Need a Lawyer, but Can You Afford to Sue?

I feel terrible when potential client’s call wanting a legal answer over the phone and ask me to represent them... and I can NOT accept their cases. I know they would not expect a doctor or contractor to diagnose or give a bid without meeting the patient or customer in person but somehow a lawyer is often thought of differently.

It makes me sick when I can’t accept a civil case of someone in need, and it is often hard for most callers to understand why. At The Law Office of Dale Gribow our focus is on successfully resolving our client’s civil and criminal problems.

On all civil litigation we are concerned with our client being able to “stay in the game” because of their inferior financial situation, compared to the other party. Other than with a contingency accident case, most civil cases are handled… only on an hourly. That can be very expensive and I do not want to accept a case where we win but the costs of litigation are so great that the client does not receive a happy result. I would rather reject those cases then bill the client thousands of dollars and than not have a happy client.

Therefore I ask each potential hourly client, “Who has more money... you or the other party?” The last thing we want is to start litigating a good case and then have our client tell us they have to fold their cards and drop the case because they can no longer afford the litigation. If one party has more money, and knows it, they often “paper” the other side with motions and appeals etc. Unfortunately the less affluent client cannot “stay in the game”.

I am also concerned about the Defendants wealth. If a lawyer takes a case to trial and wins, can he collect? If there is insurance there is no problem. However, many cases don’t involve insurance. Thus, the other party would have to pay out of their own assets. Now after winning at trial the lawyer has to worry about collecting money for the client and him/her self.

If that happens the lawyer is in the same position as if there was an agreed amount owing and the other side is just not paying. The defendant can skip town, hide assets or file Bankruptcy…………If you can’t find money now, one can always renew the judgement every 10 years.

Another consideration is whether our client has a prior Felony record, as the judge will issue a jury instruction that the jury can decide how much credence to give to the testimony of a convicted felon. With all civil litigation cases it is also important whether the client has a history of suing people or being sued. Of course with any accident case I need to know if the prospective client has preexisting injuries to the same area via an auto accident, slip and fall or sports injury etc.

In addition, with all civil cases, we must consider whether the client contacted us in a timely manner and whether they had been talking to the lawyer or adjuster for the other side. If so, we will never know what the client said OR WHAT THE OTHER PARTY THOUGHT s/he heard my client say. That is how a lawyer gets blindsided at trial.

Throughout my career, a large amount of my practice has been collecting compensation for accident victims, contract disputes and real estate issues. Accident victim’s compensation is more difficult today because of new insurance company policies of denying and delaying.

Today it is not uncommon for an insurance company to offer $6,000 when the victim has a medical bill of $9,000 and clear liability. If a lawyer accepts that amount and pays most of the accrued bills there would be no money left for the victim or the lawyer. We do not want to accept a case when we know our client will not be happy and could be a victim twice. Thus we reject many small soft tissue cases!

If we decide to go to trial, the costs dramatically increase. It can take between $15,000 to $50,000 to pay for court costs, investigation and expert witness testimony on a soft tissue case. The lawyer, client and witnesses all increase the time spent preparing for trial. Unfortunately the client often has to wait several years for the case to get to trial because of California’s court cutbacks and the challenges with Covid.

I hope this missive helps you to understand why it is not always in the client’s best interest to take a case to trial. This is another reason to not accept a case.

 

 


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