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Phil Wakefield, 
The Checklist below is designed to analyze the most desirable qualities of professional legal services firms. Most lawyers handle head injury cases, unfortunately, most lawyers are not qualified to do so. 
This guide can help you choose the lawyer that is the most qualified to handle your needs. The purpose of this inventory is to give you another tool to help you  find the help you need.

 A high number of "yes" responses in each section means a higher probability that the lawyer will be well qualified to provide the caliber of legal services needed in head injury cases. - 
  Is Legal Counsel Really  Necessary?
    Brain injury can result in serious, permanent disability. Even a minor brain injury can result in profound changes in the ability to respond to the demands of daily living. The causes of brain injuries include: motor vehicle collisions, on-the-job injuries, falls, sports and recreational injuries. Other causes include: assaults, medical conditions, toxic inhalations, oxygen deprivation, and electric shock. 

Click here to go to lawyer checklist below
Featured Attorneys
Cynthia Hafif, is one of Southern California's most successful personal injury lawyers. Her string of  multi-million dollar cases has won her the admiration and respect of her peers in a profession traditionally dominated by men. This client-centered lawyer says she is "motivated by the joy of helping somebody get what they deserve and getting to the truth."   Telephone: 909-291-2439
U. of La Verne College of Law, 1990.  Bar Admission 1991

Kathryn Scarcliff, RN, and Attorney at Law
Education: Law degree, University of Puget Sound 1988 admitted to practice November 1989, Washington.  206-526-2425
Employment:  Sole practice specializing in personal injury and civil rights law. Clinical faculty - University of Washington 
Philosophy:  The client always comes first.  My firm gives the best legal representation possible to its clients.  Client input / opinions regarding decisions made are valued by my firm.  Good communication and working relationship between the client and my firm are essential. 
Approach to service:  My firm makes sure that the client is receiving or has received the best medical care possible for their head injury.  If that is not the case, I try to facilitate a transfer to better medical care to minimize the client's damages / injuries.  I make sure that clients are informed and understand the various legal procedures and decisions that occur.  I am aware that many head injury victims have varying degrees of cognitive problems.  Those problems are considered when counseling the client.  My ideal is to work as an attorney-client team to obtain the best possible recovery for the client.

Lawyer Finder
    The single biggest problem in finding  the right lawyer is in choosing the right one.  The  consumer is often at a lost to know what he or she wants, or more accurately what type of  lawyer is truly qualified to handle the case. 

     Its been said that a winning case, to a large degree, is dependent on compatibility factors -- that is, how closely the personality and needs of the client match the personality, needs and skills of the lawyer.  In other words, no one lawyer can be all things to all people. 

    To handle the wide range of needs, competently and diligently, lawyers are devoting the bulk of their practices to one or two areas of law.  The general practitioner is a dying breed, not unlike physicians;  increasingly specialization seems to be the trend.  Lawyers will usually branch off into the following fields of private practice: 

Personal Injury Law
Divorce & Family Criminal law (defense)
Labor Law Wills, Trusts
Worker's Comp Bankruptcy Law
Real Estate Law  Taxation Law
Consumer Rights Corporate Law
Estates & Probate Landlord Tenant
International Law Immigration Law
Juvenile Law Sports & Entertainment
Contract Law Guardianship
Patent, Trademark Copyright

  Is Legal Counsel Really  Necessary? continued Yes No
     Persons whose brain injury resulted from the negligence or wrongdoing of others would be well advised to consult a lawyer. In such instances it would be wise to consult a personal injury lawyer whose practice is largely devoted to head injury cases.  Head injury cases require the services of a lawyer with special training and expertise in personal injury cases involving brain injury. To engage a lawyer who does not possess such expertise would be ill advised. 

     Persons whose brain injuries result from other causes might benefit from consultation with an attorney who can assist them with insurance policies, estate planning, public entitlements, employment rights, disability rights and other legal matters. Special training in brain injury would be essential to appropriate legal representation in these matters as well. 

     A knowledgeable attorney can provide valuable and timely assistance to help you identify and obtain financial resources that might otherwise be overlooked. Often, such benefits impose strict time limits for filing claims. 

     Frequently, recovery from brain injury involves the need for expensive and extensive medical, rehabilitation, and support services. Many such services are available to the injured persons and their families. The considerable financial demands that result from a brain injury requires that all possible financial resources be vigorously pursued. 

     Other matters that might require legal assistance after brain injury include competency and guardianship, estate planning, powers of attorney, separation and divorce, and criminal matters. Frequently, a lawyer can assist in obtaining a determination of eligibility for federal and state entitlement programs. 

     Depending upon the complexity of the issues, your personal injury attorney may also provide guidance in some of these areas. When such matters fall outside the expertise of your attorney ask him or her to help you find an attorney who specializes in the particular area of law required. up arrow

  Personal Injury Claim and Resultant Losses Yes No

     "I don't want to become involved in a personal injury claim, I just want to get better. "Such sentiments echo a common refrain of many persons who have sustained a personal injury. Unfortunately, in reality, getting better often carries a big price tag. 

     A personal injury claim can help a person obtain the financial resources necessary to maximize recovery and/or provide for long-term care and support needs. Tort law, which includes personal injury law, is intended to encourage safety and to discourage wrongful acts that cause injury. It attempts to provide fair and full compensation for the losses of individuals who have been wrongfully injured or killed. 

     Lost income is an obvious loss. Other not so obvious losses might include: pain, suffering, diminished earning capacity as well as diminished capacity to enjoy life. Loss of affection, and loss of services to the marital community are damages that might be eligible for compensation. Payment for medical and rehabilitation services can also be awarded when a judgment is made or a settlement reached. up arrow

  Protecting Your Rights: Timing is Essential  Yes No

    The proper and timely filing of a personal injury claim in a court of law protects the rights of the injured to pursue financial damages or losses from such injuries. However, most injury claims are resolved out-of-court through a complex, mysterious process of evidence gathering, analysis, and settlement negotiation. When the settlement process breaks down a claim proceeds to the next step, arbitration or trial. This specialized category of law is known as personal injury law or tort law. up arrow

   Consult an Attorney Soon After the Injury Occurs  Yes No

    Important evidence may be lost if an attorney is not involved in the early days following the injury. An attorney can investigate and prepare the case while the injured person, family, friends and loved ones focus on issues related to recovery. 

  Roles of Family and Friends Yes No

    Family and friends fill a special role in the resolution of personal injury claims. Their roles carry even greater importance when a brain injury has occurred. In addition to the usual support and caring, they might also be called upon to act as advocates in cases involving memory loss, incapacitation, and/or coma

     Typically, family and friends have personal knowledge of events or circumstances of  your injury and recovery. They can provide valuable observations as to nature and scope of your impairments, and how they limit your actions, particularly those having to do with work functions, personal maintenance and medical regimen. 

     In such circumstances, their knowledge of brain injury impairments and their ability to provide honest and forthright observations is critical to the outcome of your injury claim. Frequently friends and family tend to turn a blind eye to many disturbing displays and uncharacteristic behavior patterns that follow brain injury. Typically this practice results from misguided attempts at "kindness" they ignore or minimize behavioral changes that to a trained eye would indicate signs of brain dysfunction. In so doing they inadvertently undermine the recovery process as well as the settlement value of the claim. up arrow

The Role of the Brain Injury Client 

     Your role is a critical one in the resolution of your personal injury claim. See: "What is a Plaintiff.

Yes No

Legal Costs and Fees Yes No
     Many people are reluctant to involve an attorney because they feel they cannot afford one. Often times, however, such matters require legal assistance. Unfortunately, delays in obtaining legal services can actually result in higher legal costs, and lower settlement value. Frequently, a payment schedule can be arranged to pay for needed legal services. 

     Personal injury attorneys frequently work on a contingency fee basis. This means that payment of the attorney's fee depends upon winning a judgment or settlement for the client. That is, if your attorney does not win your case, no attorney fees are owed to your lawyer. The fee is usually a percentage of the total award. Typically, such fees range from 33.3% to 40% of the award, and are subject to negotiation by the attorney and client. 

     In many cases the expenses necessary to investigate, prepare and resolve the case may be paid in advanced by the attorney. Then, when the case settles such expenses are deducted from the client's portion of the total award. Such expenses are commonly known as "costs" and in most cases are separate and distinct from "fees." The contingency fee system allows individuals of limited means to have access to competent legal representation. up arrow

  Economic Losses

     Economic losses include items such as medical and rehabilitation costs, income and wage losses. These and other such costs are recoverable, when they can be shown to result from the injury in question. 

What is a Plaintiff 

      In legal terms the person injured by the wrongdoing or negligence of another is known as the plaintiff. The role of the plaintiff is to provide graphic and detailed descriptions concerning the nature and the extent of limitations imposed by the injuries in question. Careless or incomplete descriptions of injuries by the plaintiff can have disastrous consequences on jury awards, settlement values. It can also lead your doctor to prescribe inadequate or inappropriate treatments. 

     By the same token, plaintiffs should avoid exaggerations of their complaints. Likewise, they should refrain from language that is overly dramatic when describing their pain and suffering. Another important aspect of the role of the plaintiff requires the establishment and maintenance of a proactive relationship with treating doctors. It requires a thorough appreciation of the nature and scope of the injury in question, and detailed accounting of the treatment. This way the client can present a full picture of his or her suffering and losses. Clearly, the client should not omit any significant details, and he or she must have a good grasp of all injuries and treatment. up arrow

  Pre-existing Medical Conditions

     Another important subject is pre-existing medical conditions and/or injuries. This is often the focus of the defense and must be carefully explored with your attorney so that you are completely accurate in all respects. Remember, contradictory or inaccurate statements can lead to disastrous results in a personal injury claim. Seek the advice of your attorney before discussing your health conditions or pre-existing injuries with anyone. 

  Who's The Defendant?

    In a personal injury claim, the defendant is the "at fault party" or the person or persons that bear legal responsibility for the injury. Consequently, the defendant is the person(s) against whom a legal action is brought. Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to consider legal representation following traumatic brain injury is the complexity of determining just who might bear legal responsibility for the injury. 

     For example, in a motor vehicle collision, the driver and/or owner of an automobile, the automobile manufacturer, the local government, and/or its employees, among others may all be liable for the same injury. A thorough examination of every aspect of the case, will enable the skillful attorney to determine which parties to name as defendants. up arrow

  Degrees of liability or fault
     In the typical case, liability is measured by the degree of the defendant's negligence. If the defendant's negligence is accompanied by aggravating circumstances (e.g., DWI or hit and run), the value of the case may be increased. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff played a role in causing the injury through contributory or comparative fault, then the value of the case may be reduced. If neither an aggravating factor nor contributory negligence is present, then a common understanding as to clear liability based upon ordinary negligence should be reached.up arrow

  How Much is My Claim Worth

      The three most important factors determining the settlement value of personal injury claims are: liability; extent and nature of injury; and the ability of the defendant(s) to pay. In order for settlement negotiations to succeed, attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant must arrive at a common understanding regarding these three factors. Through the practice of skilled advocacy techniques, each participant educates the other and moves the case to an equitable settlement. 

     In most personal injury cases, the ability of the defendant to pay is determined by the limits of available insurance coverage. That is, unless a defendant has substantial assets; the amount of insurance sets the top settlement value of the case. However, the amount that the case ultimately settles for is dependent upon the following factors: the nature and scope of the injuries; the skill and expertise of the attorneys; the knowledge and participation of the plaintiff; the quality and quantity of medical records regarding the injury; and the qualifications and expertise of the doctors involved in the case. up arrow

  The Roles of Attorneys in Personal Injury Claims

     Lawyers practice their profession under the rules of the adversary system. Briefly stated, the adversary system is an American system of laws in which a judge decides disputes between opposing sides. The following is an overview of how the adversary system works. When a lawyer agrees to take a case, he or she becomes the advocate of the person being represented. 

     Because the lawyer is an advocate, he or she is expected to promote the interests of the client above all others. In legal terms the lawyer has a fiduciary responsibility to his or her clients. In other words, the lawyer is held to standards of highest trust, with supreme loyalty owed exclusively to the client. With few exceptions, lawyers are legally bound by this standard. Such exceptions could include, being told by the client that they are about to commit a crime. 

     The theory behind the adversary system is that truth is best discovered by having lawyers work exclusively for different sides. Supposedly, the resultant competition between the lawyers acts as stimulus, thereby both sides leave no stone unturned and no closet unopened in their quest for victory. 

Good cases are lost by inept lawyers. 
A good lawyer can prevent truth from being learned -- in fact, it is frequently unethical for him or her not to. 
The rich and powerful are frequently able to have their lawyers do things that the less powerful can not.up arrow

  When to Hire Legal Counsel 

      It is generally advisable to seek legal counsel following any personal injury resulting from the negligence or wrongdoing of another. Insurance companies have lawyers working to protect their interests. Wise consumers are well advised to pursue legal counsel to protect their interests. The role of the lawyer in such cases is to promote the strengths of their client's case while limiting the damage caused by its weaknesses. That is, the lawyers attempt to make their client's case look as strong as possible, and the other side's case as weak as possible, using every ethical means of persuasion at their command -- regardless of who may really be right. 

     When settlement negotiations fail, an impartial third party ( a jury, judge, referee, arbitrator, or mediator) make determinations as to what really happened from the evidence presented by both sides. This is called a finding of fact, which is then used by the impartial third party as a basis for its Orders and Judgments. up arrow

How to fire your attorney

   Your fee agreement should explain your rights and responsibilities concerning lawyer dismissal. Basically, you simply need to provide written notice of dismissal preferably by certified mail. Or, you may have your new attorney send notice of dismissal.  Such a notice could also carry instructions for the transfer of your case file. Check your new fee agreement of determine that the fees owed to your old attorney will be paid out of the fees recovered by your new attorney. up arrow

  Choose Your Attorney Carefully

     The selection of an attorney can have significant long-term implications. It is a decision that requires serious consideration of many factors. Among these are: the attorney's education and training, the number of years of legal experience, a law practice that is largely devoted to personal injury claims that result from brain injuries; specific, up to date knowledge of the consequences and treatment of traumatic brain injury; and knowledge of  how to structure and manage awards. Other essential factors include: compatible personality and case management style. 

    The manner in which the attorney, and  office personnel interact with you and your family, can provide important indicators of things to come.  Determine if it is comfortable for you, trust your instincts.  Many personal injury cases take years to resolve, so the rapport between you and the attorney can be very important. 

     The topics and questions suggested in the Lawyer Finder Checklist are intended as a guide for information gathering.  Ask the same questions of each potential attorney.  Write down the responses you receive.  If you are not clear about a response do not hesitate to request clarification.   You can verify information the attorney has provided by checking with the state bar association. 

      Despite the advent of specialized traumatic brain injury education and training, relatively few attorneys have specialized knowledge or training about the nature of brain injury and its sequelae. 

     In particular, attorneys often may know little about the more subtle cognitive, emotional, physical, behavioral and social difficulties that follow brain injury. It is important to collect as much information as possible about a perspective attorney before making your selection. up arrow

  Attorneys Also Choose Their Cases Carefully

     Contrary to popular opinion, attorneys do not automatically accept every injury case presented to them. Typically before accepting a case they weight its pros and cons and make a business decision as to the reasonable likelihood of success. This assessment looks at the amount of the available funds; and the settlement value of the case. Under the contingency system attorneys invest substantial time and money during the investigation, preparation, and resolution of the case. 

     When lawyers take cases on contingency they receive no fee if they do not win the case for their client. Frequently, disappointed clients are unable or unwilling to reimburse the attorneys out-of-pocket costs which can be substantial. Because of the obvious financial risk involved, attorneys may decline cases that do not meet their requirements. 

      Just because your case has been declined by one or more attorneys does not necessarily mean that the case lacks merit; it might simply mean that you have not found the right attorney. Keep looking. up arrow

  Getting Started 
     The Head Injury Hotline Legal Services Directory, includes attorneys with specific expertise and experience in head injury cases. Attorneys listed in the Legal Services Directory are available on-line, or through the Head Injury Hotline's Information and Referral Service 800-255-4843. 

     Once you have made your selections, schedule a telephone or in-person meeting with each. Be prepared to answer questions about the injury. It is equally important that you prepare a list of questions to ask of the attorney. You may find it useful to download and use the Lawyer Finder Checklist. It includes questions about the attorney's legal background and experiences, and his/her experience with cases involving brain injury. This information will be valuable as you compare and contrast the expertise and knowledge of various attorneys in order to make a well informed decision. up arrow

  Signing the Attorney-Client Contract

     Once you have narrowed your search to the most suitable attorney, you might find it helpful to meet with him/her once again before signing an attorney-client contract. This contract initiates representation in the case. Be sure that you thoroughly understand all of its provisions and that it clearly spells out the financial and other agreements you have made with the attorney. Make sure that all promises are written into the contract including specific statements as to your rights and responsibilities as well as those of the attorney. up arrow

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