The Insurance Journal reports a rise in legal malpractice claims. Incredibly, there has been no hand wringing about increased malpractice rates for lawyers or fears that lawyers will no longer be able to keep their practices open as their insurance rates rise. We have never had a legal malpractice claim yet our rates continue to increase. No one cries for us.
A part of the rise in the number of legal malpractice claims is countersuits against lawyers who are suing their clients to pay their bill. But I think the larger problem is what the article calls “door law,” a phrase I have never heard before but I really like. Door law is when lawyers take any client who walks through the door who might generate a fee. When law firms step outside their areas of expertise, bad things are going to happen.
A big part of what my law firm does is handle large personal injury cases for lawyers who do not have the resources or experience to handle complex personal injury cases. It is not that they are not good lawyers.
(Quick digression: I sat through criminal court all morning yesterday, monitoring the defendant’s traffic court trial in a car accident wrongful death case I am handling. Driver pled not guilty, six witnesses were called, and maybe the best testimony for the prosecution was the Defendant’s direct examination. It was pathetic. It reminded me of murder trials you hear about where a plea would be worthless because the guy is doing life anyway so they go through the motions of having a trial. In closing, his lawyer said he had suffered as much as anyone has in all of this. He killed a young woman standing on the sidewalk, he denies liability and has suffered as much as anyone. It was surreal.)
Anyway, back to my point. I’m a good lawyer but I would be lost handling a criminal case, a domestic case or anything that was not a personal injury case. (Ah, I could do a contracts case, too. But that is it.) But in 2010, with criminal and domestic cases drying up, a lot of lawyers who would be intimidated handling a serious personal injury case are saying, “I need more revenue, I’ll give this a shot myself. It is just a car accident. How hard can it be?” And it often ends in disaster because, too often, it is a lot harder than you think to maximize the value of a case.
As I have always said, the biggest personal injury cases typically come not to personal injury lawyers but to domestic, workers comp, and criminal lawyers. Why? Because everyone’s got a “guy” when there is a catastrophic injury case. Because of the nature of these areas of practice, these lawyers see a higher volume of clients than personal injury attorneys who are only handling serious cases.
The smart play for these lawyers – and, believe me, I get that this is self serving, but stay with me – is to refer the case out to someone who knows how to handle the case. The fee splitting rules we have in Maryland make great sense for everyone. Serious injury victims get directed to the best personal injury lawyer (the referring attorney is selfishly motivated to find the victims quality counsel) and the referring lawyer is able to remain in the case and, let’s face it because it is important, collect a fee.
Why doesn’t this happen more often? A lot of criminal and domestic lawyers don’t understand this paradigm. You can’t refer out a criminal or domestic case and stay on as co-counsel and get a fee (I don’t think you can, anyway). So the door lawyer’s mentality is I have to take this case myself or I will lose my fee. Again, this is shameless self promotion but, look, we frequently give referring lawyers a larger fee than they would have gotten if they had handled the case themselves. It is better for the referring lawyer and better for the client.
There are a lot of personal injury lawyers who can handle wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases. But, honestly, only a small minority of personal injury lawyers are equipped to handle serious cases with large damages, no matter how simple the accident or malpractice is to understand. So if not many personal injury lawyers can do it well, the percentage of domestic and criminal lawyers that can is vanquishing low.
We get a number of personal injury clients from our blogs and website. But our target audience is clearly referring lawyers with serious injury or wrongful death car and truck accidents and medical malpractice cases. We reach out to you so indirectly. Today, I’m reaching out directly. If you are a lawyer with one of these types of serious personal injury cases, call or contact us. Call some others that you think might be the top personal injury lawyers in Maryland. Then make what you think is the best call for your client.