Frequently Asked Questions - Best advice for new personal injury lawyers revised
As a new personal injury lawyer, there are several important considerations one should ponder. First, remember that you have spent over 7 yeas of your life obtaining your law degree and law license. Don’t ever do anything to jeopardize your entire career. Mismanaging your firm trust account or engaging in theft or dishonesty is the easiest way for a lawyer to be disbarred or at the very least, suspended from practice. And, if you are suspended from practice for more than a year in Florida, you would have to take the bar exam over again to return to practice. It’s simply not worth it.
Along those same lines, another important piece of advice to remember is that you only have one reputation. It can take years building a solid reputation as an honest, aggressive lawyer and just seconds to lose it. You will always want to be honest and ethical in your dealings with judges, opposing counsel and claims adjusters. Honesty is always the best policy; Having a reposition of being dishonest or unethical can damage your reputation in the legal community very quickly. It can also hurt your ability to obtain new clients. Along those same lines, remember that as a personal injury lawyer you are trying to obtain the largest recovery possible on behalf of your client. Treating the defense attorney or claims adjuster rudely or in a disrespectful way is counterproductive to this goal. In many situations, the other attorney or handling adjuster is simply doing their job and is not taking the particular case personally. Treating them poorly or acting unprofessionally may cause them to take the case personally and handle the case more aggressively or offer your client less money. Being aggressive doesn’t require you to be rude or disrespectful. Always seek to be friendly and professional when dealing with the other side. They are the ones holding the purse strings and they will typically offer your client more money if they like and respect you.
In this same regard, you are always better off being honest with your clients about reasonable expectations and any potential issues with their particular case. If you simply tell your client what they want to hear or create unreasonable expectations, they will surely be disappointed later. More importantly, you have an ethical responsibility to be honest with your client and this should not be taken lightly. For many new personal injury attorneys, you are always dealing with new issues or fielding questions from your client that you aren’t sure how to answer. Remember that you won’t always have an answer to every question off the top of your head, particularly as a new personal injury lawyer, and that’s okay. Rather than providing your “best guess” or pretending to know how to answer their question or concern, let the client know that this is not something you know offhand, but will get back to them as quickly as possible. Even the most seasoned personal injury lawyer may not have every answer to every question at the tip of their fingers. Most clients realize that you won’t always have an answer immediately and will respect your honesty.
Also, don’t ignore glaring issues with your case, but instead tackle them head on. Often, the facts of your case are not perfect. If you know your opponent plans to use these problems against your client, you are better off addressing them yourself to minimize the impact. Many new personal injury lawyers only focus on the positives of their case. For example, if your client injured their back as a result of an automobile accident and it has been established that your client had a prior back surgery before the accident, you are much better off pointing this out yourself than waiting for the other side to present this information to the judge or jury. Or, if you are arguing a particular legal issue and you know there is conflicting case law that contradicts your argument, your client is better served if you point this out yourself and explaining why your case law is more persuasive. Simply ignoring key evidence or case law that isn’t favorable to your client’s position is the legal equivalent of an ostrich sticking his head in the ground to avoid danger.
Always return phone calls and emails, particularly from your clients. The number one reason most clients are dissatisfied with their lawyer is a lack of communication or contact. Hopefully, you will have a strong support system and many calls can be handled by your staff. However, there are many situations where your client may want to speak to you directly. You should always remember that keeping your clients happy is a huge priority. Not only are your clients the “lifeblood” of your practice, but former clients are the best (and least expensive) way to obtain new clients. If your client feels ignored or their calls go unanswered, do you really think they will write a good online review on your behalf or encourage their family or friends to hire you for their case in their future? You should always instruct your staff to let your clients know that you are always happy to talk to them personally if they desire to do so. Many potential issues can be resolved with one phone call or face to face meeting with you personally.
Lastly, remember that you are handling cases on a contingency basis as opposed to bing paid by the hour. Thus, you will want to work as efficiently as possible and bring cases to a resolution in the least amount of time possible. You don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” on every case. For most new personal injury lawyers, you will constantly be dealing with new issues. Seeking advice from others may give you insight and save you hours of time. For instance, before drafting a complicated complaint/motion or researching a legal issue, see if a co-worker or peer has dealt with something similar in the past. Rather than spending hours doing research or drafting a complaint, you may have helpful information with a simple email or phone call. Along those same lines, new personal injury lawyers may not know how to evaluate a case or prepare for hearings, mediations or even trial. Don’t be ashamed or too proud to seek help from others. Even the most experienced lawyers will often ask others for their opinions and suggestions. Most lawyers are more than happy to assist you (and perhaps show off their legal prowess) and again, your goal is to work as efficiently as possible.