08 Feb Why You Can’t Trust Attorney Advertisements
Most advertisements for personal injury lawyers say the exact same thing. “We are aggressive, we get results, we have X years of experience, consultations are free.” But if every lawyer says the same stuff in their advertisements, how do you know which lawyer is good?
What does it mean for a lawyer to be experienced?
It is not the number of years a lawyer practices that makes them experienced. Rather, it is the time devoted to a single area of practice. Robert Bourne has been exclusively practicing personal injury and workers compensation law for plaintiffs since 1990. Beware that not every lawyer exclusively practices personal injury cases.
Practicing law for 20 years does not mean that you have 20 years of experience. Some lawyers practice law for 20 years, but only have one year of experience 20 times over. It is shocking how many lawyers advertise themselves as personal injury lawyers, but don’t exclusively practice personal injury law. They might practice personal injury law, and at the same time do criminal defense and draft wills. If a lawyer practices DUI defense for 20 years and then starts to try personal injury cases tomorrow, does that mean that they are experienced? And, some lawyers might say they have experience, but have only handled small whiplash cases. Does that make them prepared to handle a traumatic brain injury or wrongful death? You want to find a lawyer who has experience handling cases similar to your own.
Also, if you look at the testimonials on some lawyer websites, they are so vaguely worded that you can’t even tell if the client was injured on the job or needed a will drafted. Pay special attention to the testimonials on a lawyer’s website. Make sure that they are from personal injury clients.
So what if a lawyer is “aggressive”?
It seems every personal injury lawyer is “aggressive”. However, it isn’t clear what that term actually means. If aggressive means raising your voice because you haven’t done the legal research and work necessary to win the case, then that is not our firm. If aggressive means being willing to take on the insurance companies and large corporations at trial, then we are tremendously aggressive. Lawyers who say they are aggressive are playing on the TV stereotype of lawyers. What you really need is a lawyer that is smart, dedicated, and skilled. You need a lawyer who has the experience and knowledge to use the correct tactics in the correct circumstances. That kind of knowledge is only gained through years of experience actually trying personal injury cases.
A lawyer who throws a roundhouse punch in every round is likely to hurt your case. For example, we have seen lawyers argue that everything the other side says is ”an utter fallacy” or “a logical absurdity.” Judges quickly grow tired of exaggerated arguments, because they know that every issue is not black and white. If a lawyer exaggerates their case in front of a judge, they will quickly lose credibility. The judge will believe that all of their arguments are exaggerated, and will intuitively adjust for the lawyer’s overstatement. A lawyer’s credibility before a judge and jury is the most valuable tool in their toolbox. And, once lost, it can be nearly impossible to get back.
Make sure you know who will be working your case…
Some lawyers who advertise don’t actually practice law! They are only the “face” of the law firm. They will give your case to an associate who will handle it for them and that lawyer will never get involved. When you hire a lawyer, ask if the person on their advertisement is the actual lawyer who will work the case. You might be shocked to learn the answer. Some law firms even have paralegals handle all of their client contact. That means when you call your lawyer you will only get to talk to a paralegal.
Ask how you will stay in contact with your lawyer. One of the biggest complaints we hear from personal injury clients is that they can’t get their lawyers on the phone. When the client calls their attorney, they only are able to talk to paralegals. When they ask to speak to the lawyer, they are told that the lawyer is busy. The client may ask for their lawyer to call them back but they never do. We consider this to be a shameful practice. When you hire a lawyer, ask how you will be able to get in contact with the attorney. Will they give you the attorney’s personal email? Will they give you the attorney’s cell phone number? And how long does it take them to return your phone calls?
We believe that being a good lawyer is more than working the case. A good lawyer is also a good counselor who keeps their client informed. We keep our clients updated on their case even if nothing is happening at the moment. Some lawyers derogatorily refer to this as “handholding.” When you call us, you speak to your lawyer, not a paralegal. We aren’t just a law firm; we are a small business. As a small business, we strive to keep our clients happy. Our number one source of clients is still word of mouth. We rely on satisfied former clients to refer us their friends and family.
If they don’t win its free. But how much is it they do win?
Virtually all personal injury and workers compensation lawyers will tell you that consultations are free and that you don’t pay anything unless you win. That’s great, but it’s nothing special. In accident cases, lawyers charge what is called a “contingency fee”. In other words, the fee earned by the lawyer depends on the outcome of the case. Contingency fees are helpful to clients who don’t have money to pay a lawyer up front. For workers compensation claims, the fee is set by law at 25 percent. In personal injury cases, the fee usually varies from 20 percent to 40 percent, but it can go higher or lower.
The difference between 20 percent and 40 percent can mean a lot of money out of your settlement! So why is there such a big gap? There are multiple reasons that the fee can vary by such a wide margin. If the case is complicated or risky, then the fee will usually be higher. A higher fee might be necessary for a lawyer to take on the risk. Generally speaking, a 40 percent fee will only be charged in cases that are complicated and need to be heavily litigated. But also, different lawyers have different fees. If you are quoted a higher fee, it might be because the lawyer has a higher level of expertise in his field, or it might be that they just charge more.
You need to be careful before you sign any contract with a lawyer. Pay special attention to the fee percentage. Don’t be afraid to ask them to explain their fee. It should be written in plain english. The lawyer should explain to you why they charge what they do. You don’t want to be charged 40 percent of your settlement for a simple case that settles quickly. Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel comfortable then walk away.