Protecting the rights of the injured is a fantastic “why” from which your practice can have purpose.
Personal injury law definitely has a negative stigma attached to it. For attorneys, buying into this stereotype can have a negative impact on your career. The intent of this post is to explain how I see the practice of law in this area, and how changing your perspective can positively impact your practice and your life.
If you ever read motivational material, a common theme is purpose. Success coaches state the “why” is what drives you. It is the reason for your actions and consequently, your success.
What is the purpose in practicing personal injury law? What is the “why” behind the decision to represent plaintiffs? Of course, the answer depends on who is answering. And there is no shortage of valid answers.
For example, many young personal injury lawyers go into this specialty to try cases. Others go into it because there is a great deal of money to be made. Others want to “do some good” or represent the rights of those who would otherwise not have access to the legal system. The answers are plentiful. But what is important to understand is whatever your answer is, your actions should be congruent with those beliefs.
Many attorneys choose a field but have conflicting views of that particular field or their role in it. Consider a young attorney who wants to make a lot of money, who believes personal injury law can get him to that goal. However, he holds other contradictory beliefs, such as “ambulance chasers are the lowest type of attorney” or “good attorneys shouldn’t have to hustle business”. How do you think these beliefs are going to affect his approach to his career?
I speak from experience. In the mid-90’s, I wanted to make a lot of money, but I also thought personal injury law was not high on the prestige list of legal specialties. The result was a half-assed approach to the practice. And it remained that way until I chose to look at my beliefs objectively and understood they could be changed anytime.
Examining the Conflict
So where does this sleazy lawyer chasing ambulances image come from? We all heard the silly stories in law school about the attorney with Velcro on the back of his business card so that it would stick to an injured person lying on a gurney.
Ambulance. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Scott Sanchez. Listed as public domain.
To me, these stories depict personal injury litigators as lawyers who would take advantage of someone in a vulnerable state. Surely, we were not raised to take advantage of other people. These stories and our internal compass of right and wrong make up this conflict.
Yet the lure of riches is also tempting, so too, the relative ease in which you can enter this arena, especially as a young attorney. I suspect most personal injury litigators had to handle this issue at some point in their career. If left unexamined, a lawyer can very easily pursue this area of focus half-heartedly. This probably would not be the best recipe for success.
Why are Personal Injury Lawyers So Sleazy?
So what makes personal injury lawyers such a contemptuous bunch? Surely there must be a basis for the claim.
I suspect the reasons begin from a defendant’s negative personal experience being sued. That defendant, not realizing there is a system in place to compensate accident victims, takes the whole experience as a personal affront. He/she shares the story with others who also take the opportunity to be insulted, and on it goes.
Or perhaps it’s the lawyer movies we watch, where the outcome of the case is ENTIRELY dependent on the attorneys’ prowess instead of the facts of the case. Lawyer tricks and gullible juries make any outcome possible in the media. A skilled lawyer on television can overcome any pesky fact pattern, don’t you know?
Add to this a little dose of insurance company propaganda which calls for tort reform because they don’t want to pay claims even though that is the very business they are engaged in (insuring accident risk). Portraying personal injury law as being manipulated by sleazy lawyers who want something for nothing attempts to discourage potential litigants, cap liability and justify increasing premiums.
Regardless, we attorneys are not immune from having negative beliefs attach to our psyches. We are supposed to know better, but somewhere deep down, we may validate these associations by picturing a slick suited personal injury attorney following the ambulance to the emergency room to hustle up some business. Believe it or not, these visualizations can have real impact on our thoughts and actions.
Do some attorneys chase down clients in the hospital waiting room? I suspect that some do. Do all personal injury lawyers do it? I’ve never done it. No one I know has ever done such a thing to gain a client. So the belief, like all beliefs, are not entirely accurate. And if they are not entirely accurate, then adoption of that belief is a matter of choice.
Instead Choose to Believe the Following:
Society understands that accidents happen. There is a system in place to protect against this risk. Within that system work insurance agents, actuaries, P&C insurance salesman, plaintiffs’ attorneys, defense attorneys, claims adjusters, court clerks, judges, and a host of others. All of these parties work within the system. A personal injury attorney is just a cog in the wheel, just one player in the show. Lawyers are not to blame for fraudulent claims. In fact, fraudulent claims hurt plaintiffs’ attorneys most, since they must risk time and money pursuing the claim.
Just Do Your Job
Call on your clients, gather the required information, advise them of their rights, make your claim, make your arguments – do your job. It’s really that simple, let the system deliver the results because that is what it is designed to do.
Do not fret about the minutiae, you are not the “winner” of the case, the facts are. You don’t have to be sleazy to do well in the personal injury realm. In fact, the most successful personal injury litigators are the most modest, down to earth, and down to business people you would ever want to meet. They would never be confused with that sleazy, silk-suited image from our minds.
The point is, you can do really well as plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer but do so with the belief that you are a participant in a noble endeavor – to help injured victims get fair and just compensation for their injuries. Not because they are greedy and will be on easy street after settlement. No amount of money would be worth real permanent injuries. Rather, compensation is part of the system which is designed to protect individuals from the harm done through no fault of their own. And this system was designed for our protection by and for all of us.
Protecting the rights of the injured is a fantastic “why” from which your practice can have purpose. As we examined above, beliefs and purpose can sometimes contradict.
If you have never had contradictory beliefs in the area of personal injury practice, then this post will not mean that much to you. If however, you bought into the propaganda, set forth by others who were pursuing their own agenda, and saw that acceptance negatively impacting your practice and life, then these words can serve as a wake up call and empower you to choose better beliefs in this area. Then you can watch your approach and results change accordingly.
Thanks for listening.