July 07, 2012 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney who handles these types of cases to learn your rights and obligations. But in the days immediately following the accident — depending upon just how bad it was and how your life has been disrupted — there may be pressure to quickly hire an attorney.
That could be a costly mistake.
For anyone who has not gone through this experience before, it is a time “when the tons of money we spend on advertising — and the ‘fight for our clients’ image — really pays off. Our clients think they hired a law firm that will do battle with insurance companies to get the highest settlement possible.
“But it isn’t anything like that. We are afraid of any case that has even a small chance of having to go to court. So, we don’t let them go that far, even if a suit is in the client’s best interest. We just care about a quick settlement and our fee. Insurance companies love us, because we settle quickly — too quickly — and for much less than most cases are worth.
“In fact, our clients pay us the same percentage as they would have paid a competent, reputable attorney who would get them much more money,” You and the Law was told by “Jake,” an attorney who works for a law firm whose ads appear throughout California on TV, in phone books and online.
He spoke on the condition of not revealing his true name or the firm he works for. “I am trying to find a real job practicing law, but the market is awful now, so I’m stuck here for the time being,” he told us with a sense of regret in his voice.
Known as settlement mills
“Jake’s honesty is remarkable. He gave you an accurate description of a settlement mill. which is a law practice where the lawyers make money hand over fist, but individual clients do poorly,” Lawyer X, from Florida, told us, after we promised to keep his name confidential, and not because he’s done anything to be ashamed of — in fact, just the opposite.
“X” has been in practice for more than 15 years handling personal injury, disability and civil rights cases and writes a blog called “I Do Not Want to be Your Lawyer,” with the sub-title, “Free Legal Advice From A Lawyer (Who Does Not Want to be Your Lawyer).”
“While I answer questions submitted to the blog, I’d be on the phone all day and never be able to get any work done if my real name and phone number was available,” he told us. His blog is one of the most useful sources of information for accident victims that we have ever come across.
At the beginning, everything seems normal
“You likely will not know that you are dealing with one at first,” Lawyer X states. “You’ll see a nice ad in the phone book, online, or on a bus stop bench, call for an appointment, and they’ll come out to you or you meet at their office. So, at the beginning, everything seems on the up and up.
“But then, later, odd things happen. The biggest red flag is that you usually will never meet with the attorney at the initial interview or signing of the retainer. But there are lots of little things which later give clear evidence that you have not hired a normal law firm.”
l Phone calls are never returned by the lawyer. While lawyers are sometimes not able to promptly return a call, it is unheard of in a legitimate law firm for the lawyer to never actually speak with the client. You have that legal right, and the lawyer has the obligation to speak with clients.
l Not waiting until you are at maximim medical improvement before settling your case. In other words, rushing settlement. MMI is the point at which your providers can accurately evaluate your current and future medical needs and costs.
* Your lawyer refuses to give you a value range for your case. This is critical and should cause you to worry, big time.
* Why would a lawyer not give a client a settlement range?” we asked.
* Because that would make it more difficult to settle with the insurance company if the company didn’t meet that range. The one goal of a settlement mill is to get whatever they can from the insurance company and then tell you they did even better than what your case was worth!
There are two important questions you can ask which will can help prevent you from being “ground up” in a settlement mill, and that’s our subject next time.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.