A few days ago, a fellow insurance defense lawyer said to me, “I wish I were as bold and confident as [a certain personal injury lawyer]. He’s so quick to say, ‘Fine, let’s just try it and see what happens.’ Maybe I’ve been beaten down by too many bad verdicts.” The lawyer who said this is good and experienced. I was surprised to hear her say these things, but once I thought about it, I shouldn’t have been. Setting individual personality traits aside, it occurs to me that many of the personal injury lawyers I know exude more swagger and confidence than their insurance defense counterparts. And there’s a good reason for it.
Who Is Holding the Insurance Defense Lawyer’s Confidence in Check?
By and large, personal injury lawyer feel more enabled to act cavalierly about money because every case stands alone. If they get a bad verdict, they’ve disappointed their client. But in most instances, they’ve only disappointed one client. They weren’t counting on repeat business from the client, only a referral or two down the line hopefully. So while one bad verdict may have taken money out of their pocket, it hasn’t affected their overall business structure.
On the contrary, a bad verdict for an insurance defense lawyer may spell the demise of his practice. I can name a half dozen or more lawyers this has happened to, fairly or not. Bad verdicts happen to good lawyers. Sometimes that’s just how the facts and parties and venue come together, even if you do everything right.
Many insurance defense lawyers rely heavily on one client for the bulk of their business. If they get a bad result for that client who then decides to send its business elsewhere, the insurance defense lawyer’s practice will be a shambles and his personal finances may follow closely on its heels. As insurance defense lawyers, our livelihood is at stake with every single case.
You can see then how this can work to hinder how brashly or cavalierly a lawyer might manage her cases. But there is a problem with this way of thinking. While fear can be a good motivator, being driven by fear and worry about what is beyond our control can paralyze us. Regardless, there has to be a better solution to this problem than me saying, “Don’t worry about it. Your business isn’t going to collapse … probably.” And indeed, I think there is a solution.
Establish Stronger Relationships through Effective Communication
There was a time many moons ago when insurance clients and law firms worked together with unquestioned loyalty for years or even decades. Adjusters and executives went hunting and fishing with lawyers and were generally wined and dined. Lawyers overbilled their files. And everyone was generally happy. And then came the age of metrics, where insurance companies began to audit claims files and examine where their money was going. What they discovered was a lot of their money was going to outside counsel, who were not being good stewards of their clients’ financial resources. This led to an era of mistrust and a general lack of loyalty.
We need to get back to an era of trust. Not a false trust founded in complicity in being wooed by fancy restaurants and hunting lodges. But rather a trust established by communication, efficient representation, and effective results. There are many facets of communication that make the attorney-client relationship healthier, and I’ve written here about many of them before. Litigation costs and risk analysis. Compliance with reporting guidelines and timely updates even beyond the guidelines. All of these are important aspects of communicating with your client that establishes a rapport and effectuates loyalty.
When your relationships with clients are built upon a foundation of solid work-product and effective communication (as opposed to a loyalty bought with wine and trinkets), there is a mutual respect that is less likely to dissipate with a singular bad result or by a change in the prevailing winds. Strong relationships supported by effective communication will embolden you to take measured risks and exhibit the confidence and cavalier posture you see in others.
Photo by Chris & Karen Highland.