I knew before I went to law school that I wanted to work on behalf of citizens, not corporations. I always have been and always will be an advocate for “the little guy.” I wrote this post because I see too many plaintiffs’ lawyers doing things that are bad for their clients. Here are five things that plaintiffs’ lawyers do that hurt their clients.
1: Making settlement decisions based upon their investment in the case. It costs money – a lot of money – for a lawyer to finance a lawsuit. A case against the manufacturer of a defective drug can cost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, some lawyers invest so heavily in a case that they are no longer able to remain objective about the value of the case. I’ve personally seen lawyers recommend that their clients take lowball settlement offers because the lawyer needed to get his or her investment in the case back. That’s why I always associate with another lawyer to finance an expensive case. I want to limit my personal investment in a case so my judgment never gets clouded. I won’t let the lawyers I associate with make decisions based upon anything other than what’s best for the client.
2: Cutting corners. Plaintiffs’ lawyers only get paid if they win, and they don’t get paid more if they spend more time on your case. So plaintiffs’ lawyers have a financial incentive to be “good enough guys” – doing the bare minimum to get by. I’m not a perfectionist about anything in my life except the practice of law. If I’m going to put my name on a document and submit it to a court, I’m going to make damned sure that it’s something I’m proud of. Admittedly, I’m only able to do this because I am not a “high volume” lawyer. If I had to work on 100 cases at once, I’d probably be forced to be a little sloppy in order to make deadlines. But I’d rather do a good job for a small number of clients than do a “good enough” job for a larger number.
3: Going to trial when they should settle, or vice versa. The only way a plaintiffs’ lawyer can really make a name for him or herself is to go to trial and get a big verdict. Some lawyers are so desperate to go to trial and try and get that big verdict that they advise a client to take a very good settlement offer. And some lawyers are so “gun shy” about going to trial that they’ll recommend that their clients take a mediocre settlement in order to avoid going to trial. John F. Kennedy once said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” I take the same attitude about settling a case vs. going to trial.
4: Cheaping out on experts. By far the worst error that plaintiffs’ lawyers make in product liability cases is not hiring enough experts, or not spending enough time preparing their experts. If lawyers don’t spend enough money to hire the right expert witness, or don’t spend enough time working with that witness, then one thing is guaranteed to happen: The case will be thrown out. Courts are very hostile to “junk science.” And these days, courts are very skeptical of plaintiffs in general. Lawyers therefore need to make sure that they’ve got the right expert witnesses, and that their expert witnesses are prepared.
5: Letting the defense lawyers control the litigation. When a plaintiffs’ lawyer files a lawsuit, the defendant’s lawyers immediately are put on the defensive because they have to file an answer. It’s not fun to be on the defensive. You don’t know what’s coming, you’re responding to their issues, and you’re not in control. Unfortunately, many plaintiffs’ lawyers let themselves be put on the defensive as soon as they file their lawsuit. Instead of filing their own motions to keep the pressure on, they let the defendants file most of the motions. Those plaintiffs’ lawyers then end up playing defense. And nobody ever won a war by defending their own turf. You win a war by taking the other guy’s turf. That’s why my preferred litigation strategy is to be the lawyer who keeps the other side playing defense.
If you think I sound like the kind of lawyer who you’d like to have represent you, then shoot me an e-mail. Even if I can’t help you, I’ll point you in the direction of another lawyer who shares some of my beliefs about how to represent a client effectively.