When you are in pain and suffer the medical and financial consequences of a personal injury, the last thing on your mind is wondering whether your attorney is trying to scheme you. Unfortunately, some unethical lawyers out there have made it a habit of taking advantage of their clients’ problems. The most common practices are overbilling, insisting with settlements, etc. Let’s see some of the most potent signs that some personal injury attorneys do not play by the ethical rules of their profession.
1. They Don’t Offer an Initial Free Consultation
Personal injuries find their roots a wide diversity of causes. Still, almost all of them generate the same results: you are in physical or emotional distress, you experienced temporary wage loss, and the medical bills are piling up, and so on. In all this turmoil, retaining the right attorney to fight for your rights and the proper compensation is crucial.
But finding and hiring the right personal injury lawyer to deal with your case is quite hard. If you manage to narrow your options to just a couple of firms, you start making appointments. Here, things start to get tricky.
When it comes to getting ethical and professional attorneys to deal with your injury claim (and trial perhaps), see whether they offer an initial free consultation. This meeting is not a binding agreement. You don’t have to hire that attorney if you feel they won’t do a great job in your case. However, you will find unethical firms that will bill you for your consultation instead of offering you an hour of their time to listen to you, familiarize themselves with your case, create a bond with you, answer your questions, etc.
On the other side of the coin, professional firms allow you to schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer that is also a partner or associate in the firm. Your initial meeting should always be with a specialized personal injury attorney, not paralegals, assistants, or secretarial staff. You can discern right away pro from dabbler when it comes to law firms by noticing how they treat your case, you as a person and a potential future client, and the answers/solutions they offer.
2. They Will Try to Overcharge You Every Step of the Way
Besides the fact that they don’t offer you a free starter conversation about your case, unethical personal injury attorneys will try to over-bill you every chance they got. One of the most common shady practices is what experts call “block billing” – a way of charging you a hefty lump sum for a handful of separate tasks.
Block billing is such a malign issue in the legal practice, the American Bar Association stepped in, recommending lawyers to abide by Rule 1.5(a) of Professional Conduct and not charge or collect unreasonable fees or unreasonable expenses amounts.
Lawyers have plenty of ways to charge your bills unnecessarily, but you should be firm in your standing: they need to show you detailed documentation regarding the tasks they billed you by the hour. Ensure you do not agree to expenses related to tasks they accomplished personally (at high rates) instead of asking their assistants and paralegals to perform them in their stead (at lower rates).
Overall, if your lawyer charged you for a three-hour trip to some storage unit to collect some evidence for your case, you should know there is something shady about everything. A paralegal could have done it with the same results.
3. They Rush Into Settling Your Case
You may have the misfortune of managing your case with a settlement mill. Such entities are specialized personal injury law firms dealing with high numbers of claims. Their focus is to mass-produce settlements for all their clients and move on to the next batch.
Stanford University Law Professor Nora Freeman Engstrom, in the paper “Run-of-the-Mill Justice,” explains why such law firms are a problem for both the justice system and the clients retaining their services. Among such issues, one stands out from the crowd. You, as a client, will lose more than you could gain from the services of a professional and ethical lawyer who is willing to go to court for you or stand through multiple rounds of negotiations until you get the settlement you deserve.
In other words, do not sign on the dotted line to contract a personal injury attorney if he or she hears half your case and recommends a settlement without taking into account the possibility of going to trial or of starting discussions and negotiations with the other party.
The wisest and most pragmatic step to take if you suffered a personal injury is to get a specialized lawyer. Nevertheless, the moment you feel they treat you like a number or a bank account, they could further milk, find another firm. One of the best ways to sift through unethical attorneys and settling mill firms is to check legal directories, verify attorneys’ reputation, ask for references, and understand the standard procedures of your case.