There are essentially two ways for a law firm to handle your personal injury case: (1) have you work primarily with a personal injury lawyer throughout your lawsuit or (2) have you work primarily with a case manager or paralegal, particularly during the early stages of your case (when evidence development could not be more critical to the ultimate value of your claim). I cannot think of any advantages to the second approach, other than increasing the revenue of the law firm by decreasing the amount that they must pay for attorney staff and increasing the volume of cases that the firm can handle.
Your Accident or Injury Case Should Be Handled By An Attorney From Start To Finish
Working closely with a personal injury attorney (rather than a case manager or paralegal) is critically important to ultimately maximizing the value of your personal injury or accident case. It is difficult to explain exactly why that would be true without putting you through law school. But I’m going to try.
A personal injury lawyer knows what type of evidence will be necessary to prove the maximum value of your claim. They also know what procedural and evidentiary rules, and substantive law, will apply to your case. So, for example, they know whether a certain statement by a witness will be admissible or, if not, what other types of evidence might prove the same thing, or other strategies for getting the witness’ statement admitted into evidence. Paralegals and case managers are absolutely not trained in the intricacies of evidence law, or any substantive law for that matter. They are more like file managers–they organize documents, know what types of documents should be submitted in various cases, and generally handle “form” type of court submissions. They know where to put your name and other information to answer questions on forms, for example, but they do not know the many (endless) creative ways to utilize what is permissible under the law to further enhance the value of your personal injury claim.
Personal injury attorneys also know how insurance companies are going to view medical and other evidence when making offers to settle personal injury cases and, if the case proceeds to trial, how juries will view the evidence (and what evidence they will be allowed to hear or see). Paralegals or case managers might have also been taught some of this information. But, again, they are a completely different animal than a lawyer because lawyers judge every fact you tell them against a backdrop of extremely complicated laws that could lead them to seek slightly different evidence or ask you follow up questions that will lead to better information for your case.
Lawyers Get Paid Based On How Much You Recover
Personal injury lawyers also have a direct, financial stake in your personal injury case. By law, paralegals and case managers cannot be paid a percentage of the value of your claim, either directly (like payment on a split basis) or indirectly (with things like bonus pay). So, really, whether your claim ultimately settles for 50K or 100K or 1M or multi-millions does not impact their income in the slightest, unless they perform so poorly overall that they lose their job. And paralegals and case managers never actively settle cases (they cannot engage in settlement discussions with opposing counsel), so really their performance would never be tied to the value of your case. Essentially, if they are good employees in the sense of attendance and attitude, keep files well-organized, and keep clients happy, then they will continue getting paid.
Lawyers, on the other hand, have a direct stake in the amount of your settlement or trial verdict. We are paid on a contingency (percentage varies depending on amount recovered and whether recovered before or after suit and/or any appeals are filed), which means that we earn more if you collect more.
Tricky Cases Require Extremely Careful Case Preparation
The tricky part happens when some aspect of your case is not obvious or easy to prove (and this happens in the majority of cases). For example, you might have terrible pain but no clear diagnosis, or the liability of the case may be questionable (meaning: proving who caused the accident or injury might be tricky), or the extent of the medical injuries and other damages is not obvious. In those cases, working closely with an attorney who wants to help maximize your claim from the beginning is critically important.
Hypothetical Talking to A Lawyer Versus Paralegal
I’d like to give you a hypothetical example. Imagine that someone sustains a rear end collision while trying to make a left turn in a passing lane and, as a result of the accident, suffers spinal cord damage (let’s say herniated discs), mild brain damage, and other miscellaneous pains, such as lower back & arm pain. Now imagine that the doctor is most concerned about the spinal cord damage so performs surgery right away. From a medical perspective, this is the most important injury to treat. And, if that is what the doctor thinks (assuming he is a good doctor), then the surgery should be performed as soon as possible.
But doctors are not lawyers, so they very often do not handle your medical treatment in the most ideal sense from a lawsuit recovery perspective. In my experience, this means that they may ONLY treat the most concerning injury or injuries, sometimes leaving other less catastrophic but still serious injuries (from your perspective) to (hopefully) heal in time or not at all. So a doctor may overlook symptoms of something like mild brain injury or other serious pain issues, since those are either less obvious or do not have as much potential to harm you (although could leave you with lasting terrible pain or other symptoms). (Even the client may be most concerned with the most serious injuries (as they should be), so may overlook other injuries, particularly early in treatment. But early treatment of ALL injuries, from mild to severe, is very important to the ultimate dollar value recovery of your accident claim.)
The attorney working closely with her client might insist that the client return to the same or a different doctor to get evaluated for untreated symptoms that the client’s first doctor might be ignoring (let’s say the miscellaneous pains in the example above) because those symptoms might not appear to be as important from a medical perspective. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor so cannot and do not give medical advice, but I can and do often QUESTION whether you believe that your doctor has addressed all of your symptoms and concerns, and suggest getting opinions from other providers whenever necessary to prove your legal case.)
Doctors are trained to treat the worst symptoms first. Sometimes the practical reality is that they never really care about lesser but still very real symptoms or injuries. But your personal injury claim will ONLY have the highest value if ALL of your injuries are diagnosed and treated. Making sure you fully maximize the value of your claim requires personalized service in the form of ongoing monitoring by your attorney of your medical treatment and progress. An attorney has both the incentive and the knowledge to maximize the value of your claim as events are unfolding, but only if the attorney is actually talking to you on a regular basis.
Although this might seem like advice that you can easily follow without having an attorney involved (now that I have told you), the reality is that careful case preparation often involves lengthy case planning discussions between attorney and client after each and every doctor visit for ongoing evaluation of the impact of any new diagnosis and/or treatment on the value of your claim (for example, I would want to talk to you, if at all possible, before and after any planned surgeries, physical therapy, chiropractic treatment, pain injections, etc.)
Similar problems with evidence gathering would be involved in trying to prove liability, since who caused the accident might not be clear, yet is absolutely fundamental to any recovery on a personal injury claim.
Paralegals and Case Managers “Play Telephone” With Attorneys
Paralegals and case managers do not have this ability (because they do not know what it takes to prove your case). And, even if they did, by law they are not allowed to give you legal advice when they are talking to you, unless they are simply communicating a direct message from their supervising attorney. So essentially they cannot give you advice regarding evidence gathering and production to maximize the value of your claim. They can only ask for information from you, for an attorney to review later, or communicate back to you what a supervising attorney has said. Either way, if you primarily speak with a paralegal or case manager, then you are essentially “playing telephone” with the development and proof of your case.
I am an Orlando personal injury attorney and I provide highly personalized service to all of my clients. I only accept a low volume of cases. If I accept your case, I will speak to you regularly throughout your pending case. I work very closely with my clients, often speaking several times per day or week in the early stages of evidence development if necessary, and strive to keep my clients fully informed of exactly how the existing evidence is likely to impact the value of their claim (and what other evidence might significantly improve the value of their claim).
I accept personal injury and accident cases (including car accidents, trucking accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian accidents and bicycle accidents) all over Florida and Georgia, including Orlando (where my office is located), Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Valdosta, Macon, Atlanta and all points in between. I reject many more cases than I accept. However, if I accept your case, then I will do everything within my power to fully maximize the value of your settlement or trial verdict. If I cannot accept your injury case, but believe that you might have a good claim, then I will try to help you find an attorney who can help you.
You can reach me by calling (407) 383-7290 or completing the contact form on this site.