“Can I fire the injury law firm handling my accident case?”
“I have not even talked with a lawyer at the firm yet about my accident injuries!”
These are the types of questions I have heard many times from persons who responded to a lawyer referral service commercial following a car accident, and was “signed up” by a paralegal who usually drove to his or her house. We’ve all seen the commercials of lawyer referral services soliciting automobile accident victims. We’ve seen their spokespersons, their dramatic storyline, their bad actors, and their pitch. This short blog will address why you, or anyone else, should give careful thought before calling one of these services “800” or “411” services.
Personal Injury attorney advertising, here in New Port Richey and throughout Florida, is regulated by the Florida Bar. There are many things that an attorney or law firm cannot do in a TV ad, including using an actor or spokesperson. Many years ago, some clever individuals, mostly chiropractors, developed a system to avoid these rules and started running auto accident commercials that no lawyer could legally run. These chiropractors came up with a plan that would allow them to fill their clinics with auto accident patients (and hence allow them to grab the $10,000 in PIP available for medical treatment under an automobile insurance policy), while at the same time forming relationships with injury attorneys who would pay them for referring the case to their office. By paying money to the chiropractor(s) running these lawyer referral services, the injury attorney could avoid altogether the rules he or she would typically have to follow for TV advertising. The Florida Bar had no jurisdiction to regulate what chiropractors might say or do in a commercial.
When the era of lawyer referral services started, the problem was that it was (and frankly still is) very misleading. A person calling had NO IDEA that he or she was calling a chiropractor, as the commercial appeared to be about legal representation. Furthermore, the caller had absolutely no idea what lawyer he or she would be referred to in the process. I honestly cannot believe these ridiculously bad commercials even work in the first place, but clearly they do result in a lot of calls from auto accident victims.
To be clear, I am not criticizing all lawyer commercials. I do not run TV ads, but as long as it’s the law firm or actual lawyers doing the ad, then at least the public knows the identity of the business they will be calling. Furthermore, I am also most certainly not intending to criticize chiropractors as a group. I am singling out the specific chiropractors whom have engaged in these lawyer referral services.
Fast forward, and many of these “800” or “411” lawyer referral services have been investigated. Not surprising to me at all (for reasons I’ll address in a minute), investigators have found:
- The message delivered in these lawyer referral commercials is of little value to the public;
- The commercials are misleading;
- Attorneys whom have associated with these referral services have engaged in unethical behavior, including direct solicitation; and
- Many of the law firms working with these lawyer referral services do not even arrange to have an actual lawyer meet with the injured person. Instead, a “paralegal” or other agent goes to the client’s house or to a medical clinic, and signs him or her up for representation. This raises questions of the illegal practice of law.
Through the years, I have met with many individuals whom have called a client referral service, and have made their way to my office out of frustration. The story is almost always the same:
- “The service sent a paralegal to my house, and I have no idea what attorney is handling my case;”
- “I have no idea what is happening with my case, as no one will return my call;” and
- “I was sent to a medical clinic for treatment, where I feel like I am part of a cattle herd.”
In recent years, the Florida Bar has cracked down on lawyers who enter business relationships with these “800” lawyer referral services. While the Florida Bar cannot regulate chiropractors, they can regulate the injury attorneys whom have skirted advertising rules through these services. For example, whereas injury lawyers used to hide in anonymity, there names must now be publicly disclosed in a list to the Bar for all to see. Additionally, a minimal amount of liability insurance is now required for any lawyer using a lawyer referral service.
So, why do most good trial lawyers dislike these commercials? Because when we have to select a jury, we have to deal with the public perception of lawyers in general. These ridiculously tasteless commercials are of no help! We have also seen the horrible legal services that many of these injured persons have received by calling an “800” legal service. Finally, it does not sit well from a competitive standpoint when you abide by the rules, only to have others skirt the rules through deceptive means.
Here in New Port Richey and throughout the Tampa Bay area, I meet personally with all new clients, and maintain contact with them throughout their case. I have one office, so clients know where to find me, and they know what lawyer is handling the case. Call me at 727-848-8892, and you will talk with me personally.
If you need a personal injury attorney following an automobile accident, then find an attorney that meets with his or her clients. Go to his or her office if possible. Does it look professional, or does it look like just a rented hole-in-the-wall so that the attorney can have a Pasco County address on the letterhead? Also, seek to obtain a personal recommendation if at all possible. There are many good lawyers in Pasco County that still believe in personal service, so if you do not make your way in to my office, then by all means find someone reputable who still believes in the “old school” approach of meeting with clients one-on-one. You should not settle for less!