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Settlement Mills Provide Bargain Basement Justice

Billboards and television advertisements promise immediate results. A quick settlement. A fast check. Big money. Those are the promises. What is the biggest lie told by attorneys? According to one workers’ compensation lawyer who considered the question:

I thought long and hard about that one. Unfortunately there are many to choose from. But I think the biggest is from lawyers who will do anything to sign a case up.

Unfortunately, the same lawyers who make big promises to get the case usually fail to help their clients achieve real justice. In many cases, the client receives much less. Often, the client is even left in worse long-term shape. That’s wrong.

In Michigan, a prominent trial attorney who DOES go to court has begun airing television ads actually attacking settlement mill lawyers. Personally, I’m still not comfortable with our profession airing slick television ads. I also think attack ads diminish the entire profession. Of course, I also believe  political attack ads diminish the entire election process. But, that’s another discussion. This prominent real-trial attorney in Michigan does make a true point about the many settlement mills advertising for cases. In his commercial, he says:

Every day, people are forced to settle for less than they need or deserve. Why? Because their lawyer doesn’t really try cases; they only advertise on TV.

That is so true. In the Huntsville/Decatur area where my office is located, one “settlement mill” attorney is constantly on television. He has perfected his jingle. Yet, I’ve never even met the guy. He clearly does not go to court. He is an insurance company’s dream – a guy who settles all cases for a fraction of their value. While I have not met this lawyer, I have met plenty of people hurt worse by him.

A Stanford law professor conducted an in-depth study of settlement mill law firms. The author of the study discovered ten common characteristics of settlement mill firms. None of these characteristics are good for hurt people who need real justice. What are these settlement mill characteristics?

  • High Case Volume
  • Aggressive Advertising
  • “Entrepreneurial Business Practices”
  • Rarely, if ever, Go To Trial
  • Charge TIERED Contingency Fees
  • Do Not Fully Screen Cases
  • Do Not Prioritize Communications Between Attorney and Client
  • Incentive Settlements By Methods Including Quotas
  • Resolve Cases Quickly
  • Rarely, if ever, File Lawsuits

Good attorneys rarely make quick money promises to “get the case.” Why not? Good attorneys know the best results require long hours of work and preparation.

On an individual level, I often receive calls from injured people who used one of our local advertising settlement mills. These calls have one common characteristic – it’s usually too late for any attorney to fix the damage caused by the prior settlement mill attorney. In some cases, the settlement mill realized close to the statute of limitations that the case would require filing, or real trial work. So, these attorneys simply dropped the client rather than fight for him or her. In other cases, the settlement mill attorney worked a quick settlement that did not fully compensate the injured person for his or her losses. In either scenario, the hurt client suffers further injury.

Settlement mills want a huge volume of cases to settle quickly. Individual justice is not important to these lawyers. From the consumer-side, I understand it’s often difficult to separate the good from the bad when so many lawyers now seem to promise quick victories. If you suffered a personal injury, you need a good attorney who will work hard and care about your case. You should do a little investigation before signing a contract. Ask questions. Talk to others. Read reviews. Read local attorney websites or blogs. Find out which attorneys will go to court. Don’t just hire the guy in a cape who promises you everything. Anybody can make promises. However, few are willing to deliver the hard work needed.