There is a lawyer in Chicago that likes to brag about his success. He is a great marketer and so when people see a statement that says he’s recovered compensation on 98% of his cases, it makes him seem like a real go getter and fighter. I’ve dealt with this guy many times over the years and find him to be lazy, provide terrible service and churn through associates. This is certainly not an opinion shared just by me as I’ve talked to many other attorneys that feel the same way and often get called by his clients asking if I know someone that would take over their case. When you hear the same complaints over and over you know that there is something wrong.
He technically probably does get compensation on 98% of his cases. But that figure would include numerous times when he settles for what is called nuisance value. In other words, an insurance company will pay $500 to make a bad case go away because it’s cheaper to do that than keep fighting. So that’s not really a win, but it can be promoted as one.
Other attorneys in town will send out big press releases when they settle a case for a million dollars and that certainly is a lot of money. But what would you think if they settled a case for 1 million when the case is really worth 5 million. You of course would have no way to know that when reading about that result on a law firm website or in the paper. But if you look deeper you’ll find in some cases that a person in the exact same situation got a lot more money. For example, imagine two teenage girls are sitting at a stop light when they get rear-ended by a drunk driver and killed. Each family gets their own lawyer. You’d expect that each family would end up with the same amount, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it’s because one family just wants to move on quickly, but other times the difference really comes down to whether or not a law firm wants to do all that they need to in order to be successful.
In general, being a lawyer is easy and you can have great success without working hard as long as long as you get good clients. There are a lot of attorneys who will gladly resolve a case for 80% of what they could get with a little hard work because that extra 20% is exhausting. Taking depositions, site investigations, actually going to trial, etc. takes time. It might be best for the client do those things, but many attorneys do what’s best for the lawyer.
The point is that you really need to do your homework before making a decision. Ask how many cases the lawyer has tried in the last year. It’s often an indication as to how hard they work. That doesn’t mean that a lawyer should never settle, but some cases just need to go to trial. How quickly do they return phone calls? If they list ten cases on their website that settled for between 1 and 2 million, don’t be afraid to ask why none of those cases went for a higher amount. Find out their vacation plans for the next six months and who will handle your case while they are gone. Will a partner handle everything day to day or a young associate.
You don’t want to be a pain in the ass, but you do want to perform your due diligence. If they are going to tell you how great they are, you have a right to make sure it’s true.
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