By Hon. (Ret.) Ken E. Adair
You’re Only Here to Make an Honest Living
Video Transcribed: Do you voir dire about contingency fees on your personal injury cases? I do, always have. It’s the elephant in the room. And I can assure you that if you ask 100 people whether they think contingency fees are a good thing or a bad thing, a large majority of them are going to say it’s a bad thing.
I think a very high majority are going to say they’re a bad thing. If you have a jury panel and you’ve asked that question, how many of you think contingency fees are a bad thing, and they raise their hand, and then you ask the question, can anybody, any of you think of a reason why contingency fees might not be a bad thing?
And inevitably, if you just wait out, if you just sit there and a lot of my colleagues and mentors, as we say, if you wait and just let the uncomfortable silence simmer a little bit, somebody is going to save you in that jury panel. And every time somebody raises their hand and says, “Well, with a contingency fee, if it’s not a good case, if it’s a bad case where you got a bad client or they’re lying, you’re not going to take the case.”
So I always thank that person. And I let them know that one of the parts of this process is that, you’ve seen the commercials. I voir dire about lawyer commercials too, and I’ll talk about that in another video.
But I’ll let them know because they know already, they’ve seen it on TV, that one of the horrible parts about this process, in addition to asking for money for things that money may not necessarily fix is that I make my living skimming off the top of people’s justice and skimming off the top of their misery.
And that it seems obnoxious and offensive, but it’s all we have. And I talked to them about it upfront. I want to see what their feelings are about this process, because they’ve all seen the ads, just like they’ve seen the mayhem commercials and the other insurance commercials that try to make it look like just stuff happens. But they’ve seen the lawyer commercials and they know that we have an incentive to fight real hard.
So instead of ignoring it and letting the jury wonder, are you one of these evil, greedy people that is going to lie and cheat and steal to get as much money as you can so you can take part of it, just let them know upfront that you know that they know that that’s what’s going on and that you’re not afraid of that issue and that it bothers you. Because if it doesn’t bother you that you make a living skimming off the top of the justice and misery of your clients, you need to probably explore a little bit more about what you do.
It’s an ugly process. It’s an ugly thing sometimes that we have to do, and we have to watch our clients never get complete justice. That’s one of the hardest parts about our job, is our clients getting nothing at all when they deserve a lot. And even when they get a lot, it’s never enough.
It’s never full justice. I can’t think of a time where I ever got a jury verdict that I thought was completely fair. My second jury verdict was over one and a half million dollars, and I got all these pats on the back. I was depressed.
It depressed me because it should have been $6 or $8 million. And it’s all relative. That’s one of the hardest things we do, but let’s talk about it. Let’s let the jury know that we know that they know what’s going on and that we’re not afraid of it, in hopes that they won’t have to waste any mental energy whatsoever wondering about what your character is and what you are all about when you represent your client.