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Settlement Mills And The Lost Art of Advocacy

After spending the last few days in trial, I found the recent entry of Philip Thomas on his blog concerning settlement mills very timely and interesting. Philip provides a detailed discussion of a research article on this issue by Stanford Law Professor Nora Engstrom. Before I add my comments, I should first compliment attorney Jennifer McKown on a job well done in a car accident trial this week. We approach trials as teams of lawyers. Jennifer served as lead on this one. As usual, she appeared at trial fully prepared and ready. I had a fun time helping!

I would encourage anyone interested in law practices to read Philip’s blog post as well as the research upon which it is based. What is a settlement mill law firm? Generally, these are law firms that advertise on television, take a high volume of cases, do very little to develop or prepare their cases, and then settle as quickly as possible. These “settlement mill” law firms are NOT serving the best interest of individual clients. Instead, they are focused on quick settlements that enrich the billboard lawyer (and sometimes his chiropractor) at the expense of injured clients. That’s wrong.

When I travel to larger cities, I am confronted with more settlement mill firms. But, they are present practically everywhere. In Alabama, you see their commercials on television. You see their billboards along our highways. These settlement mill lawyers sometimes employ well known actors to make claims of great success. Most of them use a catchy jingle that sticks in your mind. In one local advertisement, a well-known celebrity implies “the firm” will get you maximum results. However, with a little background work, you can discover that “the firm” is really one attorney working from an office many hours away. Many of these mass-advertising law firms employ lawyers in far away states. They don’t tell you that their lawyer cannot and will not appear in an Alabama courtroom. Their goal is to gather any medical records and make a quick deal (usually far too low) with the insurance adjuster.

On a personal level, I frequently receive calls from injured individuals who hired one of these volume lawyer mills. The injured person now has a bad problem. What are some of the common problems created by settlement mill lawyers? In some cases, the settlement mill could not get the claim settled and simply dropped the case right before the statute of limitations. They had no intention of filing the case and now the injured person is frantically searching for a real trial lawyer at the last minute. Other times, the injured person settled their case below its value at the recommendation of the firm and now regrets that decision. In some of these settlements, the injured person discovers that much of their money is now going to pay the lawyer’s chosen chiropractor or clinic. In other words, they settled low and then paid others too much. On some occasions, the injured person hired the settlement mill firm and then could never speak with an actual attorney (or anyone at all familiar with their case).

What should you look for in an attorney? Look for an attorney who will actually go to trial. Look for an attorney who will actually prepare the case. A good attorney rarely needs paid celebrities or catchy jingles to market his professional services. A true trial attorney is often very selective in screening what cases he or she accepts. Then, once accepted, that attorney prepares the case as if it will go to trial. If you suffered a serious personal injury, you deserve better than a television or billboard lawyer begging for the case. Take your time and find the right lawyer.