If you have sustained physical injuries in a Florida auto accident, one of the lawyer referral service companies may have popped into your head; or may even seem like an attractive option. And why shouldn’t they, since they appear to a big company that surely has a reputation to protect, right?
Well, not really.
In the Tampa Bay area, and all across Florida, advertisements for 411-Pain and 1-800-Ask-Gary run all day long on local TV and radio. They feature catchy jingles, attractive models, and female comedians screaming at you to call their number.
When you usually think of a >service that refers businesses, a company like Angie’s List probably comes to mind. Many referral services, in differing lines of business and industry, assist prospective consumers in finding the best available option for them based on credentials and integrity. The quality of services offered by each company they refer you to, is often determined by consumer and peer reviews. This means that their quality and credentials have been examined and verified so that consumers don’t have to do the leg work. That is, after all, why you are on their website and why you are paying for their service.
Lawyer and medical referral services in the State of Florida offer no such assurances. In fact, attorneys or law firms who are affiliated with 411-Pain or Ask Gary possess no special qualities or abilities that separate them from their peers who have opted not to be associated with a referral service. Instead, the attorneys must pay a fee to be a part of the service, and in return, the referral company sends them clients. It is easy to see why a potential customer may think that 411-PAIN or Ask Gary does something different. After all, if a customer just wanted to hire any random attorney, they could throw a dart at a dusty phone book. Instead, they expect that a lawyer referral service has vetted these attorneys for proper credentials and specialization in their type of case. The only thing these companies really make sure of from the attorneys they promote is their ability to pay the monthly fee.
The tendency for these companies to misrepresent what kind of service they provide became the concern of the Florida Bar, the governing association of practicing lawyers in Florida. In fact, 411-Pain was sued by the Attorney General’s Office for the State of Florida for several practices that were deemed misrepresentational to their potential clients .
Further, they were prohibited from utilizing advertisements that would mislead a consumer into believing they were being referred to an attorney who specializes in “personal injury” or any specific area of the law. (See this source). Florida lawyer referral services are now forbidden from misleading consumers to believe that the attorney they are being referred to is a “specialist.”
Companies like 411-PAIN and Ask Gary knew that specialization would be the exact thing that consumers making a big decision—like who to hire as their attorney—would be interested in. If you are going to hire an attorney, it only makes sense that you would want one who is not only competent in your type of case but also has vast experience in the field as well. You wouldn’t want to hire an attorney who primarily does divorce law to handle your traumatic brain injury case. All lawyers are not created equal and no one attorney could possibly understand all the vast areas of law.
So, what is the advantage of contacting a lawyer referral service over a private attorney?
The answer is, that there is no advantage to calling a hotline in which an operator simply refers you to a lawyer that is on their list. The operator has no legal training and is directing you to an attorney from a list comprised of lawyers willing to pay the fee to be part of the referral service. To be a member of a lawyer referral service, you do not need to possess any special qualifications aside from being a member of the Florida Bar, which any attorney must have anyway.
In a recent 411-Pain commercial, the non-attorney spokesperson provides an estimated number of attorneys whom are registered with the Florida Bar. She then states that 411-Pain has cultivated a list of attorneys to fit the needs of an auto accident victim. I am curious as to whether this statement violates the terms of the settlement that the lawyer referral service entered into with the Attorney General’s Office. In any event, the advertisement is misleading as 411-Pain attorneys offer no specific skill, quality, or ability that their counterparts not associated with a lawyer referral service do not possess. In other words, there is no difference other than an extra step in retaining an attorney and obtaining legal advice. Further, you are relying on an operator in a call center to determine which attorney to direct you to.
How should I find an attorney then?
Since we now know that attorney referral services do not check for qualifications, nor match you with an attorney based on your needs or their specialization, that option should be out. The simple answer is, good ,old-fashion research. Start by asking your friends and family if they’ve had a good experience with any local attorneys. If you know someone who has also been injured, they would be an obvious choice. Next, do some research on the internet. Search Google for the attorney you are thinking of and read their reviews. How many stars do they have out of 5? Is there enough data there to trust that number? For example, do they have more than 20 reviews? That is a great indicator. Also, what are people saying on Google about the attorney or firm? Usually, people don’t hold back on platforms like that, so they can be trusted. When you have a person or firm in mind, call or email them and ask them for their credentials. Check those credentials against trusted sites and associations like avvo.com and floridabar.org.
Examine the prospective attorney’s qualifications, experience and whether they have received any recognition or awards as voted on by their peers. Anyone can pay money to be part of a referral service. And I am in no way making a judgment about all attorneys that are associated with them. Some of these lawyers or law firms are considered to be of a decent quality. However, the referral services referenced in this article provide no specific quality guidelines for selection.
What are the advantages to hiring Dolman Law Group?
Since its inception, Dolman Law Group has focused on a key set of values that we want to provide to our clients. We call these, the Dolman Law Difference. They are simple six points that we believe make us different from our competitors. They are:
- We want to remain personal and professional. In that effort, we provide every personal injury client with the cell phone number and email address of the attorney managing their case. We do this to remain accessible and to be efficient. Some attorneys are simply faces for the firm that no client ever meets or interacts with. It’s a funny way to handle a business. At our firm, you will talk to the attorney handling your case. Just shoot them an email or give them a call.
- At Dolman Law Group, all injury claims are handled primarily by a lawyer, not a paralegal or case manager. Lots of big, settlement mill-type firms in the area have a hive of assistants and paraprofessionals working on what should be major cases. And although we do have paralegals helping run our firm, which we greatly appreciate, clients hire attorneys for a reason. And that, is exactly what we give them.
- All the legal work produced by Dolman Law Group is generated by a member of the Florida Bar, as opposed to general staff members. We do have a large staff to assist in the operation of our firm, but an attorney performs the actual legal work. Clients expect that an attorney is using their legal expertise to draft the documents and attend the meetings that will define their case. For that reason, that is what we do.
- Insurance companies know who will take a quick buck and who will fight to get the full value a claim deserves. The insurance industry knows our track record and knows we will not take the easy way out. Our firm is composed of qualified injury attorneys serving the residents of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, and Pasco County. Dolman Law Group actively litigates negligence claims and catastrophic injury lawsuits in Clearwater, St Petersburg, Bradenton, Sarasota, Tampa, New Port Richey and throughout the State of Florida.
- We limit our law practice to injury and insurance related claims and cases. Some firms are one-stop shops, doing family law, criminal law, personal injury, and anything else that can make them money. We believe that a firm should have an expertise, and stick to it. You wouldn’t want someone cutting your hair who also offers laundry services and is running a restaurant in the back. Clients expect a focused, expert attorney in their case area and that is exactly what we give them.
- Dolman Law Group has not and will not represent the interests of giant insurance companies. Ever. The team of injury lawyers at our firm will only work on behalf of consumers. We started this firm to help those who cannot help themselves, and that is what we still doing today. Insurance companies know that most people don’t have the resources to fight their billion-dollar companies; but we do. So we offer our services on a contingency basis. That way, clients can get the help they need, without having to pay until we’ve won their case.
If you have been injured in an auto, motorcycle, >or trucking accident, do your research. You will only have one opportunity to resolve your injury claim. If you are not satisfied with the results, you cannot ask the insurance carrier for another opportunity. Chances are if you are unhappy with the results then the insurance company is very happy with them. This is why it is so important to research prospective law firms and attorneys. Know who you are hiring—and why.
– Matthew A. Dolman, Esq.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
For more information about lawyer referral services, check out my previous blogs: