For the new attorney, personal injury work can be rewarding and exciting. You are helping the little guy (or gal) take on a giant insurance company, corporation, or government entity. But an attorney new to personal injury work can’t – and should not – take every new client who knocks on your door. While it’s tempting because you may fear you will never get another client, or that you don’t want to lose a potential referral source, you need to know how to watch out for the cases that will cause a nightmare for you later on. Before you accept that next case, ask yourself these 5 questions.
1. Do I Like My Potential New Client?
If you can’t find a reason to like your client, chances are other people like defense attorneys, insurance adjusters, and juries might not either. Think about whether you want to spend time with them. You will have countless phone calls with this client, and possibly depositions, a mediation, or even a trial. If you don’t like them at the intake process, imagine what they will be like with the stress of litigation hanging over their heads. You might grow to like them as you spend more time with them, but if you just can’t stand being around them, don’t take the case.
2. Is The Case Worth My Time?
Your time is valuable as a new lawyer. Yes, you might not be making any money and you may be worried about not getting a new client for months. But that doesn’t mean you should spin your wheels on an overly expensive and time-consuming case such that your recovery (if any) results in you essentially working for $2 an hour. You are better off putting that time into marketing for the cases you want or doing contract work for other attorneys. If you still have extra time, volunteer in organizations that help build connections and referral sources for you. Just don’t take that case you know is terrible simply for the sake of taking it.
3. Is This A Case I Want In 5 Years?
Personal injury cases can take years to resolve. Don’t assume that a case will resolve early. You may be stuck with the case for a long time. Before taking on a personal injury case, ask yourself whether you want to have this case 5 or even 10 years from now. If you don’t, then turn down the case.
4. Should I Associate With Another Firm?
Let’s face it – you want that contingency fee. You want all of it. You have a new potential client whose wife died as a result of what you see as a clear case of negligence at a local hospital. You have attended a CLE or two dealing with medical malpractice cases so you are feeling confident. My advice is to stop right there and associate with another attorney who has handled these cases before and knows what they are doing. You don’t know what you don’t know and having someone on board who has experience protects you from the unknown. Look at RPC 1.5(e) and you have two options: either divide the fees in proportion to the services provided by each lawyer or each of you assume joint responsibility for the representation. Make sure your client agrees to this in writing. You will have more time available for your other cases. And that fee? While you will be sharing it, it will likely be larger than you anticipated because you are working with an experienced lawyer who has some knowledge on appropriate case value.
5. Do I Have All The Resources I Need?
Almost all personal injury cases will require spending money before you ever see a dime in return. Medical records, filing fees, and expert costs can pile up quickly. The amount spent grows exponentially if you are taking on a large volume of personal injury cases. Ask yourself if you are prepared financially to work up the case as it should be done. If you are not and a bank loan for your business is not an option, consider associating with another firm to help with these costs.
The Washington Young Lawyers Committee (WYLC) is the vehicle for new attorneys and law students to get involved with the Washington State Bar Association.