You’ve been injured in a car accident. The other driver is clearly at fault. You are contacted by the negligent driver’s insurance company. They are prepared to settle your claim; no need to hire a lawyer, you are told. What should you do?
Abraham Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents. He was also a lawyer. Two of his most famous law quotes are: “a lawyer’s stock in trade is his advice”; and “he who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
If you find yourself in the situation mentioned above, take Old Abe’s advice and hire a personal injury lawyer to represent you. The truth is even lawyers hire other lawyers to represent them!
Hiring a lawyer to handle your claim has so many obvious advantages. He or she will be doing all the work! Your lawyer will investigate your claim, get the necessary reports and medical records, secure witness statements where warranted and, most important, negotiate with the insurance adjustor. All this without you having to pay the lawyer any money up front!
As you probably know, almost all personal injury lawyers work on a “contingency fee” basis. That means they only get paid if and when you get paid. That’s what “no recovery – no fee” means.
Studies have shown that accident victims represented by counsel receive more in settlement money than those representing themselves… even after the lawyer’s fee is taken into account! Not only will the lawyer be able to better negotiate on your behalf, but the insurance company knows if they are not reasonable in their settlement discussions, a jury trial may be just around the corner. This is a threat you, the claimant representing himself, cannot present.
The reason Abe’s saying rings so true is that it is very difficult representing yourself. You will be going up against an experienced insurance adjustor whose goal is to settle your case for the least amount of money. You do not have various negotiating tactics open to an intermediary. Plus emotions tend to get in the way when you are both the advocate and the client.
My favorite negotiating tactic is what’s called the “good cop- bad cop.” The lawyer is the “good cop” and the client is the “bad cop.” I often find myself saying something like this, “I appreciate your offer. It is reasonable. But I have a very difficult client who I know won’t take it. You will need to do a little better.” When you have the adjustor asking, “do you think your client will take x-amount,” you know you are in the driver’s seat!
While representing yourself in an injury claim is never a good idea, there is one situation where you should do so. That is when your case is so small or weak that no lawyer will take it. You are better off making a claim on your own than to do nothing at all. Many insurance companies will offer “nuisance value” just to close your file.