Most new automobile accident clients (hopefully) haven’t had much experience as clients. When you first meet with them, they won’t know what’s important, what’s not, or what lies ahead. This is your first real chance to learn as much as you can about them and in the process show them you know what you’re talking about. Building that trust at the beginning can pay dividends later. Start by covering these three topics in every initial meeting: accident and injury information, insurance coverage, and a few personal details.
(1) Accident And Injury Information
Retrace what happened right out of the gate. You’ll obviously have heard your client’s story once before, but a retelling can reveal new details the client may have forgotten or not seen as important (“and as I looked up from my cell phone . . .”). In addition, learn the date of the injury, where it happened, the defendant’s name and insurance information, and anything your client said to the defendant or defendant’s insurance company. You’ll want to ask for copies of these statements when you write your letter of representation. Some of this information will be on the police report, too, but why wait?
Next, learn all you can about your client’s injuries and the healthcare providers who cared for them. Send records and itemized billing-statement requests to these providers and note where your client is still treating. Quick tip: if they went to the emergency department, be on the lookout for radiology and emergency physicians’ bills. Surgery required? Get the anesthesia bill, too. These will usually not be included in the hospital bill. Don’t forget to find out if your client previously had any issues or treatment in the same areas where they are injured. You’ll want those records as well.
(2) Insurance Coverage
Two types of insurance come into play. The first is automobile insurance. Ask your client to provide their declarations page—many clients do not know their underinsured/uninsured coverage limits or what medical payments coverage is. Explain to them what these terms mean and how they affect the case.
The second type of insurance coverage to know is their health insurance. You’ll especially want to know—because of a potential lien—if they have Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, or if they have a fully self-funded ERISA plan. Explain to your clients the consequences of having one of these types of health insurance. Also, ensure that their healthcare providers have sent the bills to your clients’ health (not auto) insurance provider. Despite Virginia Code § 8.01-27.5’s prohibition, some health care facilities still send medical bills to their patients’ automobile insurance carrier. Make sure they don’t.
(3) Personal Details
You’ll already know your client’s name and contact information. But take the time to learn a little bit more about them. What motivated them to call you? What questions do they have? What are they afraid will come up later? Have they been arrested before? Convicted of any crime? Frequently, clients will worry about something that happened during the wreck, that they told someone, or from their past. You can and should take this opportunity to address those concerns, either by reassuring them the issue isn’t as important as they think it is (an old DUI conviction), or by letting them know how you plan to tackle it (a perjury conviction).
Your clients will have seen television shows about lawyers and perhaps even read a John Grisham novel or two. No doubt their family and friends have thoughts about their case. But now is the time to separate fact from fiction. Discuss each of these three topics with your new clients, and you will have gone a long way to build their trust and an enduring attorney–client relationship.
About the Author
Ben Charlton is an associate attorney at Frei, Mims & Perushek, L.L.P., where he practices personal injury law. He is the current President-Elect of the Fairfax Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section, and he is the Fifth District Representative of the Virginia State Bar’s Young Lawyers Conference. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.