We work hard at Shapiro & Appleton& Duffan to make sure that our reputation is the best it can be with judges, other lawyers, past clients, railroad workers, insurance adjusters, and the public. Having practiced personal injury law in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Virginia (VA) area for over 18 years, I have worked hard to develop a reputation as an excellent attorney who is ethical in dealings with others. I have the top rating (AV) by my peers.
I know my law partners all have also worked hard over decades to develop their good reputations. We hope that our good reputation makes us more effective lawyers and benefits our clients. When you are in court the judge and the jury in part decide whether they believe you the personal injury victim and the justice of your case based upon how they feel about your attorney. If the judge appears to like and trust the attorney that signal is picked up by the jury. The lawyer who in a court room who seems to be bringing the truth and is polite in doing so stands the best chance of convincing the jury to fully compensate his client.
Likewise your reputation as a personal injury lawyers matters in dealings with the insurance companies’ claims agents and the decision makers at the railroad companies who are negotiating with us on FELA claims. Insurance companies keep data bases on their dealings with individual lawyers and law firms. The insurance companies know which lawyers actually try a case successfully when necessary. They know which lawyers are just out to make a quick buck and will not work that hard on the case. Insurance companies know which lawyers are jerks and will be difficult to deal with. I have learned over time the truth of the saying you get more flies with honey than with vinegar. So, I have learned in automobile accident cases to treat the insurance adjusters with courtesy and respect even when I disagree with them. After all it is the insurance adjuster who has the check book. I want them to write the biggest possible check to my client. If the insurance adjuster knows me and respects me, I think I have the best chance of getting maximum compensation for my client.
The same is true in my dealings with Norfolk Southern, Amtrak, and CSX railroads on FELA and other cases involving the railroad industry. These adjusters know me and my firm’s reputation for honesty, diligence, and courtesy. Even though these people are my adversaries and opponents in the cases they are not my enemies. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that in the heat of negotiations and the battle in the court room. However, over decades of personal injury work you will deal with the same adjusters and claims agents over and over again. If I am not on reasonably good terms with these people then I am doing my clients a disservice in negotiating their personal injury matters. The same thing is true with dealing with insurance defense lawyers and the defense lawyers for the railroad. Often those attorneys will give me and my law partners the benefit of the doubt and try to get a little bit more money for our clients, than they might for some other lawyer or law firm who they do not like, do not trust or do not respect.
Although this protection of your reputation as a personal injury lawyer seems obvious to me, not everyone seems to follow it. For example, there are TV advertising lawyers whose whole campaign seems to be based on showing that they are so tough that they will fight even using low blow tactics to get the most money for you from an insurance company on an automobile case. First, I think this is deceptive advertising sometimes. Even though these TV advertising lawyers say that the insurance company thinks they are fearsome, their reputations might be quite the opposite. In fact, I think that the insurance company adjusters laugh at the ridiculousness of these attack ads. The insurance adjusters know that these lawyers who act so tough on the TV are often unable to try their way our of a paper bag in court. Also, the insurance companies may pay less money to the clients of lawyers who they think are jerks. If you act overly aggressive the insurance agent my just tune you out and say “see you in court.” If this happens, it is often the client who suffers because their case is going to take longer because they have to go through all the trouble of going into court rather than getting the case settled in a reasonable fashion by negotiation.
Also the insurance companies in automobile cases know that these TV advertising lawyers may have bad reputations with the judges in the trial courts in which they practice. If that is true, then the bad reputation of the lawyer for being difficult to get along with or discourteous may cause the judge to show his disdain for the lawyer to the jury even if they don’t mean to. Also there are cases where judges have made rulings against lawyers on the close calls where they can use their discretion to rule against the client of a discourteous or disreputable attorney.
Although I can not say that I achieve it everyday, I try to be cooperative and friendly with opposing attorneys and decision makers on injury cases when I can. Even where they are being less than reasonable in return, I still try to keep myself on an even keel – working hard for my client and keeping my good reputation in tact at the same time.