Last week I had a spare moment, and was searching online for information about personal injury law. And as I started to type my question into Google, something very strange happened. Based on an algorithm relying on popular past searches, Google posed this question which had me in an existential panic:
"Are personal injury lawyers worth it?"
My career, my colleagues, everything we've worked for on behalf of our clients - all came flashing before me in that brief moment.
You have to have a pretty thick skin to be a personal injury lawyer. You spend most of your days arguing with insurers on behalf of people who are injured and unwell, who are coming to you at a really difficult time.
Some lawyers in personal injury make the rest of us look like cowboys - long on salesmanship and short on expertise. Meanwhile, the public perception of lawyers in general and personal injury lawyers in particular isn't great - the term "ambulance chaser" seems to be on the tip of a lot of tongues, and we have to work hard to overcome mistrust.
But.... are we worth it?
As with a lot of issues in the law, lawyers are well served by removing themselves from the central focus of an issue or discussion. I thought about what it must be like for someone outside the law, facing uncertainty and questioning whether they should engage a lawyer at all, or how they might choose a lawyer.
Looked at from that perspective, the question is a fair one. Here I'm going to give a rundown of the different options or paths you can take if you're injured, at work, in a road accident, in a public place or through medical negligence. I will help you weigh up the pros and cons of engaging a personal injury lawyer or choosing to handle your claim on your own.
First let's look at the options. If you or someone close to you is injured, there are a few things you can do:
Option 1: Take no action
- Zero cost;
- You don't need to spend time dealing with lawyers or insurers.
- You get nothing in compensation, benefits or support;
- You won't get the support or assistance you need to get back on your feet;
- It can be difficult to claim later if your injury worsens or if you change your mind.
Option 2: Represent yourself
- Zero legal fees if you win your case (but still some costs such as court and medical report costs);
- You are in complete control.
- You don't have help dealing with insurers and lawyers;
- You bear all the stress of running your own claim;
- You don't know the law, and Googling the answers won't fix that;
- Representing yourself is very time consuming and claims are often delayed;
- Insurers can take advantage of your lack of expertise (remember, their interests are not the same as yours);
- You are extremely unlikely to get the best possible outcome.
Option 3: Engage a general lawyer (a lawyer who works across multiple practice areas)
- Potentially slightly cheaper than a personal injury specialist; and
- They are likely to be someone you already know or have a relationship with.
- Your lawyer is not an expert;
- Delays are common and the case is likely to take much more time to resolve;
- Insurers can take advantage of your lawyer's lack of expertise;
- The lawyer may or may not offer to act on a No Win No Fee basis;
- You are fairly unlikely to get the best possible outcome.
Option 4: Engage an expert personal injury lawyer
- Your lawyer is an expert in the field, participating in regular ongoing legal education about their speciality;
- You have no/minimal upfront costs - in Victoria all personal injury experts offer No Win No Fee charging;
- Insurers and defendant lawyers are much more likely to take you and your claim seriously;
- The length of the claim can be made shorter because of their expertise and experience;
- Any additional cost will be outweighed by the efficiency in preparing the claim and the extra compensation that you get with a specialist; and
- You are fairly likely to get the best possible outcome.
- A specialist injury firm will charge at a higher rate than your local lawyer;
- Larger injury firms can treat you like a number and not give your case the time and attention it deserves;
Personal injury experts can get lifechanging outcomes for people who have been seriously injured. They aren't as cheap as the lawyer who does your Will or your conveyancing but this is a situation where you get what you pay for (when you win your case).
The process of getting compensation is more stressful in the short term than burying your head in the sand. But a good personal injury team is worth every dollar, and worth every minute of your time.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.