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Millions Recovered! What Does That Mean???

I was driving down Memorial Parkway in Huntsville when I saw it. Right there, in bright lights. The electronic billboard flashing just two words — “Millions Recovered.” It stood outside the office of some local criminal defense lawyers. DUI lawyers.

Curious, I later looked at the DUI law firm’s website. Yes, they now have a Personal Injury page on their website. But, the “fine print” tells the truth. You have to scroll a long way to get to that truth. If you scroll down far enough (that’s by design since most people do not), you see it. You see the “Disclaimer” which states, “cases of this type are referred to other attorneys….” Is that firm really signing injury claims just to refer them? Are they really signing cases when they have no intent to handle them directly? C’mon! Is this the new world of legal advertising? Don’t our friends and neighbors deserve a little better?

Now it all makes sense. Yes, that firm does handle DUI defense cases. However, the court rules, the procedures, the issues, the stories, the biases, and almost the entire process, is far different when you compare civil cases versus criminal cases. Very different.

That fine print referral language explains why I’ve never seen these lawyers when I’m in court on a civil case docket. It explains why I’ve never seen their names on any docket sheet where my injury cases appeared. Do they really handle personal injury claims? By “handle,” I mean do they prepare and argue personal injury cases in court when needed? Or, do they simply sign and refer injured clients (like their fine print admits) for a quick fee?

I’m not writing simply to criticize all referrals. I just believe there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. If you know a trusted lawyer, you should definitely talk to him or her about your personal injury claim. Whether that lawyer handles real estate, family law, criminal law, or some other entirely different legal issue, a trusted friend can help direct you to a dedicated and experienced personal injury lawyer. My problem is this — Lawyers advertising for a type of case they really don’t handle. Obviously, the Alabama Bar Association has permitted this type of advertising. But, that doesn’t change the way I feel about it. I certainly won’t do it. I think it is harmful and misleading to vulnerable people who need good legal advice.

In prior posts, I described several ways that advertising for cases you really don’t handle is harmful to people. From bad initial advice, to letting key evidence disappear, to mishandling claims adjusters, to missing deadlines, to referring people to the wrong attorneys, a firm that really does not handle personal injury cases at trial should not be advertising for them.

In the modern world of lawyer advertising, legal consumers are bombarded with confusing and misleading messages. Attorneys smile from television and promise they will get you quick results, fast cash, or handle all your problems. “Trust us.” “Call me.” “We got this.” “Need a check.” You’ve heard them all. It can be very difficult to make the best informed decision. In Huntsville, we’ve had settlement mill lawyers on television in capes and cartoon-looking graphics. We currently have firms advertising for cases they don’t handle in court. We currently have firms advertising they are local when they are not. If you’ve suffered a serious personal injury, your case is far too important to trust to chance.

If you are looking for a dedicated and experienced personal injury lawyer, ask some questions. In prior posts, I’ve provided a number of questions you should ask prospective lawyers before hiring them. Here are a few questions you should ask that advertising lawyer who claims to handle personal injury cases:

  1. Has the lawyer really been to trial in a PERSONAL INJURY case? Don’t limit your question simply to trial. Divorce lawyers go to trial in domestic cases. Criminal lawyers go to trial in criminal cases. If you ask the question simply about trials in general, you may get a misleading answer. Civil cases, criminal cases and domestic cases, are all governed by very different laws, very different rules and very different procedures. The legal issues, client stories, and case goals, are also very different. Ask specifically about personal injury cases. If the lawyer tells you he or she has handled a personal injury case in trial, dig a little deeper. Was it a one-time thing? Was it years ago? Was it simply a situation of the lawyer sitting at the table in court while someone else really handled the case? Or, is their experience constant, real and recent? Do they prepare personal injury cases on a daily basis? You need a dedicated personal injury lawyer to put your case in the best possible position for you.
  2. Does the lawyer really have real experience developing the issues important to PERSONAL INJURY claims? Your personal injury lawyer needs experience handling key experts, developing key medical information, and understanding key damages. If you want your claim to be handled correctly, this is very important.
  3. Will the lawyer really stay involved in all PERSONAL INJURY cases? This is key. By involved, I mean more than simply keeping their name on the paperwork. You have to dig a little deeper. By involvement, will the lawyer be researching the legal issues, dealing with the medical evidence, handling expert witnesses, taking depositions, and really participating in preparation? You deserve the benefit of the lawyer you hired.

Some people may call it old-fashioned in today’s world of slick advertising. But, I don’t believe businesses should advertise for products or services unless they are really dedicated and focused on providing those specific products. As consumers, most of us have had the experience of buying something different than what we thought we were getting. It’s so disappointing. It’s so costly.

In the legal field, sometimes people only learn of the damage to their case after it’s too late to fix. Over the years, we’ve received hundreds of calls from people who hired a settlement mill lawyer or soliciting lawyer only to have their case ruined (or severely decreased in value) beyond repair. I’ve heard horror stories from other local personal injury lawyers who have also received these calls. If you see a lawyer advertisement, look beyond the surface. Ask questions. Make sure you get a lawyer dedicated to the legal issue at hand. Make sure you get one who will really stay involved in the work of your case from start to finish.

At the Blackwell Law Firm, we are personal injury lawyers. That’s our only focus. Why is that sole focus so important to us? We focus on one area of the law so we can constantly study, constantly work and constantly practice within the rules, procedures and claims, for those cases. If you want to be really good at anything, you need to devote your time to it. We believe our clients deserve that dedication and focus.