Injured? Hiring a Lawyer: What are you really getting?
In a recent Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics Article by Nora Freeman Engstrom, it was determined that “the emergence of firms I call “settlement mills”—high-volume personal injury law practices that aggressively advertise feature “ads are fixtures on late-night television and big-city lawyer billboards.”
The article continues “[d]rawing on voluminous documents extracted from federal court and state bar disciplinary files, as well as dozens of interviews with current and past settlement mill employees, we have seen that settlement mills have proliferated across the United States.”
Most disturbingly “[s]ettlement mills differ from conventional personal injury law firms in many obvious respects: They have higher claim volumes, advertise more aggressively, tout a different fee structure, settle claims more quickly and with less effort, file fewer lawsuits, and delegate more duties to para-professionals.”
A Lawyer’s reputation is once what drove clients. This means that most lawyers will maximize profits over the long haul if they take their time, do quality work, and obtain full value for their clients.
However, with a settlement mill, advertising makes reputation and quality work less important. If an attorney obtains the vast majority of his business by paid advertising rather than referrals or word-of-mouth, he or she need not have a sterling reputation among fellow practitioners or past clients. This type of practice requires only a big advertising budget and a steady supply of unsophisticated consumers from which to draw. (Run of The Mill Justice, p. 1523.)
Cases at Settlement Mills are often settled for less than one that is properly prepared to go to trial. “A victim’s unique personal attributes are less likely to affect settlement values when the negotiator (or the attorney fixing the settlement parameters) has never seen or spoken to the client. It is hard for witness credibility to play a prominent role when witnesses are seldom interviewed,” according to the article.
“Instead of an individualized and fact-intensive analysis of each case’s strengths and weaknesses alongside a careful study of case law and comparable jury verdicts, settlement mill negotiators and insurance claims adjusters assign values to claims with little regard to fault based on agreed-upon formulas …” Most personal injury victims seem to want legal representation whereby they are treated individually, not as a number, set of facts, or injury profile.
These lawyers have no intention of filing suit. (Engstrom cites one Louisiana firm that tried four cases in a year and lost all of them, before deciding that was no way to make money in the law.) What’s more, she suggests, insurance adjusters know this. So they are more than willing to pay hundreds of questionable soft-tissue claims at $2,500 or $5,000 a pop to ensure that the truly dangerous accident case, the kind the right jury might decide was worth millions of dollars, gets settled along with the rest.
“Insurance companies might be choosing to cooperate with settlement mills, in part because settlement mills appear willing to settle the largest claims — which present the highest chance of a catastrophic verdict — at an attractive discount. In addition, settlement mills and insurance companies share two sets of overlapping interests: speed and certainty. Insurers, it appears, cooperates with settlement mills, in even marginal cases, because cooperation is profitable.”
There are winners and losers in this game, Engstrom writes. The winners are the settlement-mill lawyers, who make nice incomes despite having subpar legal skills, and the people with soft-tissue claims that probably wouldn’t withstand close scrutiny but make a couple of grand just to go away.
What are you looking for in an attorney? The injuredGo.com Personal Injury Law Firm is not a “settlement mill” and treats every client like they are the only client. Contact us for a free consultation.