Last week as I was watching Castle, I was bombarded with personal injury attorney stereotypes. The episode titled “Habeas Corpse” dealt with the murder of a personal injury lawyer. At times I felt annoyed with the reflection of PI lawyers on the episode. I love Castle, don’t get me wrong here; however, it made me want to take the time to deal with these common misconceptions. Knowing what type of show Castle is, and that it’s often picking fun at something (Mr. Castle is always coming up with some crazy story which Detective Beckett is there to quickly quash), I don’t take these stereotypes to heart. It’s the writers’ job to play with these misconceptions, but it reminds me that to some people this is unfortunately the view they have of PI attorneys, and the media often over exaggerate this view.
Therefore, I’d like to go through some of the stereotypes that arose during the episode and debunk these myths surrounding personal injury lawyers.
Personal Injury Lawyers are opportunistic bottom-feeders
Upon entering the murder victim’s law office and seeing the clients in the waiting room, Detective Beckett states that the clients are “looking for a quick settlement, and opportunistic bottom-feeders like Richie [the murdered attorney] to help them cash in.” Not only was this a cruel way to describe the injured people in the waiting room, but it is also a poor description of personal injury attorneys. For purposes of this blog I’m going to focus on the attorney description. I’m not sure where this idea that attorneys who provide legal services to those who are injured are opportunistic bottom-feeders. Possibly the idea comes from how our clients pay for our services. Personal injury attorneys often work on a contingency fee basis, meaning we get a percentage of the amount of compensation you receive for your injuries. If we don’t collect any money for you, then you will not have to pay any fee to us, even though we invest the time of our attorneys and staff without a guarantee of payment. In other words, we only get paid if we benefit you and get a recovery. Often clients do not have the resources to pay for an attorney upfront or on an hourly basis, so we offer this contingency fee arrangement as a benefit to our clients.By providing our services on a contingency fee basis we are able to help you immediately. We are here to help those who really need our services. Because I know that Castle was not out to get PI attorneys, I will note that in the episode, the deceased attorney’s paralegal/secretary says how passionate the attorney was about helping his clients, and about how he cared. From what we learned about him, I think I would have really liked him. He wanted justice for his clients, and the Team at McDivitt Law Firm believes in that too. We are here to help you.
Personal Injury Lawyers hangout at emergency rooms waiting to pounce on a potential client
No, I don’t go to ERs and hand out my business card. Not only is it tacky, but it’s unethical and could lead to the loss of an attorney’s license to practice law. However, I do go to hospitals to meet with clients who may wish to retain my services or who have already hired us and cannot yet leave the hospital—but that is different. The common view is that personal injury lawyers are “ambulance chasers.” However, there are ethical rules for attorneys when it comes to direct contact with prospective clients. Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct 7.3(c) specifically addresses the solicitation of prospective clients who may need legal services which arise out of a personal injury or death.Attorneys have ethical rules we must follow. We are held to a high standard in order to protect the public from unwanted contact, especially in their time of upheaval due to an accident. In some states not only is “ambulance chasing,” or if you would like “barratry,” unethical, it is also illegal. Check out this story about an attorney arrested for barratry.
Lawyers are sleazy and sleep with their clients [Includes Spoilers]
This is the most obvious and common ethical violation I see on television shows. In the rare occasion when this happens in real life, the lawyer will likely lose his or her license to practice law. In this episode of Castle, another personal injury attorney, and possible suspect, had for his alibi that he was sleeping with one of his clients at the time of the murder. You later learn in the episode that this particular attorney paid his client to be his alibi. So all-in-all his behavior was just completely unethical.I want to be clear that this behavior is not typical for any type of lawyer, personal injury or not. More so, this behavior is unethical and can get an attorney disbarred. The show seems to make light of the behavior during the episode, as though it is commonplace for an attorney to be sleazy, and therefore, is probably sleeping with his or her client. But this behavior is a serious ethical violation, and does not come close to being commonplace.
Personal Injury Lawyers are just looking for a “goldmine” case
The suspected lawyer mentions how the personal injury case the two lawyers were “fighting over” was a “goldmine.” This myth relates back to myth No. 1, that personal injury lawyers are just looking for an easy way to make a lot of cash. Like any business, lawyers need to be paid for their services, but personal injury lawyers aren’t just going to take “goldmine” cases. We want to take cases where we know we can help those who have been injured because of someone else’s actions or negligence. The Team at McDivitt Law Firm is there to help you if you have been injured and need help, regardless of the degree of your injuries.However, despite some of these outrageous myths being perpetuated by Castle and Beckett, I was thoroughly entertained by this episode, and will continue to be a fan of the show. As the husband and father of writers, I do understand the need for dramatic license to help a storyline.