Understanding the Lawyer-Client Relationship in Personal Injury Cases
If you or someone you care about has been hurt and you want to sue, you’re going to be looking for a personal injury lawyer. These are lawyers who specialize in civil cases where someone has been hurt, in order to pursue damages. The injury in these cases can be physical or psychological (or both), and the case usually alleges negligence or lack of care.
Whether you want to sue another person or an organization, the goal in a personal injury case is the same. Your legal team will try to prove that you suffered an injury because someone else did or neglected to do something. They will try to quantify how that affected you, and more specifically, what it has cost you. Then they will pursue damages, which is a financial settlement to compensate you for your injuries, pain, and suffering.
As you can imagine in a situation where your life is under scrutiny, the lawyer-client relationship is particularly important in personal injury law.
During the process, your lawyer will get to know your life, both before and after the incident. They’ll have to quantify what you have lost in terms of earnings, daily activities, hobbies, personal relationships and more. Then, they will try to ensure that you are adequately compensated for those losses. At the same time, the opposing defence team will be seeking ways to discredit your claims.
As with everything, the legal process is governed by the Law Society of Alberta’s Code of Conduct, and there are strict rules about solicitor-client privilege and the lawyer-client relationship. Here’s what you need to know.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Very often, the first hurdle your personal injury lawyer will have to clear is establishing if there is a conflict of interest.
In the legal system, conflicts of interest arise when a lawyer has a personal interest in the outcome of a case. This might be because they have direct involvement, or because of a third party. An example would be if the defendant is a friend or relative. Or if they have legal or financial ties to a company that is being sued.
A good example of this would be in motor vehicle accident-related cases. You wouldn’t want to hire a lawyer that also works for insurance companies!
Of course, if a lawyer does have an interest in the outcome of a case, they might not provide the same level of service as they would otherwise. Which is why the law requires that they refuse to act.
In simpler terms, if a lawyer discovers a conflict of interest, they cannot proceed with the case. This may occur at any stage during the case, although it’s more common to discover these issues early in the process.
Conflicts of interest aren’t always obvious early on though. If your chosen lawyer discovers while working on your case that there is a conflict of interest, they will remove themselves from the case. They may also recommend another lawyer or law firm to take over. This is not because they don’t want to work with you anymore. It’s a legal requirement to ensure that your rights as a client are protected.
The next important part of the lawyer-client relationship in Alberta is fiduciary duty. This means that lawyers must always be honest and forthcoming in their dealings with their clients.
The law requires personal injury lawyers (and all other lawyers and solicitors) to act in good faith. This means that they must make the best decisions possible on behalf of their clients, with the information at hand.
It also requires that lawyers be open and honest with their clients. Which means your lawyer is required to disclose any information they have that might have an impact on your case, or the outcome.
In a nutshell, your lawyer is legally obligated to provide the best possible professional service, and to always be driven by your best interests.
Solicitor-client privilege has had a lot of coverage in popular culture. You’ve probably seen it on countless television shows and in the movies. But, while it’s a very real part of the lawyer-client relationship, it might not be exactly as it is depicted.
Solicitor-client privilege protects communications between a client and his or her lawyer. This means that anything you have told your legal representative in confidence cannot be disclosed without your express permission. This allows clients to speak freely and allows lawyers to get as much information about the client and their case as possible.
Solicitor-client privilege is not absolute though. There are rules that must be followed. The communication must be between the client and their lawyer and must be related to the case. There must also be the intent of confidentiality.
This means that you can’t expect to be covered by solicitor-client privilege if you choose to have a discussion in a public place, where anyone might overhear the conversation.
Solicitor-client privilege also won’t cover any conversations where any intent to commit fraud or a crime is disclosed. Your lawyer has a duty to protect your privacy and rights, but they are also bound by a code of conduct.
CLIENT DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
The lawyer-client relationship in personal injury law is designed to protect clients and ensure that they get the absolute best legal representation possible. But clients also have various duties and responsibilities in ensuring the success of their case. These include:
Provide as much evidence as possible. This may include photographs, correspondence, and documentation. It can take a long time between when an incident occurs and when a case goes to trial, and this is the best way to ensure that the facts from the time of the event are accurately presented.
Be honest with your lawyer. Your lawyer needs to know the facts of the case, regardless of who they might seem to favour. This allows them to build a better case on your behalf. So always tell your lawyer the whole truth.
Treat your lawyer and their team politely and with respect. The process of personal injury law can be long and frustrating, but we’re all on the same team.
Respect our time. During your case, there will be meetings and legal proceedings. It’s important that you attend these meetings and be punctual. We know that you might not be able to attend every discovery or mediation, but if you can’t, let us know. It may be possible to reschedule, and that really is in your own best interests.
Keep your lawyer informed about any changes. If your medical condition changes, or new evidence comes to light, it’s important to communicate it as quickly as possible.
All these things allow your personal injury lawyer to provide the best advice and service. The more information your team has, and the better the communication between you and your lawyer, the smoother the process will be.
Personal injury lawsuits can take some time too. Which is why it’s important to maintain a good professional relationship, and to work together.
WORKING TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS
When a personal injury lawyer takes on your case, they are committing to work to protect your rights. The facts of the case are especially important and will have the biggest bearing on the outcome. But the lawyer-client relationship is a big part of the process too.
Many personal injury cases can take months or even years to conclude, which means that you will be working with your lawyer for a long time. Choose someone that has the right reputation, but also that you have a good rapport with. Then support them by providing as much factual information as possible as soon as you become aware of it.
Personal injury law is not always cut and dried. The plaintiff’s team will be working just as hard to build their case. That is why it’s so important to work together to ensure that your rights are protected.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT LAW FIRM
Working with the right law firm can have an enormous impact on the outcome of your personal injury case. That, in turn, can determine your quality of life going forward. For that reason, it’s critically important to make the right decision when it comes to legal representation.
Your personal injury legal representative should be experienced, and have experience working for clients within the Alberta legal system. They should be compassionate and understand how your accident has affected your life and your livelihood.
Most importantly, if you or someone you care about is injured because of the negligence, you deserve to be fairly and appropriately compensated. Accidents and the resulting injuries can have a profound and long-lasting impact on your life. Personal injury lawyers work hard to ensure that their clients can offset that impact financially.
Make sure that you take the time to find the right fit. Review their credentials and their track record. Make sure that they understand your case and empathise with you. The right lawyer-client relationship could be pivotal in the success of your case. Get as much information as possible, so you can make an informed decision.
If you or your family have been injured due to the negligence or actions of someone else, we’d like to talk. Contact our office to discuss your case, to find out more about our personal injury law practice, and to find out if we’re a good fit. We work hard to protect the interests of our clients, and if we’re the right law firm for you, we’ll do the same for you.