Clash of Philosophy on Attracting and Satisfying Clients in Personal Injury Law
Justine Thompson is mad. And she has good reason to be. Her lawyers settled her case, took $13,000 in legal fees and expenses, re-paid the state for some of her medical expenses and mailed her a check for $6.60. Tragic. The newspaper reports that Justine has sued Cellino & Barnes for legal malpractice. Her new lawyers (Burks and Williams) claim this is more than just an example of a woman whose case was mishandled, they say, this is a clash of philosophy on how to attract and satisfy clients in the controversial field of personal injury law. It pits personal injury lawyers like Burke and Williams, who traditionally got their cases from referrals by other lawyers, against law firms like The Barnes Firm, which attract thousands of clients by spending millions of dollars in ads. Barnes and Williams claim that the Barnes law firm has too many cases and settles them instead of taking them to a jury in order to get the fair value. They claim Thompson’s case was worth $400,000 to $500,000, not the $35,000 it settled for the morning of trial. They also claim Barnes never intending to try the case and wasn’t prepared to do so. The further allege that Barnes told Thompson that if she didn’t settle, and they lost the trial, she would be responsible for $18,000 in court costs and could lose her house. This simply confirms one of the arguments that many personal injury lawyers make. The firms that advertise heavily on television are not the type of firms that maximize the value of a case. They handle too many of them. According to the article, Barnes once bragged to other attorneys he settled 176 cases in 2006, or 3 a week. There is no way that a single attorney can competently handle 176 personal injury cases every year and do the work necessary to maximize their value. As I’ve said before, insurance companies know which attorneys are willing to try cases, and they know which ones are just looking for a quick and easy check. The former is always better than the latter. You should never hire a lawyer or law firm simply because they have a lot of television ads and say they’ll get you “big” money or provide “big” service. The chances are slim you’ll get either.