You have been injured in an accident, and now you are thinking of hiring a personal injury lawyer. Maybe you find yourself bombarded by advertising: bus benches, newspapers, billboards, radio, and even TV are covered with ads for personal injury lawyers begging you to call. You search Google, and find another barrage of ads before you even get to the search results, where you find page after page of personal injury lawyers. How are you supposed to choose? If you are thinking of hiring a personal injury lawyer, read this first and save yourself a lot of trouble and confusion.
If you start researching personal injury lawyers in Alberta, you will probably notice one thing very quickly: it is hard to find information from a neutral source. In other words, you will find that those who stand to make money from your attention provide most of the information. Injury lawyers post information hoping that you will hire them. Legal directories hope you will click so they can make money advertising to you. Referral sites hope they can send you on to a personal injury lawyer as a “lead” and make money. That does not necessarily mean the information provided by these sites is bad or untrue, it is simply a reminder to consider the source of information you find on the internet, and possible motives behind publishing that information.
Injury lawyer marketing is everywhere, and in the absence of greater regulation, we are only going to see more of it. Law Societies across Canada regulate lawyer advertising in every province and territory. Some societies, however, may lack the funding, staff, and even the will to police the massive volume of injury lawyer advertising. At best, we can say that enforcement is uneven from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This means that consumers may be exposed to marketing that is at best misleading and at worst outright untrue
, which can hurt public confidence in the legal profession
. So how can you separate fact from fiction? Here is what to watch for:
Avoiding the “Bait-and-Switch”
Do the services, prices, or terms promised in the lawyer’s marketing match what is actually provided? In practice, this can be harder to determine than you might think. Here are some things you can do to avoid the “bait-and-switch”:
- Watch for hidden costs, and make sure your injury lawyer explains exactly where and how they are paid in a way that you can understand. Is the fee arrangement confusing or complicated? The more conditions and exceptions that a lawyer’s fee agreement has, the harder it is for you to understand what you will actually be paying when your claim is resolved. We call this the “airline model” – the fee looks low, but by the time you add on the administration fees, baggage fees, fuel fees, airport improvement fees, etc., it looks a lot different. In some cases, personal injury lawyers have been taking more money from clients than is allowed by law. In Ontario, this has led to a bill proposing a cap on personal injury lawyers’ contingency fees.
- Ask your lawyer if they will be handling the claim personally or referring it out. Is the firm you are hiring actually going to do the work? On the face of it, this may seem like a silly question. If a lawyer advertises for your business, why would they not want it? The short answer is referral fees. Lawyers can charge a referral fee when referring a claim to another lawyer. This arrangement has lead to an explosion in personal injury law advertising by lawyers who want to cash in by gathering as many claims as possible and referring them out to the lawyers who will actually do the legal work for as much as 30% of the final fee. It has gotten so bad in Ontario, the Law society has voted to cap referral fees, and has had to unequivocally state that lawyers should not be advertising a service that they are not intending to perform. It may be surprising that such a thing needs to be said, but it is possible that other jurisdictions will follow suit. This leads to our next point:
- Make sure you are dealing with an actual law firm. Are you contacting a law firm or a referral agency? This may again seem like an odd question; the firm looks like a law firm, so they must be a law firm, right? Wrong. Some firms advertise heavily to collect claims but do little of the work themselves, instead referring the bulk of it to other lawyers. In some cases, your lawyer may never have even tried a personal injury case. It may be a great business model for these firms, but is it the best thing for your injury claim?
- Find out if your lawyer is familiar with the local customs and conventions, his or her fellow members of the bar, or even the local judges. Is the firm actually located in your area? These days it is easier than ever to appear to have multiple “locations” by including addresses for offices in different areas. Look closer and you will see that many offices are post office boxes, hotels, or virtual office spaces. If a firm is pretending to have a location in your area just to get your business, is that in your best interest? Can a firm with headquarters in Ontario really help you in Alberta? Even though the law is the same across a jurisdiction such as a province, in practice there can be major differences in procedure and practice from city to city or town to town. Law, like many professions, depends on relationships and if a law firm has no ties to your community, it may negatively affect your claim.
We believe that an informed client is ultimately a happier client; if you think you are getting one thing from your lawyer and end up with something different, you are probably not going to be satisfied. That is why we share as much information as we can about the personal injury claim process in Alberta and how we work with and for you, from start to finish. Maybe we are the right lawyers for you, and maybe not, but how can you make an informed decision without all the right information? Here are some of the resources we provide to help you make your choice:
The best defense against aggressive marketing and confusing or deceptive practices is a good education. Google the names of the firms or lawyers you are considering and find out what unbiased sources say about them. If a firm has an award or designation listed on its website, research the source and the criteria for receiving it – you might be surprised
. Ask your friends, family, and medical professionals for a personal referral; non-lawyers cannot receive referral fees for referring you to a lawyer. Look for well-established, successful firms that do not rely as heavily on advertising. If a firm can stay in business for a long time without heavy advertising, it is probably doing something right.