We have practiced personal injury litigation for over 35 years in the greater Houston area. Every week, we get telephone calls from someone who has a Houston personal injury lawyer but is dissatisfied with their representation. Here are some observations and advice.
The Biggest Reason is a Lack of Communication between the Lawyer and the Client.
Lack of communication is especially prevalent with contingent fee attorneys as they are not paid based on their time in the file but only upon results. By its very nature, this arrangement is not conducive to extensive hand-holding by the attorney, who must account for the time spent, particularly on smaller cases.
Indeed, it is not an excuse for a personal injury attorney to keep their clients informed simply because they are not paid by the hour. Alternatively, a client who has hired an attorney on a contingency fee basis should also understand that every phone call they make to the attorney’s office involves time that a defense attorney would bill at hundreds of dollars per hour.
A simple phone call could easily be billed in the range of a hundred dollars per call if the client paid by the hour and not on results.
Often, attorneys do not give clients reasonable ranges for how long a case can take or the range of value for the specific claim. In most cases, after substantial work, an experienced attorney will develop a range for settlement purposes.
Sometimes, the client will also decide they know the values better than the lawyer they hired. Friends, the internet, and a lack of understanding of the legal process can lead to untrustworthy beliefs and disappointment for someone not heeding professional advice. If the client thinks they know more than the attorney they hired, a second opinion from another attorney is warranted.
In the age of COVID, cases are backlogged. Some other lawyers’ clients call us seeking to change because of how long the cases are taking. Much of the timing of getting a court date is outside of the lawyer’s control. Covid has created at least a year delay. Contrary to popular belief, a personal injury attorney does not control how or when the insurance company responds.
Also, insurance companies are able to use this delay in trial dates to keep their money longer.
Advice to Those Thinking of Changing Lawyers
Our advice to dissatisfied clients is usually always the same: call your attorney and request an in-person consultation to discuss your file. It is not an excuse that it takes time to keep their clients informed for a lawyer to fail to keep you reasonably informed.
Also, it is unrealistic for a client to expect updates on their case when there may be nothing new to report. Before you consider firing your lawyers, sit down and clear the air. Additionally, if you change attorneys in Texas, and the reason for canning them is not for “good cause,” you may be on the hook to pay the personal injury attorney something anyway.
Delays in Results May Not Be Your Lawyers Fault
There are two sides to every story and two parties to every lawsuit.
The attorney representing the plaintiff does not control the insurance company and may or may not make a timely offer, or the attorneys representing the insurance carrier or defendant and how they defend the case.
Requested a sit-down or Zoom discussion with your attorney not only serves the benefit of having an eye-to-eye meeting but also lets the attorney know where you’re coming from and allows your lawyer to express facts that you may not be aware of now.
Once a lawsuit is filed, a case like a wrongful death claim can take a long time to get to trial or settle.
Would You Go to A Doctor to Disregard Their Diagnosis?
The second largest reason for dissatisfaction with the attorneys seems to be a client who prefers to act as their attorney. If you were ill and went to the doctor, you would not tell the doctor what needed to be done to make you well or whether you required a surgical intervention. You would rely upon the doctor you selected, or you would get a second opinion, but you would not be diagnosing and treating yourself.
It is a prescription for dissatisfaction if you are telling your lawyer how to manage your case.
Time Spent Choosing an Attorney is Well Spent
Likewise, personal injury victims should do their homework when they select an attorney to represent them. You should look for the best personal injury attorney who practices in the immediate area where the accident occurred. Do not accept the first attorney a friend or family member recommended to you. Always do your research and make sure of your choice upfront. Always look for an experienced, reputable local attorney first!
If you are injured in a car accident, look for the best car accident lawyer in Houston. Here are some tips for selecting an auto accident attorney.
If you’ve done your homework and selected a reputable and successful attorney, you’d be well advised to accept their advice moving forward in your case. Attorneys are paid by the hour and are more than happy to have a client direct the case because they get paid to win, lose, or draw for every moment they touch the file.
The more input the client has regarding how the case should be handled, the larger their bill will be. But importantly, the attorney will be paid even if the client’s requests lose the case.
Because personal injury attorneys are betting on their win and only get paid for results, most successful lawyers do not like instructions from the client on how to handle the case. Clients who think they know the value of their case or how it should be handled are like a sick person telling the doctor what to prescribe.
If you can’t trust your lawyer’s judgment- who can you trust?
Things to Consider in Choosing a Lawyer
- Avoid TV lawyers like the plague – High-volume firms that advertise are among the most notorious for client dissatisfaction.
- Know who will be working on your case – don’t fall for hiring a top gun and end up with an inexperienced associate attorney.
- Local, Local, Local – If possible, choose a local attorney.
- Experience counts – find a lawyer with a reputation for your type of case.
Look for a lawyer with specific experience for your case type. Some instances, like big rig accidents, are more complex than car-to-car crashes. Look for the best trucking accident attorney in your city. If your claims involve a loved one’s death, find an attorney with a reputation in wrongful death cases and the type of case involved.
Do Your Homework Before You Hire
Doing a little research before you sign paperwork with an attorney can save you a lot of grief and make the personal injury litigation process much more rewarding.
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