I was on the phone with an insurance adjuster when she said to me, you’re not going to believe the case evaluation this lawyer down in [another part of the state] gave me. Now, I have a policy of not speaking badly of my competition, so it appeared that I was about to be entering some choppy waters. Nevertheless, I asked her to tell me about it, mostly because I was curious, but also because, what else was I going to do?
“We’ve got a construction defect case over in [geographical region omitted] Alabama. There was about $150,000 in claimed damage. This lawyer gave me a case evaluation of between $35,000 and $225,000. But not only that, he didn’t give me any explanation. So I called him back and said, ‘I need to know how you got to these numbers.’ All he told me by way of explanation was, ‘We’ve had some bad verdicts here recently.'”
There are two problems here that we need to address: the case evaluation range was too broad, and it didn’t include any data or analysis to support it.
Provide Reasonable Case Evaluation Ranges
A key to useful case evaluations is that they be appropriately narrow. Using the example my adjuster relayed to me, there’s a pretty big difference between a $35,000 construction defect case and one that’s worth $225,000. The purpose of a case evaluation is to arm your client with the information that will allow her to (1) manage her risk, and (2) make an educated decision about resolving the case. An overly broad evaluation does not effectively enable the adjuster to accomplish either of those tasks.
Your knowledge of the practice area; familiarity with the judge, opposing counsel, and the venue; and anecdotal experience with similar cases and the results those yielded are all essential to developing the skill of effectively evaluating cases. There are few things more frustrating than someone who doesn’t know how to evaluate a case. It can result in protracted litigation and thousands of dollars being spent unnecessarily.
Below is a sample of 11 cases that I pulled from about three years ago. There are examples of both good evaluations and bad among them. Some are too broad, as in Jordan v. Johnson. Others do not reflect where the case ultimately was resolved (but more about this later). For those that are too broad, I didn’t provide my client the kind of valuable information that, in retrospect, I could or should have.
Evaluating cases can be difficult. Anyone who tells you otherwise is being disingenuous. No two cases are going to develop the same. There’s no accounting for what a party might say during depositions. Even if all the lawyers agree on the value of a case, there’s no certainty that the defendant will offer the money necessary to get it resolved or that the plaintiff will accept it. Nevertheless it is incumbent upon you to present to your client settlement and verdict evaluation ranges that will enable your client to manage her risk and decide whether resolution or continued litigation is her best option.
Support Your Case Evaluations with Analysis
Raw numbers are only so useful to a client. They need the reasoning behind your valuation. What are the facts and law that caused you to reach your conclusions. Let’s look at the above example again.
“This lawyer gave me a case evaluation of between $35,000 and $225,000. But not only that, he didn’t give me any explanation. So I called him back and said, ‘I need to know how you got to these numbers.’ All he told me by way of explanation was, ‘We’ve had some bad verdicts down here recently.'”
If you don’t support your numbers with analysis, you haven’t given any authority to your numbers and have given no reason for your client to trust in them. Equally importantly, you haven’t given them any way to support their decisions when their boss is evaluating their work.
Audit Your Case Evaluations for Accuracy
No matter how appropriately narrow or well supported your case evaluations are, they aren’t particularly useful to your client if they aren’t accurate. This is a difficult thing and can be affected by many factors beyond your control. So any one case may not tell the story, but in the aggregate your case evaluations should show a pattern of cases either settling or trying within the ranges you’ve identified.
As a part of the above spreadsheet (but not included), I keep a column that reflects the accuracy of my evaluation ranges, with the goal being that I will continue to monitor my results and intentionally improve this skill so as to better serve my clients.
Continually Endeavor to Improve Your Evaluation Skills
As with any skill, you will only improve your settlement and verdict evaluation skills with intentionality. These are definitely skills worth developing. They serve your interests and your client’s. When a client can trust you to help them measure their risk and set reserves on their cases, your relationship will be stronger and the loyalty between you more established.
Photo by Official U.S. Navy Page.