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How to Tell the Difference Between Ethical and Unethical Personal Injury Attorneys

Updated on: 2/11/2021

We like to think that most personal injury lawyers are good, hardworking people who dedicate their work to achieving justice for car accident victims. As with any profession, however, there are inevitably a few who may not be as truthful or ethical as the rest.

If you have been injured in an accident through no fault of your own, you may need to hire a personal injury lawyer to represent you. Hiring a great personal injury attorney for your unique case is crucial to getting an optimal result, but everyone should be entitled to capable and ethical legal representation after a life-changing accident.

Accident victims should consider a number of factors and keep an eye out for potential red flags that may help you identify whether that attorney is dedicated to ethical representation of his or her clients.  

The Initial Consultation

Ethical: Providing Honest, Helpful Insight About Experience With Similar Legal Cases

In many instances, an accident victim's very first meeting with an attorney (which should always be a free consultation, by the way) can sometimes reveal whether or not that attorney is ethical. An attorney's presentation of him or her self and their "pitch" to a potential client can tell you a lot about what the attorney's priorities are. 

For example, an attorney who provides honest insight about an accident victim's legal situation and that attorney's experience in handling similar types of cases is more likely to be focused on helping a prospective client understand how the legal process works and how the attorney's assistance will benefit them. 

Unethical: Claiming To Know How Much Your Case Is Worth

Many accident victims eventually become curious about the potential value of their case. It's unfortunate that some attorneys like to take advantage of this curiousity by making misleading or inaccurate statements about the perceived value of a case. 

If a personal injury attorney attempts to tell you with any degree of certainty how much your case may be worth during the initial consultation, you should consider why a lawyer may be motivated to make such a prediction and whether that attorney's motives are ethical.

The Cost Of Hiring A Personal Injury Attorney

Ethical: Offering Excellent Legal Representation For An Appropriate Fee

Affordable legal representation for accident victims is a fundamental core value at Davis Law Group. We pride ourselves on making sure that our clients' best interests are placed at the forefront of our work. Attorney's fees are charged on a contingency fee basis, meaning there are no up-front costs or fees and we only get paid once we have successfully recovered financial compensation for you.

A contingency fee agreement also incentivizes our team to achieve the best possible result for each and every one of our clients. And unlike some of the other personal injury attorneys in Washington state, Davis Law Group won't automatically increase our contingency fee to 50% if your case proceeds to trial. Our attorneys embrace the challenge of litigation, which empowers our team to put maximum pressure on the insurance companies cooperate fairly.

Unethical: Charging Unreasonable Rates Or Discounting Expenses As An Incentive

Personal injury attorneys who charge exorbitant fees for taking a case to trial simply do not want to take cases to trial. In fact, they avoid taking their cases to trial at all costs. These law firms (called "Settlement Mills") do not act in their clients best interests and are instead focused on efficiency and maximizing profit. 

Attorneys will also sometimes bend the rules to incentivize a client to hire them over the competition. If an attorney promises to make costs contingent on the outcome of your case, such a promise violates the Rules of Professional Conduct. If an attorney is willing to break the ethics code on costs, you should consider for your self what other ethics he or she is willing to compromise.

The act of offering discounted fees doesn't necessarily violate any rules on its face, but do you really want to hire a 'discount attorney' after a life-changing accident?

Communication Style And Customer Service

Ethical: Your Law Firm Is In Contact Each Month And You Know Where You Stand

At Davis Law Group, it is our policy to remain in constant contact with each of our clients, usually about every 30 days. We send our clients email reminders about the important updates we need about their cases along the way, and also take the time to thoroughly explain the legal process so that they know where their case stands. 

It takes another level of dedication to client service to help clients feel in control of their legal case. We firmly believe that we have earned our reputation because of this dedication to client service, and we place a lot of value on having an open line of clear communication with our clients.

Unethical: Your Lawyer Won't Give You The Time Of Day

Unfortunately, many accident victims come to our office after having had an underwhelming experience with another attorney. It's never a fun situation to be in, but many accident victims end up considering whether it's worth firing their attorney or simply working to repair the relationship. 

Regardless of your situation, you have the right to understand what is going on with your case and where things currently stand. If your attorney is not meeting your expectations when it comes to clear communication, taking an opportunity to clearly communicate your frustrations is an important first step. 

Keeping Track Of Finances

Ethical: Clear Financial Transparency & Accountability 

Finally, when it comes to dollars and cents you have every right to transparency and accountability for the finances for your case. There are certain ethics rules and regulations which require attorneys to keep accurate record of all case expenses and to keep client funds separate from firm operating funds. 

At Davis Law Group, we provide summarized accounting statements to our clients several times throughout the life of the case. This level of transparency and accountability also helps our clients better understand what an optimal outcome might look like as we continue to negotiate with the insurance companies on their behalf. 

Unethical: Shady Business Practices Or Lack Of Transparency 

Unfortunately, some attorneys prioritize profit over their clients' best interests. If an attorney tries to dissuade you from having access to the accounting records for your case or tells you that you cannot view this information, that should be a red flag that something isn't right. 

If at any point you suspect something is off or you feel that your attorney has misled you or otherwise been dishonest with you about the finances for your case, you should immediately contact the Washington State Bar Association to file a complaint. 

Discipline For Unethical Attorneys

The difference between ethical and unethical conduct can be a fine line in some instances, while in others there can be more gray area. Ultimately, the consequences for unethical attorney disconduct can vary significantly by jurisdiction. The state bar association which admitted an attorney into practice will typically have a procedure for reviewing ethics complaints and disciplining an attorney as they see fit. 

Minor ethical violations may carry small fines or other penalties, while more severe infractions may lead to other sanctions, like suspension or outright disbarment. Disbarment means the attorney may be prohibited from practicing until they satisfy specific conditions set by regulators. Disbarment, suspension, and public or private censure are the most common penalties for attorneys who violate ethics rules. 

Learn More About Hiring A Great Lawyer, Or Contact Us Today

Davis Law Group has published a free legal guide to attorney evaluation and selection in Washington state. "The Smart Consumer's Guide To Hiring A Great Lawyer" is now available for free online order at www.WashingtonAccidentBooks.com. This book is packed with helpful information to help accident victims and their loved ones better understand which factors to consider and how to make sense of misleading legal advertising. Order your free copy today!

If you have any questions about your legal rights after a life-changing accident and would like to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney, call our office in Seattle at (206) 727-4000 to request a free legal consultation with our award-winning team today. 

Chris Davis
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Chris Davis is the founder of Davis Law Group, P.S. in Seattle, WA.
2 Comments
I have received a settlement from l&i amd my lawyers are collecting a fee which in the past seemed lower than what is now even though they say it is 33.1% my case is closed with l&i and my checks are coming through the lawyers are they allowed to continue to take their fee out of my reward money?
by Shane Bash March 8, 2015 at 04:24 AM
How about when the the lawyer changes the fees AFTER the final settlement papers are signed that do not have these extra fees added !? Telling the client they should 'eat part of the settlement ' ?! Where is the transparency ?? Then refuses to process the payment until there is agreement of these fees, .... " either charge an account on the accident benefits or I close the file and you arrange the settlement with them directly or through a new lawyer. Those are the only two options. If you want to talk to the insurer to arrange settlement yourself I will send you their information. I cannot process the accident benefit settlement without an account." So should the client refuse to pay these surprise fees ??? Get a new lawyer ? Place a complaint to the Bar Association ?
by Mary September 8, 2014 at 12:30 PM
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