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Checklist: Things a truck attorney should know about the client before starting a case

December 15, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

Tip  No. 8: Do “due diligence” on your client and the trucking company

Tip No. 8 in my series of blog posts on tips for attorneys helping people injured in serious truck accidents: Do your due diligence on your client.

I’m always amazed by lawyers who never take a moment to try to look at their own case through the eyes of a skilled defense lawyer, or an insurance company who will one day be asked to resolve the case.  And I’m always surprised that lawyers will spend hours doing all sorts of research on a potential defendant, but be completely unaware of their own client’s prior medical history, or sometimes criminal records, or prior lawsuits.

This doesn’t make you less committed to your client. It makes you more committed.  An attorney’s commitment to any client is a major investment of time and resources. And in big truck accident lawsuits, those resources can reach into the hundred thousand dollars range in case costs and experts. Therefore, it’s imperative that you do your due diligence, as you would with any major investment, so you can better represent your client and not be surprised or ambushed down the road.

Here are a few of my tips:

1. Set aside enough time to get acquainted with your potential client.

2. Develop a trusting rapport  with your client.

3. Gather information about the how the truck accident occurred, and understand how the injuries and treatment for these injuries developed in the weeks and months that followed.  Understand the role of prior injuries or pre-existing medical conditions and the relationship it has to the problems your client now faces.

4. Know your client: education, work, medical, insurance claims, criminal history, prior lawsuits, etc. You can include:
•    Google search,
•    Accurint search,
•    ISO  claims search,
•    Criminal records search (also in each jurisdiction where the client has lived),
•    Child support search, and
•    Whether medical bills are being paid by an ERISA plan.

5. Consider meeting at your client’s home, especially in the weeks before trial. It’s more comfortable and convenient for the client, and can also foster an environment where you can better get to know your client.  It also makes it easier to review the pictures that will help you tell the story of what your client has been through.

6. Allow time for a  face-to-face interview after you have the police report and other critical documents. A first  interview should be done  by phone to allow you to get and gather the basic facts.

7. Some lawyers ask a client to provide the following, if possible:

  • The accident report,
  • Photos of vehicles,
  • Medical and auto insurance policies,
  • Any claim correspondence and medical bills and records.

Note: If a client already has it, that’s great.  It shortens time for you as the lawyer to get this for them.  But if they don’t have it, I don’t believe in asking clients to spend lots of time and hundreds of dollars running all over town gathering this for you.  That’s your job as a lawyer.  Make their life easier, not harder.  Sometimes, such as picking up MRI films or certain specific things, this can’t be helped, but overall, try to let them focus on getting better and do your best to remove stress for your clients. They are, after all, your client and you have a duty and a responsibility to help them.

Too many personal injury lawyers in Michigan and around the country think it should be the other way around.

8. Retain experts early. Don’t be penny wise but pound foolish.

If you don’t find the case to have merit, or if you don’t like your own client,  a  jury won’t either.

But if you’re like me, and you are willing to go through walls for your clients and work hundreds of hours getting ready for a trial and if you feel it is a sacred trust to be able to truly help people who desperately need your help and are counting on you, then these things I’ve suggested are not “extra work” for you as a busy lawyer.  They are quite simply a necessity.

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