Attorney advertising is everywhere--in the phone book, on the internet, in magazines, on television, and in every other type of media imaginable. Personal injury attorneys obviously account for most legal advertising. In fact, personal injury attorneys probably account for more popular media advertisements than all other types of lawyers combined. In an odd twist, however, most good personal injury lawyers (the ones with lots of trial experience and good reputations among the bar and with judges) have little need for expensive advertising. They don't need to advertise, because clients are referred to them. On the other hand, lawyers with limited trial skills who advertise heavily and give the impression that they are experienced saddle the legal profession with a bad name.
They are the ambulance chasers. The main problem with personal injury attorney advertising is that it is too powerful, which is not a new idea. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that attorney advertising can be so powerful as to warrant restrictions on its use, despite free speech guarantees in the federal Constitution. Indeed, every state bar association of which this author is aware places restrictions on attorney advertising to curtail its persuasive effect. But the fact that so many injured people continue to hire advertising attorneys is evidence that restrictions on advertisements are not working. Courts and bar associations are unlikely to place additional restrictions on advertising attorneys, so what else can be done? This article attempts to do two things: (1) expose advertising attorneys and the personal injury industry and (2) educate the general public on how to find ethical, experienced, talented, and proven trial attorneys.
But exposure of the industry and educational materials will be valuable only to the extent that they are not "drowned out" by the work of advertising attorneys. The point of this article is to provide much needed information to injured people in need of excellent legal representation--people who almost always miss the ramifications of hiring attorneys who are heavily advertised. When attorneys advertise on television, in the Yellow Pages, or in other mediums, they incur high overhead expenses. In addition to high marketing expenses, advertising attorneys hire additional employees to answer phones, screen potential clients, conduct intakes (or "free consultations"), gather client records, and manage a large number of cases.
As a result, advertising attorneys are under tremendous pressure to generate cash for payroll and advertising expenses. The pressure to generate cash flow forces advertising attorneys to settle cases quickly. These lawyers are reluctant to take cases to trial, because trial can be a long and expensive process.
Here's the rub: Insurance companies and defense attorneys know which personal injury lawyers are willing to take cases to trial and which ones have a reputation for settling cases quickly. As a result, insurance companies often "low ball" advertising attorneys. Advertising attorneys, in turn, are forced to recommend that their clients accept less than fair value for their claims. Most clients are easily persuaded to take what they can get, and the cycle continues.
On rare occasions, a client may simply refuse to settle. Advertising attorneys often refer those clients to skilled trial attorneys. At this point, it's important to distinguish between types of attorneys. Advertising attorneys are skilled marketers who spend time learning how to sell their services via advertising.
An experienced trial attorney, on the other hand, is an expert advocate who spends time developing and honing trial skills and maintaining a good reputation with the local bar association. These attorneys are respected by insurance companies and defense lawyers alike, because they are not afraid to file suit and follow through with trial, which adds value to settlement offers out of the gate. Now that advertising attorneys are exposed, here's how you can find a battle-hardened, ethical, and talented trial attorney: Begin your search with an elite organization or association of trial lawyers.
The American Board of Trial Advocates is a good example. Seek attorneys who hold leadership positions in this and other associations of trial lawyers. Research attorneys on the bar association website for your state. Look for attorneys who are board certified in civil trial law (or in the specific field for which you need a lawyer). Research attorneys on their personal or firm websites. Look for the jury verdicts obtained by the attorney you're considering.
Ask friends, family members, and other attorneys for personal recommendations. Ask lots of questions at your consultations with attorneys. Make sure the attorney you're considering has handled a case similar to yours and ask about the outcome of that case. Let the attorney know that you're not asking for or expecting a guaranteed result for your own case. Also ask about the number of cases the attorney takes to trial each year and the percentage of cases that settle out of court. Here, you're looking for an indication that the attorney is willing to abandon settlement negotiations if they're not going well and proceed to trial.
Do not begin your search with the phone book or by calling an attorney advertised on television. Only call an advertising attorney after you've done your homework and determined that he or she is well qualified to handle your case and willing to take it to trial if settlement negotiations are unsuccessful. One final word to the wise, attorney referral services often simply rotate the attorneys they recommend. If you are referred to a personal injury lawyer by a friend, family member, other attorney, or referral service, you still need to do your homework. Armed with this information, you are much more likely to find and hire an attorney who can and will add value to your personal injury case. Good luck!.
Michael Patton graduated from Vanderbilt University Law School in the top 10% of his class. He worked as an extern clerk for the Delaware Supreme Court and served as Associate Editor on the Vanderbilt Law Review. Michael's experience as a personal injury attorney prompted him to write What You Must Know (And Ask) Before Hiring A Personal Injury Attorney, which is available at http://www.TheInjuryAdvisor.com or http://www.FloridaCrashLaw.com