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Why Go it Alone?

The proposals to reform the contingency fee system have at their heart, it seems to me, a desire to remove the lawyer from the process. The question for clients should become: am I better off hiring a competent, or hopefully excellent, attorney than going it alone? It is not unheard of for an insurance adjuster to be sent out to visit a personal injury victim with a checkbook and a stated desire to ‘take care of’ the victim. The answer should be obvious. Yes there is a fee to be paid in hiring a lawyer but the real issue is whether the client ends up netting more by having an injury lawyer or going it alone.

It is very hard to provide statistics on this issue. I do recall a study that was published whereby Allstate Insurance tried to settle with claimants directly. The upshot was that the client did far better with an attorney in terms of the all-important net recovery. Further, the anecdotal evidence is strong. It boggles the mind to expect a layperson to be able to understand the intricacies of insurance law, tort law, the court process, and the myriad of other things that can occur in the life of a case. It is truly a daunting prospect to think of an individual with no background handling this by him or herself. To be sure, there are instances where a fee should be adjusted ‘ and adjusted downward ‘ such as where there is a massive injury, little dispute on liability and an insufficiency of insurance coverage. That does not argue for foregoing legal representation. Instead it argues for hiring an attorney who has enough compassion to realize that certain fact situations demand adjustment for the injured victim.

In no way should the above be construed as encouraging someone to avoid hiring an attorney. Even in the scenarios where liability seems strong, there is a danger in assuming at the onset of hiring an attorney that there will be a guaranteed recovery. As an American Bar Association study made clear, defendants vigorously defend where liability seems certain. See, Stingier Jurors Doling Our Fewer Awards, ABA Journal September 1994.

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