Everywhere we go we are inundated with advertising from personal injury law firms. These firms carpet bomb daytime TV. As we drive down the road, we see literally hundreds of billboards advertising the same 3-5 personal injury lawyers. And that is only the tip of the iceberg; their advertising is absolutely everywhere.
But what are you getting when you call one of these firms? Is the quality of legal representation that you can expect from a TV lawyer really the best that you can get? Well once again, the answer is: who knows? But one thing is certain, we hear the same complaints over and over again about certain problems clients have had after they hired a giant TV personal injury law firm. And those complaints usually relate in some way to one thing: the lack of personal attention to their clients.
Here is an extreme example of a problem arising from the lack of individual attention a giant TV personal injury law firm paid to an injured person’s needs. A person came to our office seeking legal representation after being injured in a car accident. He informed us that he was already represented by a TV lawyer, but was unhappy that after many tries, he could not get anyone at the firm to return his phone calls, and he wanted to hire a new lawyer. He did say, though, that he was impressed that up to a point, the firm had done absolutely everything for him. After the first call, they sent him paperwork, he filled it out and returned it, and the law firm immediately sent him to their doctors to start getting the treatment he needed. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
But just how great was the representation up to that point? No one at the TV law firm had ever met with, sat down with, or talked at any length with their client. If they had, the law firm would have learned something critical about this client’s situation. Very simply, this client had his own trusted doctors, and he had his own health insurance to pay for the medical treatment that he needed. But apparently, the big TV law firm either didn’t know that, or didn’t care about that.
So why did the firm ignore the fact that their client had his own doctors and insurance to treat him for his injuries, and instead choose to send him to the law firm’s own doctors? The answer may shock you. The firm had certain doctors they sent their clients too. Those doctors worked on a lien, meaning that the client/patient did not have to pay for his treatment until after he recovered money from the other driver’s insurance company. On its face, that sounds like a good idea. In fact, there is nothing wrong with a lawyer helping his client find doctors and healthcare providers that will treat them on a lien, when the client needs medical care and doesn’t have the means to pay for it.
But because this particular client had his own doctors and his own insurance, the TV law firm should never have sent him to the firm’s own doctors to work on a lien. Why is that? Because if the client uses his own health insurance to pay his medical bills, once he recovers from the other driver’s insurance, he most likely won’t owe for payment of any medical bills. And if he does, it probably won’t be much. So, if he uses his own doctors and insurance, in the end, he’ll recover the most money possible to compensate him for his injuries from the other driver’s insurance.
But because the client went to the TV lawyer’s own doctors, those doctors are owed in full for all their treatment. The lawyers and the doctors will have no problem splitting up most or all of the client’s recovery to pay themselves from the other driver’s insurance, but having to pay those doctor bills will leave a lot less money for the client to recover from the insurance. Sometimes the client will recover nearly nothing after the lawyer and his doctors get their piece of the action.
But why would the TV law firm send their client to the firm’s doctors if their client has his own doctors and his own insurance? Its simple, if you hire any lawyer, including a TV lawyer, you have every right to fire them for any reason. But when this particular person attempted to fire the TV lawyer, they tried to tell him that he was not allowed to fire them because he had gone to the firm’s own doctors, and he had to use the TV law firm to pay its doctors back for the treatment they had provided up to that point.
In short, the TV law firm directed their client to use the firm’s own doctors, ran up big medical bills, and instructed their client to ignore his own doctors and his own insurance, all so that the firm could intimidate their client for wanting to fire them. But as long as they got paid, the TV lawyers did not care at all that in the end, their client would receive much less of the money than he should have in his recovery from the other driver’s insurance.
In the end, the TV lawyers sought to make certain that they got paid; and they sought to make certain that the doctors they had in their pockets got paid, but they ignored the fact that in so doing they minimized the amount of their client’s recovery. The lawyers strong armed their client for the money, and in so doing they completely failed to make sure their client’s needs were met in the best way possible.
Is that wrong? You bet it is. Is it unethical? Absolutely! Could lawyers get in trouble for such tactics? Yes. Is it lawyer malpractice? It certainly could be. And should a client stay with a giant TV law firm that pulls a stunt like that?? Well I think we all know the answer to that question …