The Personal Injury Associate

I feel fortunate. I have landed an associate position. Not a traditional associate position, but a job working for an experienced lawyer-a personal injury (PI) lawyer. He is a member of the law firm Weiss  Henry, Jones, & Bennett (WHJB).

In a traditional law partnership the partners collectively share their profits, or divide them based on a formula at the end of the year. The partners have associates that they bill at a rate at least twice the amount they pay the associate. In this way the law firm can represent multiple clients through the use of associates, and make more money along the way. This traditional formula works for lawyers who bill on an hourly basis.

My cases are billed on a contingency fee basis. This means our law firm or my partner John Henry (JH) does not bill on an hourly basis. He represents injured people without taking a retainer from the client and without billing them for his time. Rather he takes a percentage of the recovery-generally one third. At WHJB the partners each have their own cases and do not share their fees. The partnership is a cost partnership meaning the only sharing is with common overhead such as rent, the receptionist and our internet law library. JH gives me smaller cases and I work them to completion with his help. He pays a salary and keeps his share of the contingent fee.

Most important for me JH is teaching me how to be a lawyer. JH says law school is necessary to become a lawyer but that’s about it. JH says law school has little to do with how to be a lawyer. JH says being a PI lawyer is about two things. First is helping the little guy against the big insurance company. JH says in a car collision case the defendant runs over the plaintiff and then the defendant’s insurance company runs over the plaintiff . The PI lawyer stands in the way of the insurance company and gets fair value (justice) for the little guy. Second the PI lawyer makes a decent living along the way. According to JH this means taking cases he has a likely chance of winning. Sometimes JH loses. He says this is what happens when we try cases on a regular basis.

JH says insurance companies also run over  lawyers who do not try cases. This is because they know they can settle the non trial lawyer’s cases for minimum value since the insurance company has no risk.  It is only when the insurance company has a risk of loss at trial that they may pay fair value. So JH is teaching me how to be a trial lawyer. I’m about to meet a new client so I have to go. Soon I will report on my first lesson on being a trial lawyer.


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