Lawyers may sometimes be tempted to accept a seemingly simple personal injury case without knowing the full extent of what these cases can entail. Lawyers who are not experienced in personal injury should be responsible when diving into unfamiliar territory. They should research the law, go to their mentor for advice, acquire co-counsel with experience, or even take a CLE course to increase their knowledge. Before accepting what appears to be an open and shut personal injury case inexperienced lawyers should carefully consider the following potential problems
Liens on the Settlement Proceeds
Settlement proceeds can be greatly impacted by liens against them. Understanding the consequences of workers’ compensation liens, medical liens, attorney liens, or liens subject to ERISA regulations will assist the lawyer in determining the amount of recovery the will eventually reach the client. Without this knowledge, the legal fee could very well exceed the settlement sum.
Cases Must Be Funded Until Trial
The time demands on what seemed to be a simple case can easily escalate and become overwhelming. As the time demands grow so do the costs and this can exceed what the lawyer first estimated. Once a trial is underway it may affect the lawyer’s ability to give other clients the time and effort they need. If precautions are not taken then a lawyer’s caseload can quickly become out of control. The cost of the personal injury case may far outweigh any settlement money received.
The Need to be Thorough
Facts pertaining to the relevant statute-of-limitations date must be independently verified. Reliable sources must be identified because the client and even they people they talk to may not be dependable sources. Accident dates must be verified by police reports and then double-checked. In a car accident case, the driver of the other car may not necessarily be the owner of the car. Investigation and reliable sources are the only way for a lawyer to ensure they have correctly determined all sources of liability coverage for their client.
Plaintiffs can complain, demand, and have unreasonable expectations about the amount of their settlement. Others are unwilling to continue with recommended medical treatments and will not stay in contact with their lawyer. For lawyers who do not deal well with clients like this, it can lead to missed deadlines and frustration.
Managing Client Expectations
Promising large settlements and quick outcomes is a mistake an inexperienced lawyer can easily make. The case must be investigated thoroughly before any possible outcomes are discussed with a client. Clients must be fully informed at all times and the work the lawyer will do and will not do must be clearly outlined from the very beginning. If the case involves fee-splitting then the agreement must be thoroughly explained to the client. Also, if the case is recovered then an explanation of how the proceeds will be disbursed must also be explained to the client.
Basic Tax Knowledge
Including a blanket statement that the lawyer will not provide tax advice on a settlement may not completely cover them. Attorneys are still responsible for spotting issues on basic tax problems. It is also the lawyer’s responsibility to seek advice or advise the client to seek advice to make sure the tax issues are understood and addressed.
Inexperienced lawyers should find help if they do not have a working knowledge of statutes and their applications in the various state and federal courts. Bringing in an experienced co-counsel can help them gain the trial experience. Learning from a lawyer with personal injury experience will be beneficial in handling future cases. Lawyers who may try to learn as they go could potentially miss critical deadlines and harm their case.