RTL’s Real Truth About Lawyers # 6: “I’ve got a ‘great’ case that I can’t get any attorney to take on contingency.”
Hmmmm… Well, I’ve got news for you. That ‘great’ case of yours probably ain’t as ‘great’ as you think, and this is probably why no lawyers are willing to take it on. A lot more goes into making a ‘great’ case than simply conclusively proving you’ve been wronged. Good attorneys know this and choose their battles carefully, and that is why we take on very few of the ‘great’ cases we get presented on a daily basis, and it’s just one more real truth about lawyers.
The Pursuit of the Plaintiff’s Attorney’s Holy Grail
Any good attorney is always on the lookout for that ‘great’ case; you know, the one that can make for a seven figure recovery for both the lawyer and the client. We in the industry call such a case a ‘mortgage burner’ because it’s the kind you could actually pay off a house with. (Wouldn’t we all want that?) But as much as every plaintiff’s attorney is looking for that big case, good attorneys know that is a rare thing and one must pass over a lot of marginal cases in the meantime on the way to such a big case.
Good Attorneys Aren’t “Crusaders”; They’re Businessmen
For a smart good attorney it’s all about a case’s profitability. It’s not about correcting social injustices or tilting at windmills or ‘making new law’. Good attorneys leave all the social injustices to the ‘true believer’ public defenders and ACLU lawyers. Those that pursue such grand noble endeavors are commendable indeed for, without them, a lot of social injustices would have no advocate. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with being such a noble attorney… that is… unless you’re trying to make a living where there’s no one paying your salary. Plaintiff’s attorneys are entrepreneurs, no different in that sense than any other good businessmen, and they can’t stay in business if they don’t consistently turn a profit. The only business I know that stays in business despite profitability is the government… but that’s a different discussion for another time…
Good Attorneys Don’t Play ‘Short Ball”; They Play “Long Ball”
Taking on big tobacco companies or other such speculative ventures (all such ventures were speculative in the beginning) takes a deep pocket to finance and a long litigation route to even begin to see recovery. Even big tobacco was a case so huge and expensive it still involved several attorneys general’s offices to bring down the tobacco giants. (Never mind that they simply diversified into the processed foods markets; how about that for irony and insight?!) But most plaintiff’s lawyers simply aren’t in such a well funded position. And even if they are after years of smaller successes, chances are they aren’t ready to ‘roll the dice’ on a case that could erase those gains in one failed attempt at a speculative case. To the client it’s a case that if they lose they kick the dust , grumble, and go home angry and get over it in a week or so. But for the attorney, such pursuits can shut down a firm entirely.
It’s Not the Money You ‘Make’; It’s the Money You ‘Keep’ And How Much You ‘Invest’ To Get It
That saying is mostly said about taxes, but the same holds for good business, and mind you, law is a business. Even a good medical malpractice case can rack up big expenses way before settlement and along the way it’s the attorney that faces those mounting expenses, not the client. A good lawyer has to be extremely sure, not just marginally, of a good recovery to justify such investment. Good lawyering is a lot like good poker, and in poker, the pot odds are always the controlling factor. A ‘long shot’ is worth taking if the payoff is large enough relative to the investment. Paying $50,000 for a good 4 to 1 shot at $250,000 (don’t forget, you’re deducting your investment from your return) is a good case; paying $50,000 for a ‘so-so’ even money shot at $100,000 is not.
What This Ultimately Means to You – Why That “Great Case Isn’t All That Great
For the average client understanding everything that goes into making a good case is very complicated; often too complicated to really take on as a layperson outside the real business of law. To be honest (and not snarky in the least) that’s what you trust a good lawyer to know for you. And if several good lawyers in a row turn down your ‘great’ case, there’s a very good reason; it just may not be a reason you know or a reason you’re willing to accept. But one thing you can rely on is this: If you can’t find a lawyer after talking to a few to take your ‘great’ case on contingency… it’s not a great case. A good case is rarely turned down by ANY good lawyer who knows his business. The mere fact several have turned down your ‘great’ case tells you definitively it’s not nearly as ‘great’ as you think, and that’s simply the real truth about lawyers.
VERY IMPORTANT POST SCRIPT: – How to Spot the Really Bad Plaintiff’s Attorney
And if you’re looking for further assurances of the fact that your case may not be worth pursuing, be very aware and BEWARE of any attorney that offers to take such a case for upfront money in advance to pay it by the hour. If an attorney tells you he won’t sue someone on a ‘great’ ‘plaintiff’s case on contingency, but instead offers to take such case being paid by the hour, it’s a MAJOR red flag! Good attorneys understand that they must invest in good cases where most clients simply cannot. Any attorney who offers to take a a case by the hour with the client advancing the expenses is simply trying to fleece you into paying him to work a losing case. Good attorneys will sometimes make such an offer simply to give the client real perspective on what real investment into a case entails knowing any smart client will see that and abandon a foolish pursuit. But there are plenty of bad attorneys willing to blow sunshine up a client’s a** to garner a fee on a losing case. Don’t fall for it!