When Is the Deadline to Hire an Attorney?

Written by Troy Marsh |

Generally, the law does not require any person to hire an attorney by a specific date.  In fact, you do not have to hire a lawyer at all.  You may represent yourself, but remember Abe Lincoln’s belief that “a person who represents herself has a fool for a client.”  If you choose to hire an attorney, you may hire one at any time.  The sooner you hire a lawyer, the more time the lawyer has to work on your case.

In a criminal defense case, some people choose to hire an attorney immediately after being arrested.  Others choose to “wait and see” for some time after arrest and hire an attorney just before arraignment.  Still others, believing they can represent themselves competently, wait until the day before trial to try to find an attorney to represent them.  By that time, virtually every attorney will decline the case because there is not enough time to prepare for trial.

The same is true for a personal injury case.  Some get hurt and hire an attorney immediately.  Some do not want to hire an attorney right away because

(1) they have been “trained” to hate trial lawyers because of what they’ve heard or seen on TV, and they don’t want to be “victimized” by a “greedy trial lawyer,” or

(2) they believe that by handling the case themselves, they will end up with more money in their pocket because they won’t have to pay a lawyer, or

(3) they aren’t the “kind of people who sue other people,” but “their case is different, and this is not like all those other frivolous cases like that lady that spilled coffee on herself and got a billion dollars…this is a real case,” or

(4) they don’t know if they have a case or not, or

(5) they know someone who had a bad experience with a lawyer, or

(6) they do not know how a lawyer could help them, or

(7) they think it’s too much trouble to deal with a lawyer.

Typically, an injured person in this group will get a call from an insurance adjuster, someone who sounds friendly and willing to help, soon after their auto accident.  The adjuster will usually ask permission to record the conversation will ask for a recorded “statement.”  Having nothing to hide, the injured person usually agrees.

Once the recorder has been turned on, the adjuster starts asking questions.  The first questions usually ask about things like date of birth, full name, address, and marital status, while other questions may ask for an explanation instead of a short answer.  The questions may be phrased like, “where were you injured,” “describe your injury,” or the dangerous question, “how are you doing?”  In answering these questions without the advice of a lawyer, the injured person may inadvertently cause harm to her case.

For example, in answering the question “how are you doing,” pretend the injured person answers with the standard, courteous reply, “I’m doing fine.”  In our culture, we tend to mask or at least minimize our physical and mental ailments with such replies, even when we may be suffering intense pain.  To the adjuster, however, the reply is one piece of evidence that tends to show that the injured person is not hurt as bad as she claims or that she is not hurt at all.  Weeks or months later, when the injured person gives a deposition (testimony under oath) in a lawsuit and answers the same question with “I’m not doing fine.  My head hurts every day, my back hurts all the time, and my neck hurts when I turn my head to the left.”  The same person has now given opposite answer to the same question asked shortly after the incident.  The inference is that the person was not injured and answered truthfully the first time the question was asked and (1) that later, a second incident occurred and caused the pain and suffering or (2) that the injured person decided to make a false claim.

In actuality, neither scenario is true.  When asked how she was doing, the injured person innocently gave a courteous reply “I’m doing fine,” which really meant that “in spite of my head, back, and neck pain, I’m blessed and fortunate to be alive and not paralyzed, in a hospital, or dead.”  The person never intended the word “fine” to mean that she was not injured or that she was not in pain.

This unfortunate situation happens over and over and illustrates the importance of having a lawyer to advise you, ESPECIALLY during the early stages of any case.