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Deciphering a Lawyer's Ad

By Aaron Larson
March, 2005



When you look at lawyer advertisements on television or in the phone book, they often contain claims or information that is somewhat confusing. The following are examples of claims often found in ads for personal injury lawyers, and what they typically mean.

"We Only Represent Plaintiffs"

A law firm which advertises that it only represents plaintiffs is indicating that they represent the party who brings a lawsuit (the plaintiff), and not the party who must defend against the lawsuit (the defendant). Most personal injury firms only represent plaintiffs, and there does not appear to be any marked diffence in the quality of representation available through a firm which only represents plaintiffs and one which represents both plaintiffs and defendants.

"We Don't Work For Insurance Companies"

Personal injury firms frequently advertise that they don't work for insurance companies. Most personal injury litigation is against a defendant who is insured. The insurance company typically pays for the defense lawyers and other costs of defending the case, and then pays the ultimate settlement or judgment within the policy limits of the defendant's insurance policy. Given that insurance companies won't hire law firms to provide defense services where those law firms are also representing plaintiffs litigating cases against defendants they insure, this claim has little practical import for a client. (Unless, that is, the client simply doesn't want to have a personal injury claim handled by a firm which also performs defense work.)

"No Fee Unless You Recover"

Law firms which work on a contingent fee basis, where they accept a percentage of the ultimate verdict or settlement as the attorney fee, often advertise that they do not charge a fee unless the plaintiff recovers money. It should be noted that the plaintiff will typically remain liable for certain costs of litigation, such as filing fees paid to the court, even if the law firm does not prevail. This particular representation essentially means that the firm handles its personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis.

"We Win 99% Of Our Cases"

A lawyer I know once joked that he could advertise that he wins 100% of his cases, because he only files cases he knows he is going to win. It is difficult to know what to make of this type of claim. Most attorneys are careful about the cases they litigate, and try not to bring cases which are likely to be dismissed by a judge or result in a defense verdict following trial. If settlements are included in the "victories" column, given that most cases resolve in settlement, the figure becomes even more confusing. Similarly, if a law firm is in the practice of voluntarily dismissing its weaker cases, but is not including such dismissals as "losses", the figure loses meaning.

Some of the very best trial lawyers cannot claim similar percentages of victories, as they try their tough cases to verdict. The harder a case is, the more likely it is that the attorney will lose the trial. But when defense attorneys know that a lawyer will take a tough case to trial, it helps the lawyer press for larger settlements in cases the defense attorneys might regard as marginal. Also, if a lawyer has a reputation for obtaining large verdicts, that reputation can serve to increase settlement offers.

On its own, a claim to have won a certain percentage of cases has little significance and may distract a potential client from another firm which, although winning a lower percentage of its cases, does a better job with the hard cases, is better at trial, and is ultimately likely to secure a larger verdict or settlement for its clients.

"Millions Recovered For Our Clients"

Most personal injury law firms which have been in business for an appreciable number of years can make this claim, simply by summing up the total proceeds of the verdicts and settlements they have obtained since they opened their doors. This claim may be a mark of experience, but it does not guarantee either quality or that the firm will be able to recover millions for a particular client or case.

"150 Years of Combined Experience"

A representation about "combined experience" refers to the sum of the years of practice of all of the lawyers in a firm. A law firm with four lawyers who claim 150 years of combined experience is likely to have four experienced lawyers. A fourteen person law firm may have two or three experienced partners, and a large number of inexperienced associates. The important measure is not "combined experience", but actual experience - how experienced are the attorneys who will actually be managing your case? For that matter, how much experience do they have with cases like yours?

About The Author
Aaron Larson is a Michigan lawyer whose practice emphasizes civil appeals and litigation consulting. Copyright © 2005, Aaron Larson, all rights reserved.
As legal advice must be tailored to the specific facts and circumstances of your case, information cannot substitute for the advice of qualified legal counsel. All information on this website is believed to be accurate as of the time it was authored. However, due to the possibility of changes in the law since that time, and as personal injury laws can vary significantly from state to state, you should verify any information you find on this site with a licensed legal professional in your state. All information on this site is presented on an "as is" basis. Your use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.