As some of you read that headline, you may have no idea what the subject of this post is. You may even wonder how this applies to you. I don’t blame you. The idea of this post is to inform you about your options in choosing a personal injury lawyer—or any lawyer for that matter. It is about knowing what to look for and what ask. And most importantly, it is about knowing the difference between a volume law firm and a smaller practice. Remember, you only hire a personal injury lawyer when you need to—when you’ve been hurt or harmed in some way. It makes sense to get the best fit for you. It’s about choice—your choice.
Let’s start with the basics. A volume law firm usually is organized in the following fashion:
- Legal secretaries
- More paralegals than attorneys
- Case managers
- An answering service and intake person
- A medical care coordinator
- Attorneys assigned around 200 cases
- Staff usually outnumbers attorneys 3 to 1
The moment you call the vanity number you saw on TV, your call is answered by an intake service or an intake person—one who’s entire job is to talk to you on the phone, fill out some forms and then transmit that information to the next person up the line who may or may not be an attorney and who may or may not take your case. Don’t get me wrong—an intake service is great for after-hours calls but during business hours? Not so much.
After you sign up with a volume firm (usually not done in person or with the assigned attorney), your file is assigned to a team of paralegals who are overseen by a lawyer. Your team of paralegals work in assembly-line fashion to order records, obtains information, update you and document the file. You will have little contact with your attorney unless you raise a commotion. You almost certainly will not have a direct line to your lawyer. There will be layers of interference before you meet or speak to your assigned lawyer—one you did NOT choose. Your lawyer will essentially only do the negotiating—they may not have read your medical chart or even the police report. This machine has been honed over thousands of cases and is developed to treat all cases the same. Intake, sign up, order records, draft settlement, collect check, send client on their way.
The system leaves little room to maneuver and handle intricacies of the individual case. It leaves little room for the attorney to fully understand the impact of the injury and the effect on the client’s life. It does not allow for an attorney to delve into the actions of the defendant and develop a strong case on damages or liability. The system is developed to turn a high volume of cases in the shortest time possible—the longer your file sits with a volume firm, the longer they have to wait for the money. It is in their interest to move the file. The volume firm has a lot of economic pressure to continually close and open files on a systematic basis. Think McDonalds or fast food. Or think the Dobbs commercial—“In. Up. Fixed. Out.”
Now, there are other ways to handle cases—the smaller practice approach. This approach focuses on the client’s individual needs. It allows attorneys to examine the entire case and see the pros and cons. The major drawback to the small firm approach is not every case is taken by the firm. Yes, you read that correctly. The smaller firm cannot afford to waste time on cases which do not have merit. But a smaller firm can adapt to the changes in a case. The smaller firm can cater to an individual case’s needs. Think more like a sit-down restaurant where you can make special orders as opposed the McDonalds’ menu. A small firm is more nimble and fluid whereas a large volume shop has a strict protocol.
At most smaller firms, when you call about a case, you speak to your attorney. When you meet to discuss the case and talk about engaging representation, you speak with the attorney who will be handling the case. You choose who you want to handle your file—you actually get to meet face to face. There is no intake person. That’s called “your lawyer” at a small firm. A small firm usually consists of the following:
- A lawyer or two handling 50 or so files at most
- A paralegal or two
- A legal secretary
That’s it. Each person knows your file and knows what is going on with the case. There is no waiting for weeks to get a call back. You will likely have your lawyer’s cell phone number and can call him or her whenever you need something or have a question. Your attorney will know your records because he or she read them and may be even talked with your doctors and therapists. Your attorney will make sure you received all the care you need because there is no rush to close out the file—the crushing economic overhead is not as heavy in a small firm. The small firm attorney has one thing in mind—do his or her best to get you what you need.
The decision to choose a volume practice over a smaller firm is one the client should make only when fully informed. If you don’t feel like there is a good fit, find another attorney. There is no rush to sign up without being comfortable with your lawyer. Remember, your lawyer represents your interests—wouldn’t it be smart to make sure they know you?