I’m Going to Settle My Case – Do I Still Need a Lawyer?
The short answer to this question is as follows. If it is a small case or a personal type of dispute not involving a significant amount of money, then it may make sense to handle it on your own without an attorney. However, if it is anything significant, or if it is a personal injury matter where there is a likelihood the injury could worsen down the road, you absolutely should retain an attorney first.
For smaller matters, it will be difficult to find an attorney to represent you on contingency because handling a legal dispute is usually very time consuming and expensive. Therefore, for the law firm to stay in business, the matters it handles need to be profitable. Often when insurance companies or corporations want to limit the rights of people to have access to the courts, they will use the ploy of “lawyer bashing” and try to reduce what attorneys can charge on contingency matters. This simply ends up hurting middle class Americans, most of whom could not afford to hire an attorney by the hour.
But for anything significant, not retaining an attorney to handle a settlement can end up costing you much more later. We have seen it many times where people do not involve attorneys early in a legal matter and it ends up hurting them greatly down the road.
In fact, when an injury situation happens, accident victims are often at a disadvantage during the period they are not represented. This time of no legal representation is a window for insurance carriers and other defense representatives to contact the victim to protect their own interests. A number of insurance carriers have “quick response” or “emergency response” units that dispatch crash experts to the accident scene. In addition, some carriers try to contact the injured person as soon as possible to take a statement and gather information to aid in the defense of potential litigation. This is often done within as little as 30 days of the carrier becoming aware of the accident.
In meeting with potential clients who did not consult with an attorney quickly, we have noticed a trend where victims work with the adverse carrier on their own for months, providing a statement and other information. They do so under the belief that the adverse carrier is there to help them and take care of their bills. A number of victims say the carrier’s representative makes them feel the matter is going to be resolved so long as they provide certain information. Many victims also say they are told they should not retain a lawyer and instead should deal with the adjuster because then they would not have to pay attorneys’ fees. This is almost always a bad move for people.
Furthermore, there are many cases – fall-down accidents, auto accidents and product liability cases – where critical investigation work, including evidence preservation, should be done within 30 days or the case could be compromised. For example, a vehicle often will be turned over to the carrier and processed for wrecking within 30 days. This could make it difficult to prove a product-liability suit such as a tire failure or rollover case.
In the end however, the best result is to not need an attorney at all, because that means you do not have a significant injury. It goes without saying that nothing is more important than your health. In all my years of practicing, I have never seen any personal injury plaintiff receive a “windfall.” The insurance companies fight these cases tooth and nail, regardless of how wrong they are. No settlement is ever truly worth the damage to the person’s mind and body.
Gerald Clark, Esq. is the Principal of the Clark Law Firm, PC, which handles cases throughout New Jersey including Monmouth, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson and Ocean Counties. His practice concentrates on personal injury, product liability, workplace accidents and class-action litigation.