You're thinking about filing a personal injury claim, and hiring a lawyer to help, and maybe you've heard that lawyers from huge firms with dozens -- even hundreds -- of lawyers make pretty high salaries. And it’s fair to assume that lawyers who make lots of money must be very good lawyers. So why wouldn’t you hire a personal injury lawyer from a really big firm? Let's explore the answer.
Personal Injury "Firms" are Almost Always Smaller
The reality is that few, if any, personal injury lawyers work at those gigantic firms. In fact, not many personal injury lawyers even work at law firms with as many as ten or twenty lawyers. Almost all lawyers who specialize in personal injury work either for themselves or in firms of two to at most ten lawyers. Why is that?
Most personal injury lawyers earn money only when settlements or plaintiffs' verdicts are reached. Relying on that type of income is probably too erratic for bigger law firms, who operate with considerable overhead and monthly expenses.
There isn't a lot of nationwide data on the issue, but personal injury law is unlike most other fields of law in that the lawyers do not bill hourly or by the job. Rather, they almost always work under a contingency fee agreement, where the lawyer or firm does not collect a fee for representing the client unless a settlement or court award is obtained on the client's behalf. If compensation is received, the lawyer receives an agreed-upon percentage (usually around 33 percent).
As a result, unlike other lawyers, personal injury lawyers cannot always count on money coming in every month. They earn money only when settlements or plaintiffs' verdicts are reached. Relying on that type of income is probably too erratic for bigger law firms, who operate with considerable overhead and monthly expenses.
So, perhaps the better question is should you hire a personal injury lawyer who works for him or herself (these are often called "solo practitioners") or with a firm of several lawyers?
Solo Practitioners Versus Small Firms
Hiring a solo practitioner usually means you're getting a lot of one-on-one attention, and that can be valuable. Besides which, you won't have to worry about the firm handing your personal injury case off to another lawyer, and that's especially important if you really trust and believe in your lawyer.
Experienced solo practitioners are seasoned in the art of handling every aspect of personal injury litigation, and they're adept at balancing a number of cases so that each client receives the best possible representation. You don't need to worry that a reputable solo practitioner won't devote sufficient time to your case. If the lawyer took your case, it means she believes in it, and that she has the time and resources to dedicate toward the best outcome.
There are advantages to going with a small firm too. A firm of several lawyers generally can provide a breadth of resources than a solo practitioner might not be able to match. Big personal injury cases can be expensive to prosecute. Out-of-pocket costs in a personal injury case could approach $100,000. Not all lawyers have that kind of money to lay out on a case.
If a small firm lawyer runs into a problem with your case, there are always a few other trusted colleagues to turn to for advice. A law firm might even two or more lawyers on a big case. And firms often allow their lawyers to specialize. You might have a slip and fall claim, and come across a small firm where one of the lawyers has been doing nothing but slip and fall cases for the last ten years. That's a pretty good fit.
But whether solo practitioner or small firm, the key to hiring a personal injury lawyer (as well as any other kind of lawyer) is to hire the best, most experienced, and most honest lawyer you can find. You also want to hire the lawyer that you are most comfortable with.