You have been hurt in a wreck or had an accident that someone else caused. You are hurting and worrying about your future. You realize a lawyer may help and since talking to one is free, who should you call?
There are tons of ads for personal injury firms on TV, billboards, YouTube, Facebook, and radio. But do you really want a mega-firm like they claim? The lawyers on the ads seem like nice people, but the chances that the top lawyer in a mega-firm will be assigned to your case are slim to none.
The largest firm in America recently started advertising that “size matters” trying to claim it is a good thing they are literally the largest personal injury firm in the country. But is it? Does size matter when it comes to personal injury, wrongful death or insurance law firms?
The drawbacks of using a large law firm
- You will be assigned an attorney out of hundreds in a huge plaintiff-mill firm. Some are worse than others.
- You will rarely, if ever, get to speak to the attorney assigned to your case at a huge plaintiff mill firm.
- Your attorney will not be doing hardly any of the work. They claim they are overseeing everything, but are they really?
- There may be literally thousands of non-lawyer employees working your cases starting with the “intake” people who take incoming calls and talk to you up front. They are just people who have one job; get you signed up so you want talk to another firm. Once you are signed up, other lawyers are not allowed to give you legal advice so your choices may narrow.
- Most clients at those gigantic injury mills — firms never realize that their lawyer never even touched their case. The people who own and run the huge law firms realize that non-lawyers are cheaper than having actual litigation attorneys having a hand in each portion of the case, so there may be only one lawyer for many staff who are learning as they go.
The huge advertisers give off benefits by drawing analogies to surgeons who have helpers but is that analogy accurate? When you first go to a surgeon’s office you probably meet with the surgeon. The surgeon reads your medical records and talks to you. Will you get to meet with that lawyer up front and have him/her review your file, your background, your witnesses, and personally see to it that everything is getting done?
Are small firms the best option?
There are a lot of personal injury attorneys that go out on their own, starting what is called a “solo practice.” Some try it right out of law school with little or no experience. Others do another kind of law where solo practitioners are common like tax or estates, but then try to take personal injury cases on the side, seeing if they can make extra money on it. There are drawbacks to this option for the clients as well. First of all, if personal injury has not been that attorney’s focus, they will probably not know all the nuances that make dramatic differences in the outcome of their cases. They probably do not have a reputation with the personal injury adjusters, injury insurance companies, our judges or the common defense attorneys. Just as importantly, they have probably never tried a personal injury case which are very different than another type of law. So why not get a board-certified expert in personal injury for your case?
As far as finances go there may very well be issues that could come up in a solo or very small firm. We read about this in the Bar Journals where attorneys run short on money and break rules trying to make ends meet. I will put it like this; our typical trial costs between $20,000 to $100,000 that we have to advance. That money is needed to pay for experts and to pay the client’s doctors and surgeons to testify at trial. Also, because personal injury claims and cases sometimes drag out for long periods (sometimes years) there are often lean months where a solo practitioner will be short on income. If they do not have the reserves to carry them through lean months, they will have a lot of pressure to push their clients into settling, even if the offer on the table is a poor one. That is unethical, but it happens.
At Herman & Wells, we get phone calls from upset clients of both super large firms that are unhappy that they never get to talk to their lawyer as well as the super small firms where their lawyer is clearly over their heads. We are heartbroken when we hear stories of a great case and their current attorney is trying to get them to take what we consider a bad offer.
What firm size is right?
There is no “correct” size. A firm cannot be judged solely by its size. The individual attorney is what matters the most. As long as a talented, experienced personal injury attorney has the money to go to trial on all of his/her cases and has a track record of doing that, they will perform better than an attorney who does not have the experience, drive, and talent to succeed in the same situation.
Mega firms may have some good attorneys hidden in their stables, and, if you are lucky enough to be assigned to one of their better ones, you could get a good result on your case. Also, there are some really talented personal injury attorneys who are solo practitioners.
What should you look for in a law firm?
- Feel free to get a resume of the attorney who will be managing your case!
- Make sure the lawyer you hire is a board-certified civil trial attorney who is an expert in personal injury and wrongful death exclusively.
- Make sure that you get to talk to the attorney that will be helping with your case BEFORE you sign up.
- Make sure that you are able to speak to your attorney at reasonable intervals for updates. This does not mean to call them every day, which will be counter-productive. Once your case is going on you don’t even need to speak to them every week, but you should be able to call and if they cannot be reached, you can make appointments to speak with YOUR lawyer from time to time.
- Make sure that your lawyer has a track record of going to trial and winning! Many go to trial but lose 2/3rds of their cases. They will get some credit with the insurance carrier for going, but some are simply more talented at trial, and that is who you are looking for. Ask the lawyer for some names of his last 5 trials. They are public record. If they do not give them to you, they probably do not exist.