While you can fight a personal injury case yourself, you should hire an attorney and here's why

How You Might Think It Works

If legal drama shows like Law and Order have taught me anything, it’s that a good lawyer only needs a few things to be successful: a confident voice, the ability to think on his toes, and a good power tie. Scene after scene takes place in the courtroom, where well-dressed attorneys toss around witty legal banter in a totally unnatural way. The one with the best hair tends to win.

How it Really Works

What they don’t show is the hours of tedious and complicated paperwork they need to have prepared and filed, adhering to specific state-contingent deadlines. Even an attorney in one state, say New York, needs to know rules and guidelines for each county in which they might need to file a lawsuit. (There are 62 different counties in NY, by the way.) Google can teach you quite a bit (some of it even true!) but it is no replacement for 8 years of rigorous education and trial-by-fire.

Where Others Have Failed

So why is it that some people think they can shirk an attorney and try to beat the insurance company giants on their own? TV dramas and John Grisham books might have something to do with it, but it’s often simpler than that: greed. Plaintiffs think they can win more money on their own than by hiring an attorney. Not only do they think that they can do an attorney’s job better than a lawyer, but they realize that not having to pay an attorney will give them a greater percentage of their supposed bigger settlement.

Unofrtunately, that’s not how it works — Why?

  • Most plaintiffs don’t start out pro-se (without an attorney). They may fire their attorney halfway through the process, or even later than that. What plaintiffs fail to realize is that attorney is entitled to some portion of any settlement even if the attorney doesn’t see the case through to the end.
  • Plaintiffs on their own often miss crucial deadlines, which will end their case before it ever sees a courtroom. A typical layman doesn’t know the chronology of a legal case: when a demand needs to be submitted, when the complaints needs to be drafted, how quickly to schedule and respond to interrogatories, etc. People in the industry over a decade still get tripped up.
  • Some attorneys may drop their client, who decides to pursue the case on their own. While it’s possible an attorney may drop the case for an innocent reason, more likely they dropped the client because they feel the case can’t be won. This is more obvious when more than one attorney drops a case. I’m not saying a plaintiff can’t win a case under these circumstances, but it is very difficult.

Is it Possible to Win On Your Own?

Yes, sure it’s possible. Maybe you’ve been a paralegal for years and have familiarized yourself with the legal process. Maybe you’re a quick learner. Maybe you’re just really lucky. But I think it’s very telling that most attorneys, when they get into an accident of their own, hire other attorneys to handle their cases. Could they win without the help of another attorney? Perhaps. Do they trust someone else with the time, knowledge, and experience more than they’d trust themselves? Often times, yes.

That’s why legal funding companies won’t touch a case when the plaintiff is handling the lawsuit pro-se. Not only is there the increased risk that the case won’t settle for a good amount (if it indeed settles at all), but there are then major issues with collecting the lien amount. The reason funding companies have attorneys sign contracts is that the lawyer agrees to disburse funds to the funding company with all the other liens. Plaintiffs very often don’t honor their part of the written bargain without their attorneys upholding their ethical obligations.

If you’ve been in an accident and you’re thinking of trying the case yourself, I can’t tell you no. I can point out that it’s an extremely uphill battle you’re choosing, and the odds aren’t great. I can also say to not bother applying for funding on your case, because no one will consider you.

So, What do I do?

Consult with an attorney. They incur debt learning nothing. They’re the experts. Maybe pick one with a good power tie, just in case.