What Exactly Does a Personal Injury Attorney Do?

A personal injury lawyer is a legal professional who specializes in providing representation to individuals who have suffered physical, emotional, or financial harm due to the negligence or misconduct of another party. These attorneys play a crucial role in ensuring that victims receive fair compensation for their injuries and losses. Here’s a comprehensive look at what personal injury lawyers do:

Initial Consultation and Case Evaluation

The process begins with an initial consultation, during which the personal injury lawyer assesses the details of the potential client’s case. This involves listening to the client’s account of the incident, reviewing any available evidence (such as medical records, police reports, and photographs), and evaluating the viability of the claim. The lawyer will determine if the case has merit and if there is a reasonable chance of securing a favorable outcome.

Investigation and Gathering Evidence

Once a personal injury lawyer agrees to take on a case, they conduct a thorough investigation to gather all relevant evidence. This can include:

  1. Collecting Documentation: Gathering medical records, accident reports, employment records, and any other documentation that supports the claim.
  2. Interviewing Witnesses: Talking to witnesses who saw the accident or have relevant information about the circumstances leading to the injury.
  3. Consulting Experts: Working with medical experts, accident reconstruction specialists, and other professionals who can provide expert testimony to strengthen the case.
  4. Obtaining Surveillance Footage: Securing any available video footage from surveillance cameras that might have captured the incident.

Legal Strategy and Case Preparation

After gathering all necessary evidence, the personal injury lawyer devises a legal strategy tailored to the specific details of the case. This involves determining the legal theories under which the claim will be pursued, such as negligence, strict liability, or intentional misconduct. The lawyer will also calculate the potential value of the claim by considering factors such as medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and future financial losses.

Negotiation with Insurance Companies

Personal injury lawyers are skilled negotiators who often engage with insurance companies on behalf of their clients. Insurance companies typically aim to minimize payouts, so having a knowledgeable lawyer is crucial. The lawyer will:

  1. Present Evidence: Present the collected evidence to the insurance company to substantiate the claim.
  2. Demand a Fair Settlement: Make a formal demand for a settlement that covers all the client’s damages.
  3. Negotiate Terms: Engage in back-and-forth negotiations to reach a fair settlement. This often involves countering low-ball offers and emphasizing the strength of the evidence.

Filing a Lawsuit

If a fair settlement cannot be reached through negotiation, the personal injury lawyer will file a lawsuit on behalf of the client. This involves preparing a formal complaint outlining the legal basis for the claim, the facts supporting the case, and the damages sought. The lawsuit initiates the litigation process, which includes several key stages:

  1. Discovery: Both parties exchange information and evidence through depositions, interrogatories, and requests for production of documents.
  2. Motions: The lawyer may file various pre-trial motions, such as motions to dismiss or motions for summary judgment, to resolve certain issues before trial.
  3. Mediation or Arbitration: In some cases, the parties may participate in alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation or arbitration to try to settle the case without going to trial.

Trial Representation

If the case proceeds to trial, the personal injury lawyer represents the client in court. This involves:

  1. Jury Selection: Participating in the selection of jurors who will hear the case.
  2. Opening Statements: Presenting an opening statement to outline the case to the jury.
  3. Examination of Witnesses: Calling witnesses to testify and cross-examining witnesses presented by the defense.
  4. Presenting Evidence: Introducing evidence to support the client’s claims.
  5. Closing Arguments: Summarizing the case and urging the jury to find in favor of the client.
  6. Jury Instructions: Working with the judge to provide instructions to the jury on the legal standards that apply to the case.
  7. Verdict and Judgment: If the jury returns a favorable verdict, the lawyer will seek to have the judgment entered in the client’s favor.

Post-Trial Actions

After a trial, there may be additional legal actions required. If the verdict is in favor of the client, the personal injury lawyer may need to take steps to collect the judgment, such as garnishing wages or placing liens on property. If the case is lost, the lawyer may discuss the possibility of an appeal with the client, outlining the potential grounds for appeal and the likelihood of success.

Client Support and Counseling

Throughout the entire process, personal injury lawyers provide ongoing support and counseling to their clients. They explain complex legal concepts in understandable terms, keep clients informed about the progress of their case, and offer guidance on medical treatment and other related issues. This support is crucial for clients who are often dealing with significant physical and emotional stress due to their injuries.

Contingency Fee Arrangements

Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if they secure a settlement or win the case at trial. This arrangement allows injured individuals to access legal representation without the burden of upfront legal fees. The lawyer’s fee is typically a percentage of the recovery, which is agreed upon at the outset of the case.

Ethical and Professional Standards

Personal injury lawyers must adhere to strict ethical and professional standards. They are obligated to act in their clients’ best interests, maintain client confidentiality, and avoid conflicts of interest. They must also comply with the rules and regulations governing the practice of law in their jurisdiction.

Filing a San Diego personal injury lawsuit in California involves several key steps. First, the injured party must file a complaint in the appropriate court, detailing the facts of the case, the legal basis for the claim, and the damages sought. California follows a statute of limitations, generally giving plaintiffs two years from the date of injury to file a lawsuit. The complaint must be served to the defendant, who then has a specified time to respond. The discovery phase follows, allowing both parties to exchange information and gather evidence. If the case does not settle, it proceeds to trial, where a judge or jury determines the outcome.

Common Areas of Practice


In summary, personal injury lawyers play a vital role in helping individuals who have been harmed due to the negligence of others. They provide expert legal representation, negotiate with insurance companies, and, if necessary, take cases to trial to ensure their clients receive the compensation they deserve. Their work requires a combination of legal knowledge, negotiation skills, and a compassionate understanding of their clients’ needs and challenges.