The Rough and Tumble of Personal Injury Practice


I had an amusing past week in practice.  I was contacted by a guy in a tough part of town who had what seemed like an interesting case with real damages.  He was assaulted on a commercial property with a long history of prior assaults on the property.  He suffered broken bones and other injuries.  He had fired his prior lawyer and called me.  I went to see him and was not thrilled with the neighborhood, the client, his situation, or his general demeanor.  Through long experience, you get a feel for people whether you are a good lawyer or a bad one.  You just meet enough people and you know how the client is or will be.  I had the client sign a retainer letter at his house, discussed his case with him for an hour and left the area.  I had fired him the next morning after he called my cell and my office about ten times about new lawsuits to file, domestic abuse and a raft of other stuff.  I think that that was the fastest sign up and termination in my history.  Next!

The same week a client came to me who already had a lawyer and was pissed at his treatment by them.  Taking cases away from other PI lawyers is frowned upon.  That is not to say it is not done.  Nevertheless, there is a proper way to do it to keep the bad blood to a minimum.  You have to advise the client to patch things up with his prior lawyer, see if they can get on the same page, and then if they cannot, the client can come back and I will take their case.  Then, I am supposed to reimburse costs reasonably incurred by the other lawyer and come to some agreement about a referral fee to keep animosity to a minimum.

This client had been poorly treated by his counsel.  He somehow found a firm online that was really a large firm in California, but which claimed to have a Philadelphia office.  It turned out that the Philly office was a single lawyer and when I googled the lawyer, he was operating the “Philadelphia Office” out of a rent a room office.  Worse still, the lawyer was operating his own personal injury firm out of the same office and was listed as a real estate associate lawyer with another firm, also out of the same office.  Unsurprisingly, the client was upset that he could never talk to a lawyer, that his case wasn’t moving etc.  The last he heard was that a demand had been sent to the federal government seeking settlement of his case.  If you have a half a brain and practice in this area, there is no reason to wait for a response from the feds on a case.  They don’t care about our clients, don’t know what values apply, and have no urgency in anything they do.  So, they will delay for months and then make comically bad offers with no repercussions.  As a result, on a good case, you make your demand, wait thirty days and file suit.  End of story.  Then the case moves quickly along and a federal judge looks at the government lawyer and says, “what the heck are you doing, dummy.”  The most amusing part of this interaction was that his prior “lawyer” had not advised him that the legal fee when you sue the federal government is statutorily mandated to be 25% and not the 40% he had signed up for.  That’ll stick in your craw if you are a client.  So, that was my week.