The Dark Side of Personal Injury Advertising and Settlement Mills


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The Dark Side of Personal Injury Advertising and Settlement Mills
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The Dark Side of Personal Injury Advertising and Settlement Mills You've probably seen many personal injury advertisements on TV, radio, and billboards promising massive settlements. You wonder if any of it is accurate and if those firms are better than your regular mom-and-pop or smaller boutique personal injury firm. The truth is many of those firms are personal injury settlement mills. Personal injury settlement mills are law practices equipped to handle thousands of minor injury cases for small settlements like $1,500 to $5,000. These law firms have few attorneys and many staff, and they do a lot of aggressive advertising campaigns. Their goal is to settle as many cases as possible, giving little personal attention to the case, so they do the client a great disservice.  If you have a genuine case - you've been hurt, somebody else's at fault, and you need an excellent legal team, a settlement mill is undoubtedly not the best place for you. Why? Because if you have a serious claim, you need an attorney, even two or three attorneys, to handle your case instead of case managers and paralegals at these settlement mills making legal decisions.  You also have to have an attorney known to go to trial so that insurance companies won't take advantage of you. Unfortunately, attorneys at mills don't have the time and focused attention it takes to go to trial, so they use plug-and-play metrics to settle quickly and often for less than the compensation a case is worth. How do you identify settlement mills? What's the best way of finding an excellent personal injury attorney, and what can you expect from them? Learn more in this episode of the David vs. Goliath podcast with elite personal injury lawyer Matt Dolman and his guest, Brent Sibley, Esq. They discuss personal injury settlement mills and why they are no good for your injury case, why personal injury trial lawyers are better, and how to choose them. 

In This Episode:

  • [00:49] Matt Dolman welcomes his guest, Brent Sibley, Esq, and the topic of the day: unpaid overtime 
  • [02:13] Matt introduces the topic of the day: personal injury law firm advertising 
  • [02:57] The unique characteristics of a personal injury settlement mill - and why they are a wrong fit for your case 
  • [06:16] What is the primary duty of a personal injury attorney, and why do settlement mills struggle to fulfill it? 
  • [07:32] Lawyers are not made equally: why trial attorneys are best for your injury case
  • [10:28] Myth-busting: do settlement mills move cases along faster? No, here's why
  • [12:19] How the settlement mill business model is a great disservice to injury victims
  • [14:17] What's the best way of finding an excellent personal injury attorney, and what can you expect from them?


Welcome to our latest podcast from Dolman Law Group, and I'm kind of proud to introduce a new member of the firm. And it's actually a new firm that we started in south Florida called Sibley Dolman. And this is Brent Sibley. Brent say hello.   Hey guys, hey everybody.   So we have a new firm separate apart from Dolman Law Group and separate apart from Brent Sibley's law firm. It's called Sibley Dolman with offices in Aventura, North Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Doral and Boca Raton. Brent, tell me a little bit about your firm down in South Florida.   Thanks Matt. So I've been practicing, just going to be my 10th year now and didn't really know what I was going to practice in the beginning, but started doing personal injury, just randomly as my first job and loved it. Loved that we don't have to bill by the hour, love that we are kind of like partners with our clients and just immediately fell in love with the way this practice works. Started doing it, I was down in Brickell. My wife, now, got me to move out. So I'm up in the Aventura area. And pretty tech savvy guy, so I converted us from a kind of traditional law firm about six years ago into a completely paperless cloud-based firm. And now we have staff working from various locations around Broward and Dade.   Pretty cool.   And yeah, I think that was one of the big reasons that me and you started working together back when we did, because I'm able to be on the road a lot. And everything's in the cloud with us and being over here in Tampa has been nice, been fun.   You mentioned from the beginning that you really enjoyed the personal attention and the relationships that you build with your clients and to segue into today's topic, we're going to discuss personal injury advertising. The mass advertising that we see through the various mediums, whether it be television or radio or billboards, and whether those firms are better than your regular mom and pop personal injury firms, the smaller boutique firms we see throughout the areas. Let's discuss what compromises or what makes up, what are the unique characteristics of a personal injury settlement mill. What do you see that it's different between a personal injury settlement mill, those big television firms, and I'm not trying to draw generalizations here. Some of those firms are quality, but the majority of them, what are you seeing? And what's different about your firm and my firm as compared to those firms?   Yeah, that's a great topic because we see a lot of clients and I don't want to say we take a lot of clients, but a lot of clients come to us from these kind of firms, because of exactly what I think you're getting at Matt. Which is that at a place that's called a settlement mill. And I've heard this term from people who aren't even in the business, even though it's definitely a business term in our industry. And it's characterized by a firm that has a few attorneys. I would say generally, again, these are all generalizations, of course. A few attorneys, many, many, many staff, and a lot of advertising. So they're very, very, very busy people in the office. When you speak to them, first of all, you don't get a lot of their time. You don't get a lot of their attention and then you don't always get the best information because you're.   Who you're dealing with.   You're dealing with paralegals, you're dealing with receptionists. It's very hard to get an attorney on the phone. Some of these places I've sent the attorney a thousand emails. One particular firm that I worked with, no response ever. So they have so many inbound phone calls coming in from people that are seeing these sometimes ridiculous advertisements that they're just flooded with with screening cases and figuring out what's a case. What's not a case that it's-   It's almost like a garbage in garbage out mentality.   Yeah. I mean, that's definitely one way to look at it. And if you're one of the people that as a real case, you've been actually hurt, somebody else's fault and you need a good legal team, that's probably not the best place for you. And when I say probably not, I mean, definitely not the best place for you and for your case. Because those are the kind of places that are more equipped to handle a thousand cases that are just whiplash for a $1,500 settlement, $2,000 settlement. If you have a serious claim, you need one attorney, even two or three attorneys on a big case to handle your case and get you the right compensation   As opposed to case managers and paralegals making.   As opposed-   Legal decisions.   Yeah. As opposed to non-attorney staff, who is making decisions on your case. And if you go to a mill for a case, and you don't have a huge case, you have a smaller case. There's a good chance that you might have a total of less than two hours, maybe even one hour of actual attorney being worked on your case.   I've spoken to clients who never talked to an attorney my definition of a settlement mill is a firm to try to mass produce settlements via an aggressive advertising model. And the problem with that model is you have so many cases and you're inundated with so many files that you cannot actually garner any personal attention. You can't provide personal attention to the clients. The clients never get that one on one time, which facilitates... Every case has its own merits. So when you try to mass produce a settlement model and you try to just play, plug and play with every case every neck injury case where you have X, Y, and Z, I'm going to ask for this amount of money. And if it has an additional factor to it, maybe an injection or surgery, I'm going to ask for this amount of money, you never really get to the merit of the case.   And I've noticed that a number of files we've taken over from some of the bigger advertising firms, they missed issues. And a lot of times, often enough, they never spoke to an attorney and I don't want to make generalizations. There are some good firms that mass advertise Morgan and Morgan for instance, is a very good firm. They have some great trial lawyers. But then you look at a number of others and it's just, you've never seen these guys in court. They don't really have any trial reputation. And it's just mass production of settlements.   Yeah. I think you hit on a good thing there, which is as attorneys, we're civil attorneys, right? So what can we do? Our only thing we can do for our clients is to try and obtain money for them. I mean, it sounds a little bit-   Yeah. It's about a pending compensation   Compensation. We're civil attorneys. We don't go to criminal courthouse. We don't put people in jail. We don't get people out of going to jail. We go to the civil courthouse and we try and get a judgment for our clients, which is money. It's simple. I mean I don't think I'm a money hungry guy, but when you put it simply, that's what our job is. So how do we do that? The only way that we can force people and insurance companies to pay is by pounding on the courthouse steps, asking for a trial, taking cases to try trial and getting those verdicts.   And at the mills, they have so many cases. And honestly, it's very difficult to go to trial. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of focused attention, obviously from an attorney. And when you have a million cases, it's hard to justify and hard to even find the time to take cases to trial. And then it trickles back in and the insurance company knows who's a mill and who's not, and who can go to trial and who can't go to trial. So if you have a good case, you have to be willing to go to trial. You have to have an attorney that's willing to go to trial. And if you don't have that, you're going to be severely taken advantage of.   Yeah. Most consumers are probably not aware that when an insurance carrier is evaluating a case, an individual case, they're going to plug in your tax ID number for the law firm and determine what is their history. What did they resolve previous cases for? Did they have a history of trying cases in this jurisdiction and other jurisdictions throughout the state? In my opinion, the world's worst trial attorney, we certainly aren't that, but the world's worst trial attorney's still better than the settlement mill. Because insurance companies inherently despise spending money. They loathe it. So when an insurance company has to spend money, it's the antithesis of their business model. And when they're forced to litigate cases they're pouring out money. Even when they win the cases, half the time they can't collect on their verdict, they can't collect attorney fees. So they want to... Spending a lot of money on a claim. And again, it's a polar opposite what their business model is.   So even the world's worst trial attorneys, guys were not very competent in court are still going to generate much better settlements for their clients than a big settlement mill. And the other problem with settlement mill is again, it's the garbage and garbage out mentality. So when you're drawing that many cases off of advertising, there's no need there's no... It's almost like a moot point to keep the client satisfied. My clients come in based on word of mouth from current and former satisfied clients. At the personal injury settlement mills, some of those big television firms, they don't care if the client leaves unhappy, it doesn't make a difference to them. The next case is coming in based off their heavy advertising volume.   Absolutely. And that's one thing that really hits home for me because all of my cases... And going on now, we're 10 years. We have a little more of a budget to get our name out there, some marketing, but up until now in my career, every single case that I've ever gotten was from a satisfied client. And I really, and my staff really cares about keeping the clients happy, taking the time to explain things to them. And when you flip that all around and when you have the attorneys and the staff at the law firm, just not caring at all about client happiness, it just turns into a horrible, horrible result. And you referenced it. I'm sure you've gotten a fair share of your clients over the years from, I don't know what the term might be, but it's from unhappy clients at other big law firms.   And I've taken several cases that it either appeared the other law firm was either going to just turn the case down at some point, or they were going to probably try and jam down some kind of very petty, small amount as a settlement. And I've gone and taken that case. I just finished one where I settled it for $200,000 on a case. I do believe that case was going to just be turned down. I think they were going to just tell the guy, your case stinks, basically. We don't want to represent you, good luck. And I took that case and I turned it into a $200,000 recovery. So that just shows you how important it is to find the right firm for your case. Because if not, that's a $200,000 difference for a guy, it could be a million dollar difference on the next case .   They're leaving money on the table.   Oh, it's horrible.   I mean, another misnomer is that those big volume shots, because the amount of employees they have, they can move a case quicker, which is it's actually the opposite. I mean, the lack of attention paid to the file, the fact that they have so many files and the mere fact that these files are handled by a paralegal or a law clerk, you don't have an attorney giving individual attention to the case, means the case will drag out for an infinite period of time. And I've seen cases in presuit, where a lawsuit has not been filed for over a year and a half, two years when we take over the case. At our firm, there's obviously, this is a generalization, there's going to be unique sets of circumstances, but most cases are resolved in four to five months when we file a lawsuit on the case. Becomes like a depreciating asset. You're not going to increase the value of the case by keeping it in presuit.   Yeah. And you're doing not only, doing a depreciating asset for your firm for the business side, but it's same thing for the client too. You're doing them a disservice by keeping it, just collecting dust on the shelf. And the insurance companies use that metric and they have all, they have all the money, they have all the resources and they have all the numbers. So they know the firms that will just let cases sit. And they're just not going to thread them with trial, which ultimately just leads to poor results.   And you're absolutely right with the most cases. Most cases you don't need a ton of staff. You need a couple, you need one attorney, maybe two attorneys and three to four staff. That's the team. That's all, you need to get a case to trial, but you do need a team. So you don't need a huge team. And then when you get these firms with 500 people, all these committees and all this stuff, and it's got to be approved by everybody. I'm not saying that it's always bad, it's generalization, but those things can add to a lot of red tape that leads a slower results and worse results.   Yeah. I see the cases longer in presuit with us than a mill, but they move quicker in general because they won't litigate the case.   Yeah. They're just willing to take whatever they can get.   Whatever they can get. Yeah. And if it's within the business model, what they value a specific case is being worth. Rather than determining based on the individual merit of the case, including out-of-pocket expenses, out-of-pocket damages. When you're only looking at compensatory damage, you're not building up the future damages or possible need of, you're limiting the value of the case. You're limiting the recovery for your client. You're doing your client, again, a disservice.   Yeah. Some clients don't want to go to court and don't want to go to trial and that's perfectly fine. But you have to explain to them, you have to have a firm that can say, look right now, you're in the presuit department or division of the firm. But if you want to get compensation for your pain and suffering, real full value or any value for that matter really, you're going to have to go into litigation. Because the insurance companies just don't pay for these kind of things. They don't pay for pain and suffering. The only way to get those kind of types of compensation is really from a jury.   Very true.   Absent extenuating circumstances, witnessing some gruesome event. But for the most part, there's certain types of compensation that the only way you get them is by trial.   Correct? I mean, again, what the consumer doesn't understand, at least a lot of them do not realize, is the simple business model behind a settlement mill. When you're paying 90 cents to make a dollar, when you're advertising and running a huge budget, it only behooves you to move those cases without proper merit and proper attention paid to each case, but move them as quickly as possible through the chain of command. Perhaps it'll take longer in presuit but you're certainly not going to drag the cases out litigation for two or three years, you have an advertising budget to pay. So it's a churn and burn. It's that type of mentality. It's garbage and garbage out.   Yeah. The churn and burn is really that's the term that makes the most sense to me because they got to get you in. They got to work your case very briefly and get you out and get their money, get you paid.   They need as many clients as possible to pay off the budget.   Exactly.   And the more cases you have, the less attention can be paid to any one individual case.   It's true. It's absolutely true. So I think that..   What's the best way of finding a good personal injury attorney?   The best way to find a good personal injury attorney, it's a multi-step process, I would say. You want to speak to the people in your circle that know about injury attorneys and that know attorneys in general, one of the most common ways is a referral. To get a referral from somebody to another personal injury attorney. But if you don't have any of that, because a lot of people don't know lawyers or don't hang out with lawyers, the best way to do it is just like everything else in this day and age is go to Google. Go to Google, do your research, see who's around you, read the reviews, find out if this attorney calls people back, because if the attorneys who don't call people back, people will post about it. They will absolutely post about it. And I've seen it before.   So a good referral source is great. But the more realistic thing is to use Google to your advantage and check these people out. Do your due diligence. It only takes you... You could prevent yourself from hiring the wrong lawyer with three minutes. A three minute, maybe even less, Google search. I mean-   Yeah. Quick cursory search of Google will reveal which law firms have a decent reputation in your area.   Absolutely.   And in fact, and by asking even the professionals in your area for referrals to the best lawyers or doing internet search, you're doing yourself a real solid service. To blindly trust an advertisement as, this is the best flash and a pan lawyer when half the time, it's just based on production value of the commercial, not based on the merit of the actual lawyer, the merit of their skills.   I mean, look, people everywhere they're not stupid anymore. People know how to do their research and if you're going to be lazy and you're going to just call a lawyer, because he has flashing lights on a TV commercial of $7 million, then you're lazy. And you get what you deserve. If you don't do any research and you just call whatever number, because they had big flashing lights, your case is going to be handled by a mill and you know what, that's what you deserve. But if you care about your case-   You may never speak to an attorney.   You may never speak to an attorney, you get what you deserve and you'll probably barely... You get what you deserve, which is probably going to be very little.   Do you make your cell phone available to clients?   Oh, every single client in my firm has my cell phone number.   Same. My cell phone number appear on my business card. I think it's just a better way to foster a one-on-one relationship to foster the client having an inherent level of trust in you. That they can reach you after hours that you're not this almighty figure that no one can actually ever get ahold of where at these big advertising shops, no one can ever speak to the attorney. They're dealing with a clerk or a paralegal. My clients have my cell phone number. They have my email address. They can get a hold of me.   Absolutely. And there's a couple clients that maybe I regret giving them my cell phone number because they don't respect it. But for the most part, it's a huge tool. And I train some of the clients to say, look, bring important issues to me and bring the other administrative issues to this team member or that team member. If you have an issue with medical records, talk to this person. But I guide them and I make sure that I say, I'm not the best person at the firm to handle this small issue because I don't have access to it right now from where I'm sitting or whatever. So a good client is a well-trained client. So they know how to utilize the different members of our team that we have.   I think we pretty much covered this area.   Yeah I do.   I hope that clients... I hope that consumers out there listen to this, understand that you need to do a pretty sound job of researching the different lawyers in your area, in your geographic region. Before selecting a lawyer, don't just pick an attorney off of a flashy billboard or a commercial that wows you based on production value or a radio spot. That lawyer who's on that radio spot, the lawyer's on that commercial. You may never actually meet them. You're going to probably deal with their staff. That's what you have to understand that lawyer now has to cover that advertising budget and advertising on television or radio is not cheap. So those firms are looking to acquire as many cases as possible rather than maximizing the value on less cases.   Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, you get what you put in. So if you don't put in any effort, then you're not going to get much out of it. If you do a little effort and it's not even a huge investment, do yourself a favor, do a little research and you'll get a great lawyer. And a lot of the people listening to this podcast, it won't be me or Matt. You'll do your research. Maybe you're in another state. We're not a even licensed there. We're not doing this selfishly. We're trying to educate people because we want them to know.   There's plenty of to attorneys in my area that have great reputations and just the same, there's plenty that don't. So my firm, is just one of the many, and I just hope that clients or potential consumers rather are best served understanding not to pick a lawyer or law firm based on an advertisement. It's just, that's silly. It's inane. And you're going to only want regretting that decision.   Yeah. Do your research. It's fine. If you know somebody's name based on TV, but pull them up online. Read about them a little bit. Do yourself a favor. That's all I would say.   I agree. Well that concludes this podcast. Thanks again for listening. This is Brent Sibley and Matt Dolman.   That's all. Thanks, Matt.   Thanks again, Brent. I really appreciate you coming on my podcast.   No problem. Pleasure.  

💡 Meet Your Host 💡

Name Matthew A. Dolman, Esq. Title: Partner at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Specialty: Matt is a nationally recognized insurance and personal injury attorney and focuses much of his practice on the litigation of catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases throughout Florida.  Connect: LinkedIn | Twitter | Instagram   

💡 Featured Guest 💡

Name Brent Sibley, Esq. Title: Personal Injury Lawyer with Modern Injury Lawyers Specialty: Brent is committed to providing aggressive and effective legal representation and counsel to individuals who have sustained personal injury in serious accidents. He formerly ran Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP covering Aventura, North Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Doral, and Boca Raton. Connect:  LinkedIn 

🔑 Relevant Resources 🔑

The insights and views presented in “David vs. Goliath” are for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. The information presented is not a substitute for consulting with an attorney. Nor does tuning in to this podcast constitute an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Any case result information provided on any portion of this podcast should not be understood as a promise of any particular result in a future case. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers: Big firm results, small firm personal attention.