The Key to Personal Injury Practice: Getting the Unlucky Victim of a Catastrophic Accident
In the field of personal injury practice, a key determiner of success is the ability of getting cases where the plaintiff has suffered extreme damages. According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2019, the average payout for personal injury claims was $17,000. If the damages are catastrophic, the potential for legal fees becomes substantially greater potentially in the millions of dollars. To get the catastrophic cases, personal injury attorneys resort to intensive and dubious-taste advertisements that tarnish the legal industry’s reputation.
The term “ambulance chasers,” traced back to the early 1900s, was coined to characterize attorneys willing to do whatever it takes to get the unlucky prospective client to sign a contigency fee agreement. American Bar Associations, in response, have raised ethics rules to avoid such demeaning practices. According to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys should refrain from pursuing a client relationship with an individual who has not sought the lawyer’s advice.
The Obvious Damage to the Legal Profession
Where advertising remains one of the few avenues open to attorneys to get these unicorn-clients, pestering the radio and TV audience, along with billboards everywhere, is a staple in the PI attorneys’ marketing plan. A 2017 study by the University of North Texas found that personal injury law firms accounted for the top four advertisers in legal services, spending from $13 million to $24 million annually. Their advertisements frequently use forceful imagery, deploying hammers, lions, tigers, and similar symbols, which can degrade the professionalism of the legal profession.
Public perception of personal injury attorney advertising is often negative due to its aggressive and sometimes overbearing nature. According to a 2020 study by the American Association for Justice, approximately 72% of respondents felt that such advertisements were “crude” or “unprofessional.
The public does not know how much PI attorneys are different from other attorneys. When judging attorneys for their poor taste in advertisement and conveyed image of desperation to land a client will unfortunately tarnish the legal profession as a whole. In this sense, the public will charge all the attorneys with the dubious ethics of PI attorneys when it comes to advertisement.
The Subtle Damage to Attorneys Not Practicing Personal Injury
An overlooked issue emanating from such advertisements is the misguided expectation they breed among potential clients. Personal Injury attorneys will invariably offer a “no-win no-fee” arrangement. One step further, they will misguide prospective clients by conveying an image of a helpful lawyer who is sitting around just waiting to take their call. The “free consultation” and “call me 24/7 that I am here to take your call” are two other components of the aggressive marketing technique employed by PI attorneys. As a consequence of the ad-nauseam repetition of these begging approaching, the public in general tend to believe that all attorneys work or should work like this. Clients end up perceiving that attorneys should provide their consulting and advisory services for free, unless they are filing something with the court or doing paperwork.
Not surprisingly, some clients even react with anger when asked to schedule consultations and pay for legal counsel. They fall under the influence of personal injury attorney advertisements that broadcast the idea of no fees unless victory is assured and no consultation should ever be charged! However, this approach is limited strictly to personal injury cases and doesn’t apply to other areas of law.
Transactional lawyers or advisory-focused legal professionals depend on charging for their time and expertise to survive. Their work revolves around handling client transactions and providing strategic advice. For these professionals, the American Bar Association reports an average billable hour rate of $253. The constant wave of personal injury attorney advertisements can be particularly damaging to their practice.
Running a legal practice in the United States comes with substantial financial costs. According to the 2020 Legal Trends Report by Clio, a leading provider of legal practice management software, overhead costs account for 48% of a firm’s revenues. This percentage includes a variety of expenses such as rent, utilities, office supplies, insurance, and salaries for support staff. In terms of resources, legal research is another considerable expense. The cost of maintaining subscriptions to premier legal databases like Westlaw or LexisNexis can range from $200 to $300 per month per user as per a 2021 report by Lawyerist, a leading legal industry information platform. Furthermore, attorneys need to cover their continuing legal education expenses, which vary by state but can amount to hundreds of dollars annually. Lastly, it’s important to account for the high costs of legal education, with the average law school graduate in 2019 carrying a student loan debt of approximately $145,500 according to the American Bar Association. These figures collectively underline the considerable expenses associated with running a legal practice in the U.S.
Personal Injury advertisement hurts other attorneys – specially solo attorneys and smaller practices that tend to work with a less informed clientele.
What Do We Do?
A potential solution for this dilemma involves bar associations taking an active role in educating legal clients about the variety of legal practices. A 2019 Legal Trends Report suggests that most lawyers can’t mimic the no-win-no-pay arrangement popular in personal injury cases. The general public should be made aware that legal advisory services need fair compensation, including initial consultations.
In Brazil, a country with one of the highest numbers of lawyers per capita globally, the Brazilian Bar Association’s prohibition of free consultations plays a crucial role in preserving the dignity and livelihood of attorneys. This prohibition prevents the devaluation of legal services, ensuring that attorneys’ professional time, knowledge, and expertise are adequately compensated. It also discourages a “race to the bottom” mentality in which lawyers might feel compelled to undercut each other’s prices to attract clients. By setting a minimum expectation for payment, the Brazilian Bar Association contributes to maintaining a standard of living for attorneys in a fiercely competitive market. The prohibition of free consultations emphasizes the inherent value of legal counsel, reinforcing the respect and professionalism associated with the legal profession in Brazil.
The adoption of the prohibition of free consultations in the United States could be a game changer to the legal profession as a whole.
In conclusion, the influence of personal injury attorneys’ persistent advertisements on the legal industry is considerable. These ads sow false expectations among clients and erode the professionalism of the legal profession. By educating the public about the myriad legal practices and the necessity for equitable compensation, we can address this issue and foster a positive, reputable future for the legal profession.