What to Know When Choosing Between Personal Injury Firms
POSTED BY Scott O’Sullivan
October 12, 2016
Personal Injury Law
In a recent blog, I wrote about what I called “personal injury mills,” comparing those giant personal injury firms to the awful puppy mills that we read so much about these days. My last blog was focused on what you should expect from your personal injury firm and your attorney. Certainly, being big does not necessarily make a firm bad! But I wanted you to have a sense of what you should expect from any personal injury attorney who takes your case. This is not a decision to take lightly!
Now, however, I want to explain why some (not all) big personal injury firms become more focused on their bottom lines than on their clients’ best interests. Really, it all comes down to numbers.
Let’s say you are a well-meaning, good-hearted, young personal injury attorney who joins one of those massive personal injury firms… (I can tell this story in good conscience because I have talked to these young attorneys after they get used up and leave the big firms.) So, you join this giant firm hoping to practice good law as you help people.
Attorneys who have left those giant personal injury firms have told me that they may have 100+ active cases in the pre-litigation phase, 70 to 100 more cases in litigation.
Right from the get-go, the pressure is on to sign a quota of new cases each m onth. Depending on the size of the firm, your quota may be 10 to 20 new cases each month. The firm needs hundreds of new cases every month just to keep afloat. (I’ll explain why below.) So, once a month, you are required to take time away from the many, many cases you already have so that you can sit and answer incoming calls and emails, and also meet with prospective clients whom you are driven to sign up even if their case is weak. (This is how some victims get pulled into the machine for years, never knowing that their case may not warrant representation. Again, this is why I emphasize that you need an honest attorney who will explain the true merit of your case, whether you want to hear it or not.)
Attorneys who have left those giant machines have told me that they may have 100+ active cases in the pre-litigation phase, 70 to 100 more cases in litigation. This is an unbearable load! And yet, one week a month, they have to answer phones and emails to sign up a quota of new clients.
No wonder that the number-one complaint I hear from former clients of these machines is that they never receive return phone calls. They get pulled into the big blender of cases and then they can’t reach anyone to answer their calls.
If only paralegals return your calls, it’s a good sign that the attorney has no idea who you are.
Now, since these attorneys are so overworked, they rely heavily on case managers who are usually paralegals. While paralegals are fantastic supports to attorneys, they are not attorneys. If an attorney is not 100% in charge of your case then, trust me, you will not receive the representation you need. If only paralegals return your calls, it’s a good sign that the attorney has no idea who you are.
OK, so let’s say you sign up with the big firm. I would have two significant concerns if I were you:
Your case will be one of literally thousands that the firm is managing. As you can imagine, lots of details can get lost in the shuffle of so many cases. Steps are forgotten, records aren’t requested, dates are missed. I hear about errors all the time! And these errors can add up to big losses (of time and money) for victims.
Second, and more worrisome to me, is that these firms are so quick to settle that they tell their clients to stop receiving medical treatment! They take a look at your case, compare it to the hundreds of other cases that they think are like yours, and they make a snap decision on what kind of settlement they can get you. Your case is not unique to them. Your injuries are not unique to them. Your future (which may include medical treatments that they don’t understand yet) are not a concern to them. If they haven’t taken the time to get to know you, your prior health condition, your injuries and the prognosis for your future, they have no idea how much you may need to cover all of your medical bills resulting from the accident. They will simply settle so that they can get the income from your case onto their books.
If you see a firm on television, on a bus and on billboards, rest assured that they are spending millions per year on advertising.
A good personal injury attorney should do exactly the opposite. Did you know that good personal injury attorneys know how to help you postpone bill payments based on the types of insurance involved? For example, when it appears that the at-fault driver has adequate insurance coverage, your attorney can recommend that you receive treatment through a medical lien company. These companies function much like a healthcare PPO in which you are provided with a network of doctors and healthcare professionals that will administer the treatment that you need. When you receive care in this fashion, the medical lien company pays for all of your medical bills up-front and then creates a lien on the final settlement from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This step may help to protect your credit as it also saves you the time and frustration of dealing with a hospital’s billing department.
Let me tell you about the numbers game that these big firms play. Let’s say a firm has 4,000 cases and, like most personal injury firms, they are not getting paid until a case settles. So, while they are managing all these cases, they are positively hemorrhaging money! This leads to what I call “settlement waves.” In order to bring in the cash they need to keep their firm afloat, they suddenly decide to settle a large number of cases. Your case may be caught up in a wave and you may never know if you could have gotten more for your losses and injuries. They just needed the money out of your settlement to keep the machine moving forward.
For example, we had a recent client who came to us from one of those personal injury firms. They were encouraging her to settle and she was not comfortable with their recommendation and fired the firm. Then she hired us and we thought there might be more to her case than she had been led to understand. We hired some outside experts to analyze the accident and her medical condition. In the end, we got her more than she was being offered by the prior firm.
Despite what they tell you on television, most of their cases settle for $10,000 or less, so they are not earning millions for their clients on every case.
I would be remiss if I didn’t spell out clearly how much these personal injury firms are also spending on marketing. If you see a firm on television, on a bus and on billboards, rest assured that they are spending millions per year on advertising. That means, they need to be bringing in at least three times their advertising budget from their cases in order to stay in the black. Despite what they tell you on television, most of their cases settle for $10,000 or less, so they are not earning millions for their clients on every case. They are churning lots and lots of cases through the system to hit their goals.
So, that brings us back to the attorneys who have to sign new cases every month despite their overwhelming work load. The constant flow of new cases is positively critical to their business model.
Do you want an attorney who has chosen a path that enables him or her to dedicate personal time to your case? Or do you want an attorney/firm that sees your case as grease in the cogs of their machine?
You should hire an attorney who still sees the practice of law as a vocation, a calling to serve. Someone who wants to do his or her best on your behalf. And you deserve that! Your accident and injuries are likely the biggest challenges that you and your family have faced. Why put yourself in the care of a firm that sees you as just another case?
If you have any questions about your case, please contact me today!