I will occasionally review past posts to my blog. I always find it interesting how legal issues develop over time after writing a post. I also find it interesting to see which posts have generated the most views and feedback. The results are often different than I expected.
Almost 3 years ago, I wrote a post on the potential problems of confidentiality clauses in settlement documents. When I wrote the post, I did not think it would be widely viewed. After all, the topic of settlement agreements sounds a little boring. In addition, the post certainly did not involve any issues in the news at the time. Yet, that post has generated a huge number of views. It has been read and copied many times.
As I read the post again today, I began to reflect on several larger issues where I believe that our profession of trial lawyers fails its clients. These failures are especially true in the area of personal injury cases.
To a large degree, I believe some lawyers have forgotten that we are professionals. In Huntsville, and other areas throughout the state, we now have lawyers with catchy slogans advertising how fast they can get you a check. These lawyers are all over billboards and television. They are rarely (never) where a trial lawyer should be — a courtroom. I suspect most of them would have an immediate heart attack if forced to enter a real courtroom. Ask a local lawyer who does go to court if he or she has ever seen these slick TV lawyers around the courthouse and you will get a clear NO.
Where do personal injury attorneys, in particular, often fail their clients:
- THEY DON’T PREPARE THEIR CASES FOR TRIAL — This is probably the biggest failure among attorneys who advertise themselves as personal injury attorneys. We are fortunate to have many good personal injury attorneys in our local community. Those good ones take their cases seriously. They don’t view cases as quickie settlements. They view cases as real problems suffered by real people. These real clients deserve your best. Of course, most cases settle before going to trial. However, the best results, whether by trial or settlement, usually come when an attorney consistently prepares every case for trial. If you don’t believe me, then an article in Forbes discussing how much insurance companies love settlement mills because serious cases are resolved at a discount to their full value may open your eyes.
- THEY DON’T PROVIDE FULL REPRESENTATION — Sometimes, people suffer injuries in situations that don’t fit the cookie cutter mold. What do I mean? I know lawyers who say they handle only personal injuries in car accidents or who say they handle only workers’ compensation injuries. What about the person who is hurt in a car accident while on the job. That situation involves both a typical personal injury claim and a workers’ compensation claim. If an attorney tells you they are only going to handle one part of the complete claim from the accident, then you are probably not getting the best service.
- THEY DON’T PROTECT THEIR CLIENTS AT THE END OF THE CASE — My prior post on confidentiality clauses touches on legal issues at the end of a case. It reminds me of the old saying – "The devil is in the details." I think some attorneys conclude a case and fail to tie up the loose ends. But, settlement language and issues can create whole new problems for your client. In personal injury cases, the plaintiff often had health insurance that paid part of their medical bills. That health insurer or plan may have a lien, that is a legal right to reimbursement out of your recovery. A good personal injury attorney should consider and deal with the health insurer in order to save the client money. Also, some settlement papers create additional obligations on an injured party such as requirements to pay people and requirements to maintain confidentiality. These are important details that can haunt you later if not handled well. Unfortunately, too many attorneys fail to address them.
I certainly don’t intend to be negative. I enjoy helping clients. Most of the attorneys that I know feel the same way. The problem is that a few attorneys who neglect the details of their clients and cases, harm the reputations of all the rest.