Finding a lawyer: First meeting with a personal injury lawyer

“…I shall not rest, sir, while I am your representative. Whenever you want me, you will find me here. Summon me anywhere, and I will come. During the long vacation, sir, I shall devote my leisure to studying your interests more and more closely, and to making arrangements for moving heaven and earth (including, of course, the Chancellor) after Michaelmas Term; and when I ultimately congratulate you, sir,” says Mr. Vholes, with the severity of a determined man, “when I ultimately congratulate you, sir, with all my heart, on your accession to fortune – which, but that I never give hopes, I might say something further about – you will owe me nothing, beyond whatever little balance may be then outstanding of the costs as between solicitor and client, not included in the taxed costs allowed out of the estate…” – Charles Dickens, Bleak House

That Dickens quote floors me. One-hundred and fifty-eight years after it was written, it remains–with a slight edit to modernize the language–what a practiced lawyer tells a potential client at the first meeting.

In fact, read the quote so I won’t have to relate my first meeting with the Foot Lawyers.

Well, maybe I’ll report a few tidbits, the most significant of which is how I found the Foot Lawyers. I did exactly what I will not recommend to you as a way of finding a lawyer: I asked Miss Billy (remember Miss Billy, my lawyer in the Skush-O’Brien case?).

“Miss Billy,” I said–when I called to tell her I was invalided out of joining her at our first court conference against the Skush-O’Briens due to my inability to flow gracefully on crutches–“Do you know a good personal injury law firm?”

Lawyers tell you to ask a lawyer you know to recommend another lawyer. Why? (I’ll be answering that question in a few days.) Why should a real estate lawyer know a good P.I. lawyer? And why shouldn’t I, legal aficionado, resident of a great city in which there is perhaps one personal injury lawyer for every 150 people, know a P.I. lawyer myself? Or know how to find one?

Very soon I will expound upon how to and how not to find a lawyer. In this instance, though, Miss Billy asked some law school classmates and eventually someone came up with the firm of Foot Lawyers, P.C.

I made an appointment, my endlessly darling brother helped me slide down the stairs and crawl out of my house; he drove me to St. Vincent’s, went in to pick up my medical records and x-ray, and then drove me uptown where I crutched into a windowless conference room to meet Basil Valentine, a managing partner with Foot Lawyers, P.C.

That was Friday, February 8, 2008. Three years ago.

After I handed over my several prepared pages of dissertation on the accident (see previous post called Q. How many lawyers…Part 2)–and received praise for my acumen and industry, as well as keen questions about the accident and the photos I’d brought with me–Basil Valentine gave me the Dickens spiel: “This is your case, whenever you have a problem, a question, if you need a car to take you on doctor’s visits, you call us, we’re at your [not quite] beck and call,” blah blah. I knew it was unlikely I’d be calling: this was a boilerplate case; any P.I. lawyer could stroll his way through it.

My favorite Basil V. pronouncement: “Our firm has won $$million dollar$$ verdicts for our clients.”

I sort of knew he would say that; it’s a standard lawyer pitch. “Oh, I doubt this is a million dollar injury,” I laughed, glancing down at my cast–which remained mute on the subject of what this injury was worth. And like Mr. Vholes, Basil Valentine remained mute. Correctly so: no lawyer should or would suggest a possible number lest a client (less experienced than I) cling to it and shoot into lunacy if the number were not eventually met.

A retainer agreement was whipped out, as were many releases. I used to draw these things up myself, for clients to sign. Now I was doing the signing. I thereby OK’d my podiatrist, St. Vincent’s Hospital, anyone I’ve ever known in my life and a whole lot of entities nobody knew of (yet: any lawsuit has soaring expectations), to hand over to Foot Lawyers, P.C. any information they had about my injury.

I didn’t ask whether Basil Valentine would be handling my case. I knew he wouldn’t. I didn’t ask what associate would be handling my case. Figured I’d be contacted by the associate when he/she needed me.

Aside from what a luggy bitch it is to haul your whole body weight around on crutches, it was a smooth and pleasant meeting with smooth and pleasant people. I include myself in that “people” designation.

But now, as I look through my “Foot” folder, I confirm that Foot Lawyers, P.C. never gave or sent me an executed copy of the retainer agreement. Note to lawyers: you know you should send the client any documents regarding her case. Note to client: I should have called and asked for the retainer agreement.


  • To find a lawyer, do what I will say, not what I just told you I did.
  • Lawyers won’t and shouldn’t give you a possible money figure; don’t expect it and don’t demand it.
  • But lawyers should give you fully signed copies of all important documents. Make this clear at the first meeting and arrange how you’ll receive them (e-mail, mail, etc.).
  • Take notes on the meeting, who was there, etc.
  • Have a lovely sibling with a car.

Next: The same situation from the lawyer’s point of view, including an explicated copy of a contingency retainer agreement. And some inside-the-law-firm stuff that lawyers won’t tell you. But I will.

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