We have all heard them hundreds of times, those catchy sing-along ads for lawyer referral services like 411-PAIN. They always include a catchy hook and a spokesperson making questionable claims. They always assert that by calling their easy to remember number, you can be connected with an attorney who can help you and your family after an auto accident. Sometimes, the ads even provide a dollar amount, like 1 800 Ask Gary does when they mention that you could receive $10,000 after an auto collision.
But are these lawyer referral services legit?
What about the claims they make? Can they really guarantee you thousands of dollars? And how do they work anyway? Let’s take a closer look at the growing trend of lawyer referral services.
The billboards and TV spots for 411 Pain—sometimes going by 1 800 PAIN—suggest that you should call 411 immediately after you hang up with 911. They act like it should be part of the process of an auto accident. Their hope is to inundate you with so much advertising that your brain goes into auto-drive after an accident. They want those jingles to resonate so deep that after you call 911, calling 1 800 411 PAIN almost seems natural. But if they really had your best interest in mind, wouldn’t they suggest that you do some research first?
Quite simply, no; they don’t want you to think too much about your decision to call. Instead, they want to catch you in a vulnerable moment, get you on the line, and hook you with a commitment, all before your really know what you’re getting into.
But if you don’t have time to research an attorney yourself, maybe 411 or Ask Gary are doing the leg work for you…then again.
After seeing the ads, you may be left with the impression that it’s an honor for an attorney to be associated with 411 Pain or any other “for-profit” accident referral services. Or that the attorneys that they employ are the top of the industry. But how does 411-Pain really decide who they will accept into their “exclusive” network?
Their ads fail to tell you that the founder, Dr. Lewin, is a chiropractor not a lawyer; or that the lawyers who elect to become members of 411-Pain pay a monthly fee to receive case referrals. In reality, for-profit lawyer referral services such as 411 Pain merely act as the middle-man. They take your call, transfer you to a random attorney, then get paid. In fact, you could accomplish the very same thing by calling the first attorney you find in an internet search.
By calling 411-Pain, you place your trust in an individual sitting in a call center who is neither a licensed attorney nor a physician. Instead, the person answering your call may be fresh out of high school, a part-time college student, or someone with no more knowledge about personal injury claims than yourself.
Once they have you on the line, the operator refers you to whichever attorney is next in line and has paid their monthly fee. That’s the extent of their matchmaking skills. The attorney you end up with may have little or no experience in handling auto collision cases; after all, skills or experience isn’t part of the admissions requirements.
This process empowers a random operator, who likely lacks any specialized training, to make decisions that greatly impact you, your family, and the potential value of your legal claim.
In 2011, I had a lunch with an individual who described herself as an “attorney liaison” for 411-Pain. At no point did I have any interest in joining this group, but I took the lunch with a colleague to get an inside look at the process. She informed us that we would have to pay a fee (I believe it was monthly) and that we would then receive cases either directed or referred to us by a call center.
Needless to say, I was surprised to hear that someone in a random call center would be making the determination of which client would be sent to which attorney. I guess I thought that the lawyer referral service employed in-house specialists who would analyze the case and determine the best person for the job. Perhaps that was wishful thinking. Instead, the only two qualifications are: is the lawyer in the same town as the client and have they paid their fees.
Don’t trust this “complex” vetting process!
The short answer is no. You might think that an attorney receiving your case referral has handled hundreds of auto accident claims, but as we’ve mentioned this may not be the case, since the only requirement to join 411-Pain or any other another lawyer referral service is to pay the requisite fee.
The Miami New Times recently published a very interesting exposé on 411-Pain. The article exposes an unflattering view of the origins of 411, as well as, the principal founding members who have quite a colorful track record. The article details a lengthy account of the difficulties some injury victims faced after calling 411-Pain and starting medical treatment with one of the clinics associated with the referral service.
The article, written by Lisa Rab, discusses issues that injury victims had with their 411-pain lawyer/law firms. In many instances, the auto accident injury victim never even spoke with their attorney, while others experienced great difficulty in getting a hold of their lawyer. This is usually an indicator that firm is a personal injury settlement mill. This means that the firm takes as many cases as possible in order to utilize a quantity over quality approach. For example, if a settlement mill takes 100 cases a month and settles each one for $5,000, then their profit would be much higher than just taking 15 cases and settling them for $45,000. However, would you rather be one of the 500 or one of the 15? When quantity is the goal, quality goes out the window. These attorney don’t have to worry about client satisfaction, after all, 411 will be sending them a new client tomorrow. Attorneys who depend on recommendations and reputation actually want to please their clients by keeping communication open and getting the biggest settlement possible. This concept usually applies to any firm that uses some alternative means to gain clients, rather than relying on their actual experience and skill set.
Obviously, I am not saying that all law firms in the 411 Pain network are mere settlement mills or that they have some dubious agenda. That would be a blanket statement I’m not comfortable making. In fact, I’m sure there are some good attorneys who are part of the network, that’s just common sense. But the expose in the Miami New Times illustrates behavior indicative of lawyers who care more about making a profit than actually contributing to their field. When I hear complaints from an injury victim that they never met their attorney and phone calls to the law firm consistently went un-returned, red flags go up. If you haven’t met your attorney, or can’t get a hold of them to save your life, it may be time to think about alternative options.
There are many concerns regarding 411-Pain, Ask Gary, and other legal referral services including:
April of 2014: The Florida Bar of Governors approved new rules regulating attorneys who accept clients from for-profit lawyer referral services. One recommendation prohibits lawyers from accepting a referral from a service that also referred the client for another professional service, such as medical care, although the Florida Supreme Court has not yet adopted any new rules as of this time.
June of 2012: The Florida Attorney General filed a lawsuit against 411-PAIN. A “Stipulated Consent Final Judgment” was entered which providing in part, that “411-PAIN” shall not:
“Use any advertising that promises any specific amount of monetary reward.”
“Make any misrepresentation or mislead an individual to believe that [“411-PAIN”] is directing the consumer to a ‘specialized’ attorney, leading consumers to believe they are being referred by [“411-PAIN”] to an attorney who specializes in the type of injury or accident they have sustained, regardless of the area in which the attorney specializes.”
Additionally, the “Stipulated Consent Final Judgment” from the 411-Pain lawsuit ordered “411-PAIN” to:
“Modify any websites and all other online advertising … utilizing a “Find a Lawyer” section or equivalent service to reflect only currently licensed lawyers and not doctors or chiropractors or other individuals who are not licensed to practice law …”
Pay $75,000 in attorney and investigative fees
Make a $550,000 donation to the Broward Health Foundation and the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation.
October of 2011: The Florida Bar posted an article on their website called “Investigators find fraud associated with some lawyer referral services.” The article expresses the concerns of many that some ads for lawyer and medical referral services mislead by implying victims will get money if they’ve been in accidents. Some encourage those involved in accidents — but not injured — to file merit-less claims.”
December of 2010: The Miami New Times posted an article summarizing a 411-Pain class action lawsuit previously filed against 411 Pain. The article reports that Dr. Lewin, the chiropractor owner of 411 Pain (1800411PAIN), said that lawyers do not pay any fee to be a part of the 411-Pain Network. Instead, the doctors and lawyers have “a reciprocal relationship,” meaning that in some cases, lawyers refer patients to doctors and vice versa.
As the Florida Bar and others have suggested, the members of 411-Pain often encourage injury victims to seek recovery therapy through chiropractors who have also paid a fee to be a part of the same referral network. This creates an inherent conflict of interest, since this opens the door for attorneys to advise someone to seek treatment that is either not necessary or that is disproportionate to the accident. Basically, when a lawyer and a chiropractor are in the same network, they may have incentives to refer their clients to each other. (Do you recall that the owner of the lawyer referral network was in the business of chiropractics?). This reciprocal network can be dangerous to patients for two reasons. Either patients who need a specialized type of treatment dont get the care they need and instead are sent to a chiropractor, or they get sent to a chiropractor and didn’t any type of treatment.
Further, the same lawyer and chiropractor may avoid sending the patient to a specialist like a physical medicine specialist or orthopedic surgeon until the PIP (personal injury protection) benefits are used up. Several victims who utilized 411-Pain to retain an attorney allege that their assigned lawyer encouraged them to receive medical treatment over and over and failed to state that the majority of the settlement proceeds would be used to pay the accumulated medical bills. Sadly, the longer you receive medical treatment, the more PIP can be billed by the doctors until the $10,000.00 benefit amount is exhausted. This is the $10,000 that lawyer referral service advertisements used to refer to (they only stopped because they were forced to). Those ads would claim that victims could receive up to $10,000 in medical benefits. This obviously implied the victim would get the money. Instead, what really happens is that money goes to the doctors to pay for their services. This is also the reason that lawyers and chiropractors had a vested interest and treating until the bill reached this amount.
Of course, using your 10k in PIP benefits is not at all an inherently bad thing. It is a great system that allows people who are really injured to get the medical care they need without concern about fault. This expedites the process and ensures that hardworking doctors are getting paid for work and that injured victims are getting the care they need.
This further brings into question whether or not 411 Pain would be willing to send their clients to the very best healthcare professional for their case or if they would simply refer them to a member of their expansive network of physicians, even if they weren’t the best fit. 411 Pain has deals with specific chiropractors who will provide service to accident victims in areas for which they don’t have a clinic. Who determines whether this chiropractor is the best physician to suit your medical needs?
An investigation by CBS affiliate WKMG found numerous instances where injury victims were left with hefty debts after a 411 Pain center or 411-PAIN affiliated clinic exhausted the $10,000 in available PIP coverage. The Orlando sentinel published a more detailed report on the lawsuit against 411-Pain and the subsequent settlement entered into with the Attorney General’s office.
Based on the settlement, 411-Pain is prohibited from saying it is referring injury victims to a “specialized attorney.”
Changes to Florida’s PIP statute that went into effect on January 1, 2013, require an injury victim to start medical treatment within fourteen (14) days following an auto accident in order for PIP benefits to apply. Although an injury victim still has a plausible cause of action against the at-fault party even if they fail to seek treatment within the first fourteen (14) days, the 411-Pain ads do not mention this because the 411-Pain medical clinics cannot bill PIP if the injury victim seeks treatment after the time period has expired. This is another reason that these companies want you to call right away. Really, lawyer referral services are in the business of PIP, not personal injury. Their goal is seemingly to send as many clients as possible to as many lawyers as possible and to get the cases settled quick. But what if you case is more complicated than a few visits to a chiropractor? What if you wait more than 14 days to seek treatment? In these cases, and in all instances involving the welfare of your health and your families well-being, it’s best to just contact an experienced professional whom you can research and verify yourself.
I have personally settled and successfully litigated numerous cases where my client waited a lengthy period of time before they commenced medical treatment. It clearly benefits the case to begin treatment immediately following an accident. However, a claim/case is not destroyed or rendered fruitless due to waiting to commence medical treatment, something a 411-Pain lawyer is not likely to mention.
The potential for a conflict of interest continues to be a problem for 411-Pain and other referral services. According to Grier Wells, a Jacksonville lawyer chairing the Florida Bar’s committee: “Lawyers have shown up at medical clinics unsolicited to meet accident victims — apparently tipped off by a referral service. Other lawyers might face a legal quandary: Do they have an allegiance to the client or to a medical provider that’s part of the accident hotline network?”
This is quite a scary proposition. I have been retained by a number of clients who personally found their prior lawyer through a referral service and were pushed into extensive treatment with a chiropractor by said attorney. The lawyer failed to explain their relationship with the lawyer referral service or disclose that both the law firm and the physician paid to be a member of the same network. If the client failed to show up for treatment, both the lawyer and chiropractor would call them on the very same day asking where they were. It obviously appeared that the attorney and chiropractor were working together and in close contact.
In case it’s not clear, this is far from ethical. Patients have the right to get unbiased advice from the people they are paying. When you hire an attorney, you expect them to be working your in your best interest. It’s supposed to be a mutual relationship (you get sound legal advice and services and the attorney gets paid based on performance). But when you mix another party or two parties into the mix, interests get conflicted very fast.
In my opinion, word-of-mouth is the most effective form of advertising. In fact, I would have no qualms if the Florida Bar banned lawyer advertising altogether. Of course, I do advertise in some form; I have a website, business cards, and two modest billboards. But when attorneys produce commercial after commercial, there is a reason that they need that kind of exposure. If they were running an experienced and upstanding business, clients would want to come to them on their own volition.
Legal advertising in Florida, and all over the country, creates an atmosphere in which consumers are routinely misinformed about the quality of lawyers in the marketplace. The best attorneys often rely on reputation and referrals from current and former clients. I believe this is the best way to go. And if you follow this mantra, you will have no need for a referral service in the first place.
That’s why I, and a majority of the elite personal injury lawyers in the Tampa Bay area, do not belong to a lawyer referral service.
Let me be clear: I am not seeking to paint all lawyers associated with lawyer referral services with one brush. In fact, there are some competent law firms and individual attorneys that are members of such groups. However, it’s time for consumers to learn the whole truth about 411-Pain, 411-pain attorneys, 800-Ask-Gary, and other for-profit lawyer referral services in general. I strongly recommend that car accident victims thoroughly research their options prior to selecting a personal injury attorney. Further, one should not select a lawyer based solely on an advertisement. In this case, it’s not even a lawyer who is advertising their services. Rather, the services are being advertised by a referral service through a non-attorney spokesperson. Why would you trust a non-attorney spokesperson with your legal needs? Unfortunately, such individuals are not accountable to the Florida Bar. Hence, the “for profit” referral services can make grand claims in their commercials and no one can hold their feet to the proverbial fire (although this is slowly changing as the need for regulation becomes so blatant).
Before selecting an attorney, you should research the lawyer’s qualifications and experience. Do they routinely litigate against various insurance carriers or are they a settlement mill? How often does the firm take cases to trial and how often do they just settle to get the case over with? Is the firm properly staffed and do they have the financial resources to see your case through to the finish or are they just hoping to make it through one more case? Is the law firm a volume shop or do they do quality work? Has the lawyer received awards and recognition for their work from peers or third-party reviewers?
Don’t select a lawyer merely off an advertisement. And please don’t take auto accident advice from a non-attorney spokesperson. Both you and your legal claim against the other driver are too important. Your family is counting on you to obtain the best legal representation that you can and you will not find it with 411-Pain or another legal referral service.
I’ve mentioned a few times in this article that you should research a lawyer yourself before you hire them. So for that reason, here are the top lawyer review sites in Florida, plus the ever popular Google review. Check out my reviews, reputation, and awards from each one by clicking on the links below:
avvo.com – 97% of US lawyers are rated by AVVO
SuperLawyers.com – Super Lawyers is a rating service for outstanding lawyers who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.
Google Review– The mother of all rating systems.
case Results – Also, take a moment to view some of the cases we’ve handled in the past.