The decision to hire an attorney is similar to other major life decisions or investments.

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If you’ve ever been in an auto accident, you’ve probably at least thought about calling an attorney. But how do you know if you actually need a lawyer, and how on earth are you going to afford one?

Seattle attorney Chris Davis at Davis Law Group meets with accident victims who are dealing with these same questions every day. And while some studies have shown that injured people who hire a lawyer typically receive higher settlements on average than those who don’t, that doesn’t mean you should march into the nearest law office and sign up with whoever offers you representation first.

Davis says that a better question to ask is: “How do I know if a personal injury attorney will really provide me any value?”

A quality, experienced personal injury attorney will handle all correspondence with the insurance companies involved and negotiate with them on your behalf. The end goal, of course, is to get you more money from a settlement, even after paying attorney’s fees, than you would have gotten on your own.

If you know that your accident wasn’t very serious and you weren’t badly injured, you may start to feel as though you could probably handle the negotiations on your own. For example, say you were involved in a low-speed fender bender and only needed a couple of massage therapy sessions and an appointment with your chiropractor to be back to normal. Davis hints that the insurance company might not fight those claims as hard as others, and therefore you might not need a lawyer.

“[In that case], it’s always important to consider whether you’ll be paying an attorney to do something you’re capable of doing on your own,” Davis says. “In many situations, people with minor damage cases are more likely to be able to handle their claim without a lawyer, provided that they have a basic understanding of their legal rights.”

But how would you know which approach is best for your unique case? This is where assessing the true value of a quality personal injury attorney comes in.

The best place to start is with a little bit of old-fashioned research.

First, Davis says, look for a law firm that doesn’t seem intent on signing you on immediately as a client. “Some law firms will sign you up in less than 30 minutes of first talking to you, and many times you won’t even meet with an actual attorney. How can you trust that they’re accurately assessing whether you even need a lawyer if they’ve already decided that they want you as a client before an attorney has even had time to look at the case?”

Many personal injury law firms, including Davis Law Group, will offer a free initial consultation over the phone and in person to explain in plain English what value the attorney believes they’ll be able to provide for a potential client. Davis says this process is key for his firm in establishing a trusting relationship with victims of negligence.

“If you search for a no-pressure lawyer, one who can clearly explain what you’re paying for and what you’ll get out of hiring them before you even sign any paperwork, you’ll likely find a lawyer who’s interested in providing value to you rather than simply increasing their bottom line.”

During any free legal consultation with an attorney, you should be able to ask and get answers to straightforward questions without feeling like you’re getting the run-around. “You should be able to walk in to the attorney’s office and say, ‘This is the dollar amount my insurance company is offering me, do you think that’s fair?’ And get a clear, honest response that hopefully they can back up with previous experience.” says Davis.

Another good indicator for whether a personal injury practice will actually be worth your money is the quality and amount of free informational material they’ll provide. Many law firms will provide some kind of information up front that will help you decide whether or not to hire a lawyer. At Davis Law Group, they actually provide a free hard-copy book about car accident law to anyone who wants to learn more about their legal rights. The book is titled, “The Ten Biggest Mistakes that Can Wreck Your Washington Accident Case,” and is part of the Washington Accident Books series published by Chris Davis, the founding attorney of Davis Law Group.

“If someone is injured in a car accident, that book has all the educational materials someone needs to know their legal rights and the common mistakes to avoid making in their position,” Davis adds. “We’ve given tens of thousands of the books away since 2007, and every single one has been absolutely free – even the postage for shipping.”

At the end of the day, keep in mind that the decision to hire an attorney is similar to other major life decisions or investments. You ultimately want to feel as confident as possible that it’s a good fit and that the end goal is worth your money. “Hiring an attorney is sort of like choosing a doctor or financial adviser,” Davis says. “It’s really not something you want to do impulsively. You want to be able to consider your options and feel assured that it’s the right decision.”

When it comes to seeking a qualified personal injury attorney, look for an attorney who reveals some sort of value to you before the attorney has any actual obligation to you.

Quality, ethical attorneys will try to give accident victims a sense of the value they can expect long before the attorney has any actual obligation to you. That may come in the form of a free legal consultation that leaves you feeling informed about what an attorney’s help will actually provide to you, or helpful educational materials that give you a better understanding of how to go it alone and avoid the most common mistakes.

“At the very least, it’s usually in your best interest to reach out to a couple of law firms,” says Davis. “Worst-case scenario is that you walk out with some free information and haven’t paid a dime. Best-case is you’ve found someone you trust to help you navigate the insurance claims process and make decisions that are in your best interests.”

Davis Law Group is an award-winning, civil litigation law firm seeking justice for those who have suffered serious or life-changing personal injury as the result of carelessness or negligence and for families that grieve over the wrongful death of a loved one.