Through the years, we have handled many Alabama personal injury claims where the client initially hired another lawyer. Many of the lawyers smiling from billboards and television will NOT work on their cases. Many of these advertising lawyers will NOT go to trial. So, it’s not unusual for people to hire a billboard lawyer and later need another attorney. Many of the dedicated trial lawyers I know will tell you the same thing — They frequently review cases mishandled by billboard lawyers.
We recently reviewed a workers’ compensation case in Athens where the injured person started with one of these advertising lawyers. She hired the lawyers. When they realized her case might require some actual courtroom work, they let her go. I guess I should more accurately say they tried to talk her into settling for peanuts then let her go when she refused. We reviewed her file. When we looked at her contingent fee contract with these billboard lawyers, we saw that it contained a $500 administrative fee. What? That’s outrageous.
Why were these billboard lawyers charging an administrative fee? The contract did not say. The truth — It was simply another way to gouge their client without giving good service. Do you really think the firm was going to incur $500 of telephone and postage costs in a local work comp case? Maybe they were trying to recoup the costs of their billboards? Regardless, they were already charging the customary contingency fee for handling these cases.
Cases are personal. Lawyers should meet with their clients. Lawyers should work hard to understand their clients’ stories. Lawyers should work for the benefit of their clients. Always! Let me say that again — Lawyers should ALWAYS work for the benefit of their clients. What are some of the ridiculous and unjust contract terms many television and billboard lawyers sneak into client contracts? Here are four:
The $500 administrative fee I mentioned was simply an unjust way to gouge an innocent person. It was wrong. It was the largest one I’ve seen. But, it was not the only fake “administrative fee” I’ve seen in contingency contracts. Many television and billboard lawyers have some artificial fee number in their contracts.
It’s similar to the ridiculous fees you see when buying a car. You go to the car lot. You see a car you like. You agree to buy it for a certain price. Then, when you get the paperwork you discover you are being charged additional fees for “document preparation,” “car storage” or some other ridiculous items. Before you say anything, I’m not writing to criticize all car salesmen. I’m just noting the absurdity of the additional fees charged by some.
As a profession, we should be better than fake fees to gouge clients. For many years, I was a partner in another law firm. Years ago, one of my prior partners added an administrative fee to the client contracts without telling the rest of us. It was wrong. I told him so and removed it.
If you are looking for a personal injury lawyer, be aware of the expenses and costs in your case. Personal injury lawyers typically advance the costs in cases. That’s fine. If your case is successful, you will have to reimburse those costs from your settlement. Again, that’s OK. That’s typical. You are not being asked for up-front money. And, you are not incurring any costs if you lose the case. In other words, you pay nothing if you lose.
But, you should still be careful. In every single case, the lawyer should carefully and wisely spend money. In every single case, the lawyer owes you a full accounting of all costs. We go through every detail of costs with our clients and provide a full accounting. It’s the right thing to do. We believe in working hand-in-hand with clients to let them know what we are doing and what we are spending on their case.
Fees To Reduce Lien / Subrogation Claims
What do I mean? Let’s say you have a car accident. You go to the emergency room. Then, you require additional medical care. For most people some health program or health insurer pays the bills. Blue Cross, Medicare, Medicaid, or Tricare, are all big ones around here. Those payers have certain rights to reimbursement if you recover a settlement in your personal injury claim. They pay medical expenses regardless of any case. But, if you make a recovery, then they have rights to the funds as well. You can expect them to assert their rights.
I’ve written on this topic frequently. A skilled lawyer can really help you get more money by negotiating down these reimbursement claims. It’s simple — If you have to pay less money out of your settlement, you get to keep more in the end. We work hard in every case to negotiate or defeat these reimbursement claims so we can put a lot more money in our clients’ pockets.
With many billboard and television lawyers, you run into two problems. First, many of these settlement mill lawyers refuse to do the extra work necessary to negotiate these liens. And, negotiating or fighting liens sometimes takes work! These lawyers settled your case. They are going to get their contingency fee. They do not want to perform any extra work to help you save money. It’s simply laziness and greed. It’s wrong but it’s the way many of them operate. Second, when these settlement mill lawyers do negotiate down a lien, they sometimes try to charge extra money for it. They double dip at your expense. That’s very wrong. And, it is unethical.
When you hire a lawyer, talk about these issues. Will the lawyer fight to reduce any subrogation or reimbursement claims? Will the lawyer work to put as much money in your pocket as possible? Will the lawyer work the case without wrongfully billing you additional charges?
Clauses Giving The Lawyer Settlement Authority
It’s your case. You are the one hurt. You are the one facing bills, pain, job loss and disability. Your lawyer should discuss all offers with you. You should ultimately decide whether or not to settle the case.
Of course, your lawyer should advise you. Of course, you should listen. If you hired a skilled lawyer with real experience in court, his or her advice is crucial. You should listen to your lawyer.
It’s still your case. You still make the final decision. I’ll be the first to tell you good lawyers can disagree on the merits and values of cases. If you’ve listened to your lawyer and disagree, get a second opinion. But, don’t hire a lawyer and give him or her your right to resolve the case.
Clauses Limiting Representation To Pre-Trial Work
When I learned these clauses existed, I was shocked. Completely shocked! A lawyer who advertises himself as a car accident lawyer actually signs clients to contracts with clauses saying he won’t file the case and go to court! Is that true? Yes, one local Huntsville lawyer actually used these clauses in the past. I guess I should not be surprised since he advertised quick settlements. I’ve certainly never seen the guy at the courthouse.
What are you getting with a lawyer who actually makes you agree to resolve the case outside court? When the insurance adjusters see his letters, they probably laugh. The best cases require work. The best cases require a lawyer who will try to resolve the issues but is willing to go to court if needed.
If you suffered a serious personal injury and need a lawyer, do your research. When you make appointments, make sure you are meeting with the actual lawyer (not an investigator). Ask questions. Read the contracts. It’s your case. It’s extremely important.