Published: 28 May 2019
Author: Michael Burdess

Warning signs when choosing a personal injury lawyer

I recently had an enquiry from an injured worker named Richard*. He had been injured while working in the south-west and after seeing a TV ad for a Melbourne-based firm, decided that he would use them instead of someone local.

The experience Richard had with his original law firm was very surprising. Firstly, even though he had a straight forward WorkCover injury claim, he was asked to put several thousand dollars of his own money into the lawyer’s trust account at the commencement of his matter. He paid up and the original lawyers began investigating the case.

This was startling to me because at Stringer Clark, in the vast majority of cases and in particular in WorkCover and TAC cases, we ensure our clients are not asked to put money into trust. The request for money up front was particularly surprising as Richard’s case was quite strong.

Once Richard’s condition was stable and some medical material had been obtained, he could proceed to lodge an “impairment benefit” lump sum claim. It was at this stage that Richard’s original law firm asked him to provide a further $10,000 of his own funds, or to take out a loan with the firm to cover further legal costs.

Again, this is an unorthodox and alarming approach. Not only was the amount far in excess of what we would charge for an impairment benefit claim, but again the money was asked for upfront. At this point understandably, Richard was becoming increasingly concerned about the financial burden that this would place on him and his family, particularly as he hadn’t seen any progress of his claim.

Seek a second opinion if your lawyer’s approach doesn’t work for you

So, Richard trusted his instincts and sought a second opinion from Stringer Clark. He was relieved to quickly learn that we can pursue an impairment benefit claim on his behalf without him putting any money into trust. He was also really happy to know that his legal costs would be significantly lower than the $10,000 quoted by his original firm.

Essentially some personal injury firms look to take the financial burden of running a case off themselves and put it on the injured client. Stumping up money when you are injured and off work or on reduced hours is tough. The alternative of taking out a loan is also a negative for a client as it will ultimately result in less compensation in their pocket.

Meeting a local lawyer can help your case

On top of all of this, Richard had the additional problem that if he ever wanted to see his lawyer face-to-face he would be required to travel to Melbourne to see them, as they, of course, wouldn’t travel to a regional town.

While face-to-face contact is not necessary for every appointment, it is definitely important to meet on a few occasions in order get to know each other and to build a relationship whereby the details of the case are well understood by both the lawyer and the client. In this case, the client had been asked for many thousands of dollars without ever meeting his initial lawyers in Melbourne and without them producing any results for him.

In relation to personal injury, particularly in WorkCover and TAC matters, if you are asked to place money in trust it is well worth getting a second opinion before paying, as in Richard’s case it may be that a local firm will offer you a preferable arrangement.

On the rare occasion an injury case may be so difficult that a lawyer is not prepared to take it on without at least some of their expenses being covered, and in some cases, this is a reasonable approach.

However, if you are asked to place money in trust you should seriously consider consulting another lawyer. If you have been referred to or chosen to see a lawyer in Melbourne when you are based in the country, it is recommended that you seek a second opinion by booking an initial meeting with a local lawyer to talk about your matter.

In our experience, clients are much better informed about their case when they have close and easy access to their lawyer who can better understand the intricacies of local stories.

*The name of the client featured in this blog has been changed in order to protect the identity of the client.

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