Growing up I heard the term ambulance chaser. It’s meant to describe a low life personal injury attorney who would follow an ambulance to a hospital and try to sign up a client. The image is of an unkempt person with a bad suit and bad haircut.

I never imagined that could be a reality, but sadly it is. Now with the caveat that most Illinois personal injury attorneys are honest and ethical and the ones we recommend wouldn’t do these things, there do seem to be more and more that toe the line of morality. And in my opinion they greatly cross the line of what’s right and wrong. Here are some things I’ve heard from callers in the last few months:

  • One Chicago personal injury attorney may have stolen funds from a client as part of a settlement that were supposed to be used to pay off liens by medical providers. This same attorney paid the client in cash for the settlement instead of writing a check. I’ve literally never heard of an attorney doing that and can’t imagine why they would. Oh, and this lawyer has been suspended from practicing law for unethical behavior three times.
  • In one case where a person was rear-ended in Chicago at a stop light, more than 20 law firms reached out to them within a week, unsolicited. Many of them did it by phone, a couple had “runners” show up at their house. I hear this type of behavior all the time. Is that not ambulance chasing? Many firms buy crash reports. Some allegedly pay off cops to hand out their business card or alert them to big accidents.
  • One of the lawyers who does this chasing is backed by private equity money meaning he has investors in his law firm that fund his practice. They of course have an expectation of getting a return on their money. To me it’s a huge red flag if a firm is doing this as you have to question if they are going to be worried about your best interests or making their investors happy. In fact, I encourage you to ask your lawyer before you hire them if they are backed by private equity. One notorious lawyer who does this doesn’t actually try cases.
  • Another firm advertises heavily here with billboards and TV ads yet the main guy isn’t even licensed to practice law in Illinois. They just hire out attorneys to handle the cases. They are, in my opinion, marketers, not lawyers.
  • I’ve heard stories of some attorneys paying clients at the beginning of the case to sign up. It’s basically an illegal advancement on their settlement. It sounds great to the client, but the reality is that these lawyers are breaking the law and often you end up with less because they are just trying to churn through cases instead of get the best result possible.
  • And of course many lawyers pay doctors for referrals or have an arrangement where they send each other business even if it’s not in the best interest of the client.

It’s really disheartening that it happens so much and that it’s happening more and more. The public gets hurt. All I can tell you is that if someone will cross an ethical line to get your business, it’s a reflection of how they will handle your case. And the best firms who get the best results don’t feel a need to do this and their clients are happier.