Choosing an attorney for a legal matter is never easy. It can be particularly difficult to find the right lawyer in personal injury cases. The ads seem to be everywhere: on billboards, public transportation, TV, radio, and on social media platforms. There are also lawyers who advertise themselves as personal injury lawyers when they’re not; they’re just trying to make a quick buck on an accident case. Worst of all, there are also some lawyers who try to actively solicit injury victims.
When trying to find a personal injury attorney, there are some lawyers that you should avoid. In this article, we identify five of them for you. Hopefully, this will help you narrow down the field and make the right choice for your case.
1. The Settlement Mill Lawyer
What is a settlement mill? It’s a personal injury law firm that handles a very high volume of cases and focuses on mass producing settlements. These law firms almost always advertise on TV, billboards, and the radio. They also advertise heavily online.
There are a number of problems with settlement mill law firms. In “Run-of-the-Mill Justice,” an article appearing in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Stanford University Law Professor Nora Freeman Engstrom analyzed many of the characteristics of settlement mill law firms and the problems they create. She discusses how settlement mills focus on profit over professionalism, avoid litigation and court appearances, keep attorney-client interactions at a minimum, and value the quantity of cases over the quality of work. As personal injury lawyers in Atlanta, Georgia, where a number of settlement mill law firms are located, we have seen first-hand many of the negative consequences that the clients of these law firms experience.
The problems with settlement mill law firms are numerous. Here are just a few.
First, settlement mill lawyers have a large number of clients—like a really large number. We’re not talking in the dozens; we’re talking hundreds. Even on the low end, some settlement mill lawyers may be handling close to 200 cases at a time. Some handle many more. These numbers prevent lawyers from giving proper attention to their cases and clients. Their clients frequently complain that their lawyers do not return their calls, and they seldom have attorney contact.
A second problem is that clients deal with non-attorney staff far more than they deal with an actual attorney, if they ever interact with an attorney at all. It can even be difficult to speak with those staff members, because of the high volume of cases they handle. While all law firms utilize staff to perform different tasks, settlement mill law firms rely on them heavily. At The Champion Firm, we believe that people who are injured need the personal attention of an attorney, not solely a case manager or a paralegal. After all, clients hire lawyers, not case managers.
Third, settlement mill lawyers do not prepare cases for trial. They try to turn the case over quickly because quick and efficient settlements are essential to their business models. If they were investing considerable time and money in their cases then their business model would not work.
Fourth, because of their high case load and the fact that they try to settle cases quickly, cases are frequently settled for less than they are worth. Sure, there are times when a settlement mill may get an okay result for a client. But even the most minimally competent lawyer can get $100,000 settlement on a $500,000 case, or $1,000,000 settlement on a $2,000,000 case. Settlement mill lawyers frequently under settle cases and fail to get their clients full value for their cases. This is obviously a huge problem because the clients are worse off.
In short, the client experience and the case results at settlement mill law firms are frequently not very good. Those types of law firms are simply in the business to make money, and they look at clients as case numbers, not real people with real problems. If you are injured, why would you want to be treated like a number and not be able to deal with a real lawyer?
2. The Ambulance Chaser
“Ambulance chaser” is a negative term that is frequently used to describe personal injury lawyers. This is unfortunate because they are a lot of very good, ethical personal injury attorneys. But within this field, there are also a number of unsavory types who are, in fact, ambulance chasers.
So what is an ambulance chaser? This is a lawyer who, on their own or through another person, tries to solicit a personal injury victim. This is frequently done through the use of “runners.” Runners may show up at accident scenes or hospitals and give the victim the attorney’s information. The runner then gets paid by the lawyer. Runners may also have a contact at a hospital or police department who gives them the contact information for recent car accident victims. The runner tries to solicit the client on behalf of the lawyer, and again, is paid if the attorney is hired. Sometimes the lawyers bypass runners altogether and do the soliciting themselves.
Why is this bad? For starters, it is illegal. Under O.C.G.A. § 33-24-53, it is illegal to solicit a personal injury victim in exchange for a financial benefit from an attorney or healthcare provider. The first offense is a misdemeanor; the second is a felony. It is also unethical. The Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorneys from paying someone to refer a client. They also have strict prohibitions against attorneys soliciting personal injury victims.
Despite this being illegal and unethical, attorneys using runners or actively soliciting personal injury clients themselves happen more often than you may think. The law and ethical rules can be hard to enforce. The State Bar of Georgia also does not seem to take a particularly active role in investigating reports of runners and improper solicitations.
Although the rules seem to be rarely enforced, in 2011, two Georgia lawyers—Thomas Sinowski and Steven Freedman—were disbarred for using runners. The Supreme Court of Georgia opinion disbarring these lawyers provides a glance into this shady underworld. There was evidence that, between 1995 and 1999, these lawyers paid 54 runners a total of $399,733 to obtain 2,441 cases! This is a staggering number, especially over only four years.
The reason why you need to avoid using an ambulance chaser should be obvious. For one, why would you want an attorney who is willing to resort to illegal tactics to get a client? What does that tell you about that lawyer’s ethical standards and morals? Second, not only is their willingness to do it troubling, but the fact they have to do it to get clients says a lot about their quality as lawyers. Good lawyers do not need to break the rules to get clients. Bad ones do. Hire a good one.
3. The Sanctioned Lawyer
Sometimes lawyers make mistakes, even good ones. But if the personal injury lawyer you are considering has been sanctioned, you should be very cautious. The State Bar of Georgia does not penalize lawyers for making simple mistakes. It sanctions lawyers for violating the Rules of Professional Conduct. Sometimes the violations can be significant, such as lawyers who steal money from clients, fail to properly keep track of client funds, settle cases without their client’s consent, or abandon their clients.
The best way to research whether a lawyer has been sanctioned is to visit the State Bar of Georgia’s Website here: https://www.gabar.org. On the right hand side, you will see a section called “Member Directory Search.” Here, you can enter the name of an attorney and press Search. When you click on an attorney’s name in the search results it will take you to their profile. The profile includes their disciplinary history. Any disciplinary history will appear here and you can click on it and read what happened.
4. The Jack of All Trades, Master of None
A Jack of All Trades, Master of None lawyer is an attorney who handles cases in a variety of different practice areas. This type of lawyer is not someone who focuses on one or two areas. These types of lawyers are easy to spot. On their website or other advertising materials, they include a laundry list of practice areas. For example, this type of lawyer may advertise criminal defense, medical malpractice, family law, personal injury, will and estates, and real estate closings. Here is an example from an actual website:
If you are looking for a personal injury attorney and their practice area list looks anything remotely close to this, run the other direction.
Granted, in some smaller cities, it is impossible to find lawyers who only focus on one or two areas, because the lawyers have to be generalists out of economic necessity. Even so, it is almost always better to search for an attorney close by who specializes in your specific problem, and personal injury cases are no different. If you needed brain surgery, you would want a brain surgeon operating on you, not a doctor who does shoulders and knees. Likewise, in a personal injury case, hire a personal injury attorney, not a generalist. At The Champion Firm, we only handle personal injury cases. We do not try to be everything to everybody.
5. The Dabbler
The Dabbler is an attorney who “dabbles” in personal injury cases. This is a close cousin to the Jack of All Trades lawyer, but they are not one in the same. Whereas the Jack of All Trades type has a lot of different practice areas, the Dabbler may only list a couple of practice areas on their website or marketing materials. The Dabbler generally specializes in a field unrelated to personal injury (ex: criminal law, family law, wills and estates, insurance defense). But if the right plaintiff’s case comes along, they will take it.
Dabblers will never admit it, but they generally do not know what they are doing in a personal injury case. They lack the experience necessary to achieve the best result because they do not handle these cases with enough frequency to gain an appropriate level of expertise. Because they do not know any better and they think the case will be easy money, Dabblers are prone to taking cases and just expecting money to fall from the sky. They are also more likely to make mistakes that can harm the case because they just do not know any better.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of Dabblers. Personal injury cases can be lucrative, and for some reason, a lot of lawyers think that personal injury cases are easy. That is why you will see lawyers from all sorts of practice areas advertising on Google, trying to land the big fish personal injury case. You almost never see personal injury attorneys advertising for criminal law or family law cases, but you can find a large number of criminal defense attorneys, divorce attorneys, or wills and estates lawyers advertising for personal injury. Handling a personal injury case the right way is not easy. It requires experience, time, and effort to get the best possible result. Someone who does not have the proper knowledge and experience handling personal injury cases will not get you the best possible result.
At The Champion Firm, we know that choosing a personal injury attorney is not easy. You only have one case, and you want to make sure you get it right. If you have been injured, we are here to help. We are more than happy to give you a free consultation to discuss our qualifications with you and how we can help you.
About the Author
The Champion Firm is a full-service personal injury law firm serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. Our award-winning team of attorneys specializes in car accidents, wrongful death, premises liability, and slip-and-fall cases. Learn more about our team here.