I’d been thinking of writing this post for awhile, and then Max Kennerly went and did a similar one, putting a fuse under my butt to get it done. His subject was Five Case Selection Tips for New Plaintiff’s Lawyers.
But while his was about the types of cases to reject, mine is more about the people that call. After being a lawyer for awhile, it becomes pretty easy to spot which cases are dogs…before you even consider the merits. Since the personal injury bar gets paid on contingency, vetting the case is pretty darn important.
We have a name for lawyers that don’t do a good job screening cases: Bankrupt.
So, without further ado, my ten quick and dirty rules for determining the case isn’t worth taking, regardless of its facts, and the potential client most likely shouldn’t be allowed in the door:
1. The call comes on Thanksgiving Friday, a real holiday, or some other time outside normal business hours. While that might be normal for criminal defense, for obvious reasons, it isn’t for personal injury law. If it isn’t important enough for the potential client to call when someone is likely to be around, the case isn’t likely to be any good.
2. The person refuses to speak to a paralegal. This means the potential client is familiar with law office procedures because the matter has been rejected many times before.
3. The potential client already has the medical records. This means the matter has been reviewed by others and rejected (though, in all fairness, you should find out who did the rejecting).
4. The request comes via email, but is not addressed to me with any salutation. This means the matter has been emailed to numerous lawyers.
5. The request is a manifesto. It usually comes in Word format, single spaced, many pages, and rambles all over creation. You are neither the first, nor the last, to get this screed. You will not make it past the first paragraph, as it is utterly unreadable. If there’s a point, you’ll never find it.
6. The person who demands to know right away what the case is worth. The answer is nothing.
7. The person who guarantees the defendant will settle quickly. No, they won’t, as the caller is ill-informed (or delusional) about litigation. (Kennerly has this one also.)
8. The person who won’t answer your questions when you interrupt to solicit important information, and plows ahead to tell the story the same way it’s been told to the last 20 lawyers.
9. The quarrelsome caller. When you hit them with the claims the defense will make, they argue with you in a manner that indicates they’ve heard these issues before.
10. The statute of limitations is about to expire. This means the potential client knew what the deadline was, and delayed. Even if the case has merit, this client will delay everything else once you get started. Don’t get started; the case isn’t as important to this person as you think it is.
Is it possible that there is a real case lurking within this list? Sure, anything is possible. But that’s not the way to bet.