LEGAL OR ETHICAL RELATIONSHIP OF TRUST
As a personal injury lawyer, I am responsible for observing and protecting the best interests of my client in the matter they hired me to represent them in, and to secure the result they are entitled to given the facts and the personal injury law. I have what is called a fiduciary duty, defined as holding a legal or ethical relationship of trust with one or more parties. Key words in the preceding sentence include ethical and trust. I am bound by the personal injury law as to how I must proceed for my client, and in addition I am bound by the mandates laid out by the State Bar. The State Bar is essentially a union, and this union lays out the terms under which a personal injury attorney must operate. These terms are dictated by principals of ethics in protecting the interests of the client that has entrusted their so-very-important legal matter to the attorney. The State Bar can initiate investigative proceedings and administer penalizing sentences such as probation or in the most drastic of circumstances, revoking a personal injury attorney’s license to practice law.
When I meet with a client and they agree to representation, I have them sign an agreement detailing the representation. It starts with defining who the parties are, myself as the personal injury attorney and the client. It specifies the incident for which I’ve been retained and the scope of my services. The contract then goes on to read that to be successful in pursuit of the legal matter I need the client’s cooperation. Yes, you must cooperate with the personal injury attorney you’ve hired in order to be successful. Countless of times we cannot locate our own client as they have moved, changed numbers, etc. This problem is compounded if a personal injury lawsuit is filed; the client’s cooperation is necessary in answering documents, they need to have their deposition taken, appear at a medical exam, etc. The client must cooperate.
The contract defines the fee arrangement and what the fee is. Customary is 1/3 (33.3%) of the recovery, but this is not a percentage set by law. It is a negotiable fee and oftentimes discussed and negotiated during the initial meeting. It is a contingency fee agreement, meaning my fee is contingent on their being a recovery. If there is no recovery, there is no fee. The fee is from the gross recovery, the full offer.
My contract then goes on to discuss costs. Everything costs money and pursuing a personal injury claim is no different (in fact, to properly pursue a personal injury claim you will most likely need an attorney for this very reason – the costs involved). I front all costs. This means I pay for whatever needs to be done to get done. Filing a complaint in Superior Court costs $435, serving that complaint $50-$100, taking a deposition starts at $500. I pay for all of this. If you go to trial you will need expert witnesses to talk about how the incident happened and about your personal injuries. This can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Again, fronted by the attorney. When your personal injury case resolves, hopefully successfully, those costs are then deducted from your recovery.
TERMINATION OF SERVICES
There are other terms laid out in the agreement, for example, termination of services. Each party has the right to terminate the attorney client relationship via notice. An attorney cannot abandon his client, but if he/she provides plenty of notice prior to any significant timelines, that attorney can withdraw for any reason, personal or otherwise. Likewise, the client has the option to terminate at-will.
In summary, there is much a client can benefit from by hiring a qualified personal injury attorney and once that is done, that attorney has the duty to keep the client’s best interest in the forefront.