Wednesday, September 13, 2006

PI

So I interviewed for a part-time job with a PI (that’s personal injury to you non-law school readers) firm. It was interesting. Most attorneys in big (or not so big) firms seem to think PI lawyers are the bottom rung of the ladder. They’re bottom feeders, they say.

I’m not so sure about this. It sounds like an interesting field, although I don’t know if it’s for me. If you get enough cases it seems like you’re almost guaranteed to earn money and if you get a handful of big money cases you have the chance to make lots of money (maybe not millions of dollars a year but a pretty substantial salary). And because almost everyone has insurance, if you have enough volume, you can’t lose. That’s how these two guys pitched it to me, anyway, and that's what I saw last year when I did a paper for a class about Small Claims Court. I’m sure there are some PI lawyers who make no money. These guys insist that in a couple of years they will be making far more than their law school friends at the Really Big Firms. Who knows if that’s true.

I know that torts was my most interesting class. But every case in torts had crazy facts, like the guy who rigged his cabin to shoot the intruder or the poor schlub who was walking past the warehouse when a barrel of flour fell on his head. As a PI lawyer these guys told me almost all cases are run-of-the-mill slip and falls or car accidents. That makes sense. They also said it’s nice to know you’re helping people who suffer in accidents although they admitted that it’s not always about helping people, especially when clients call twice a day demanding the money that they know is coming.

The other sweet part about PI work is that apparently in Florida lawyers are eager to refer cases to you. I was unaware of this rule until recently but apparently if a lawyer refers a PI case to a PI lawyer, the referring attorney gets 25 percent of the attorney’s fees. This almost sounds too good to be true. So it’s three years from now and I’m a lawyer practicing say, land use, and hypothetically my neighbor gets rear ended and needs a lawyer. If I refer him to a competent PI lawyer (like one of my law school buddies) I automatically get 10 percent of the settlement amount (which is 25 percent of the attorney’s fees if my math is right…and as we all know, attorney’s fees in PI cases in Florida are more or less standard at about one-third if it settles and about a quarter if it goes to trial; obviously almost all cases settle eventually). So his Hummer was totaled and he missed three months of work and has lingering back pain so he can’t work in his garden anymore. He was hit by say, a UPS truck and the other driver was at fault. UPS has insurance so eventually after all the paperwork is done and the parties go back and forth, they’ll throw $30-50 grand at him (I’m ballparking this figure obviously—maybe it’s more like $10,000? $150K? I don’t really know…I guess this is the part where it depends on how good the lawyer is.). And just because I referred him to a lawyer, I get a check for $3-5K. For doing nothing. Is it really that easy?

2 Comments:

At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a volume game, for sure. And, you aren't really a counselor. You may be a lawyer, of course. I know a guy who sold his “law practice” to become a high school teacher. Many people are amazed that he would be so bold to follow his dreams of teaching, and leave the exciting world of law. In reality, he had a small “real estate practice” that was mainly evictions. It was all volume too. Lowest bidder. He said he felt like an employee of the people he worked for more than someone with advice to help solve issues. He was always running, constantly trying to keep business and strum up new work. It was horrid.

Look around. If being a PI lawyer is a license to print money, as these people say, why is the business so tough and cut-throat. Look at the back of a yellow pages, the side of busses, on bus benches. On TV. Why doesn’t White & Case, advertise during Maury?

You know what you’re getting into. I mean, a guy has to eat, but beware.

 
At 11:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

UM doesn't seem to produce much else but PI lawyers and public defenders. Don't you remember Travolta driving a Porsche in "A Class Action". Then again, Matt Damon lived out of his car in "The Rainmaker". Oh well, you're on Law Review so don't worry.

 

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