigation. Make sure they document everything properly, preserve evidence, visit the doctors they need to visit, obtain second opinions when necessary, follow their treatment plans, and be mindful about the details they choose to share on social media or anywhere public. Additionally, a personal injury attorney should provide coaching to help a client make a good impression in person if a case goes to trial. 

4. Put Time Into Investigation

In personal injury cases, complacency never pays. Lawyers must be prepared to put in serious time investigating and scrutinizing every detail in a case. Thoroughly analyze documents, records and statements. The more you question each detail of a case, the more you'll be able to understand cause, effect, and blame in addition to the subtleties and nuances involved in one case as opposed to another. Understanding the minute details of each individual case helps you to differentiate one case from another to ensure you've devised the most effective strategy for winning that particular personal injury case. 

Plus, investigating a personal injury case can help you pick up details that your clients might have missed or might not have realized were of importance so you can ask follow-up questions and collect all of the information before it's time to negotiate or litigate. 

5. Invest in Experts

High costs can make personal injury lawyers shy away from using expert witnesses in their cases. Experts, however, often provide insights (and credibility) that an attorney might not have in other fields such as medicine and injuries, property valuation, or physics. Having an expert's opinion and knowledge can be a powerful tool in gathering evidence and when negotiating on behalf of your client. 

6. Don't Be Afraid to Go to Trial

Many personal injury cases end up getting settled out of court, and settlements are often advantageous for all parties. That being said, not being afraid to go to trial and, perhaps more importantly, having a reputation for not being afraid to go to trial can help you negotiate better settlements for your clients. Most companies prefer not to go to trial because settlements save them time, money, and reputational damage. Use this to your advantage. 

7. Use Photographs

A picture is worth a thousand words and can be worth thousands of dollars in a personal injury case. If photographs of injuries are available, use them. Ask your clients to take pictures of their injuries before, during, and after they receive treatment. While you can describe a bruise, incision, or scar, it is much more effective to show pictures.

8. Leverage Emotions

In addition to explaining the scientific details of your client's case, using photographs and describing how negligence or harm has affected your client's quality of life can appeal to the emotions of a judge or jury. You can win sympathy by using these kinds of details to personalize the case.

9. Vet Your Witnesses

Choosing credible witnesses who have nothing to gain from their testimony is essential to building credibility in your case. Properly vet your witnesses and encourage them to practice their testimony before appearing in court. 

10. Manage the Personal Injury Pipeline

Due to the typical "no win, no fee" billing structure of personal injury cases, managing cash flow (i.e. the timing of money flowing into and out of your law firm) is essential to the success of not only your personal injury cases but also your law firm as a whole. When taking on a high volume of personal injury cases, it's essential that your pipeline of incoming cases, cases in progress, and cases approaching successful completion are scheduled in a way that supports the financial health of your law firm. 

11. Manage the Personal Injury Workflow

Keeping costs low while ensuring all personal-injury-related tasks are handled thoroughly and accurately requires a sophisticated system of workflow management. This should include using collaborative software to delegate tasks and track casework progress. Additionally, you can save time on personal injury cases by digitizing your paper files and other physical records so that they are easily searchable and accessible to all necessary parties. 

12. Use Project-Based Budgeting

Your firm should have an overarching budget that helps map out and inform financial decisions made throughout the year. In addition to this, using project-based budgeting will help you keep each of your cases on track financially and in terms of workflow scheduling. When you set a targeted budget for a personal injury case from the get-go, you then take on the case with projected revenue, costs, and profit already established. This should help you create clear goals within the workflow and progress of the case to ensure the scope of any given case does not creep beyond the budget. With project-based budgeting, you can protect your anticipated profit margin and ensure it provides an ample financial cushion, considering the risk associated with your portfolio of personal injury cases. 

13. Track Time and Tasks

Even if you are not billing clients on an hourly basis for personal injury cases, it is still important to implement a system to carefully and accurately track the amount of time spent on these cases and the various tasks associated with them. Recording and tracking these time-based metrics can help you identify which types of cases present a higher financial risk and which present a lower financial risk on the part of your firm. You can use this information to refine and improve your strategies for case intake and client consultation. 

If you are billing on an hourly basis, this information enables your firm's ability to calculate its time-driven, activity-based costs. This is necessary for optimizing pricing, workflow, productivity, and profit. 

14. Focus on a Niche

With a multitude of different types of personal injury cases, a lawyer can be overly generalized if they do not choose to focus on a single type or a select few types of personal injury cases. A lawyer will better serve their case success rate and their clients by specializing in a specific type of personal injury case. Choosing a niche ensures you become an expert in your specialization. This increases your success rate, ensures your clients are satisfied, and differentiates your firm or individual services from the competition. This ensures your firm has a unique value proposition to offer and attract potential clients. 

15. Create a Positive Client Experience and Ask for Feedback

A lawyer must be highly educated, skilled, and experienced in their practice. However, they must also be exceptional customer-service providers. Each attorney in your law firm should, of course, focus on winning cases, but it is also important to consider the way you interact with your clients because word-of-mouth recommendations and past client reviews can help you to gain future clients to fuel your firm's pipeline.

As a result, when handling personal injury cases (and any other type of case), it is vital always to act with professionalism and respect, communicate effectively, clearly and thoroughly, and demonstrate genuine care for one's clients. Of course, the ultimate results of each case and your firm's track record are going to have a major impact on each client's overall experience, but if you remember to develop positive relationships with clients, this can secure future business from the same individuals and also their positive word about you and your firm. 

16. Track and Identify Differentiating Factors in Wins, Losses and Profitable Cases

As you take on, work through, and complete more and more personal injury cases, you should review each completed case in order to actively refine your intake process, client consultations, and case acceptance strategy. Additionally, this review process should seek to improve your workflow to cut costs, increase your success rate, and maximize ROI on the upfront investment you make in personal injury cases. 

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