Sharks in the Water – Watch Out for Unethical Lawyers


Most attorneys are ethical and diligent, but there are the ones that give us all a bad name.  Dishonest lawyers, like liars in every walk of life, take advantage of trusting souls for a quick buck, whereas ethical attorneys seek to get you great results and provide amazing service, hoping you’ll come back and/or refer your friends and family.  Reputable attorneys will never engage in these tactics. Here are some things watch out for when you are looking to hire a reputable attorney:


Some attorneys hire people to hang around emergency rooms, getting access to medical records that show which patients are being treated for injuries from accidents.  They take down the phone numbers of victims who receive a deluge of calls asking if they need a lawyer.  Never hire these lawyers, as you are not well served by hiring a professional that steals your information.  If a lawyer calls you, and you don’t know how they got your information – hang up!  Another illicit tactic are representatives of medical facilities that approach you about treatment for your injuries and send you to a chiropractor or physical therapy provider.  At the medical office, you are given a large stack of forms to sign, and one of those forms is a retainer for an attorney who is giving them a kickback.  I’ve had clients come with cases that did not know that they had already retained an attorney at a medical office!  If this happens to you, you should know that you have a right to change attorneys, and you can have a legitimate attorney handle the transfer of your file.  A particularly distasteful tactic that attorneys (and their medical offices) use is literally paying clients for cases, offering thousands of dollars up front if you have serious injuries.  This is illegal and unethical, and these attorneys are likely to end up losing their licenses – maybe in the middle of your case – so steer clear.  A reputable attorney will get you much more money in the long run.


Lawsuit filings are public records, so anybody can find out the names of litigants in personal injury cases.  Unscrupulous attorneys will sometimes use this information to try to build their client base by disparaging your attorney.  You might get a call from an attorney or their representative telling you that your attorney “Mr. Smith” is no longer practicing law, and that they have taken over their practice.  They will tell you that you must sign papers signing your case over to their firm as part of an agreement with your attorney.  They may tell you that your attorney is dead or that he’s lost his license.  A quick call to your attorney would clear that up, but it’s amazing how gullible people can be.  A reputable attorney will never speak ill of a colleague to a client.


So you were hit in the rear by another car and you broke your wrist.  You have a good case, the accident was not your fault and you have a “serious injury.”  You walk in the door and the lawyer brags about his million dollar verdicts, promising you massive amounts of money if you sign with him.  The first thing to understand is that in New York, the minimum liability coverage is $25,000 per person, so that may be all it’s possible to collect.  Even if there is ample insurance coverage, if your wrist is properly treated and heals well, your case would not be worth a million dollars.  It’s impossible to predict how much compensation is likely to be collected at the onset of a case, because there’s no way to know how well the injuries will heal. (I always tell clients it’s a win, either way, you either get your health back OR you get more money – I think the first option is always better.)  A reputable personal injury attorney will never make grand promises.


Some attorney will ask you to sign a release to settle your case without providing you with a breakdown of how the money will be distributed.  I have heard horror stories from people that were duped this way, and collected nothing.  Before you sign a release, you need to receive a breakdown that clearly shows you what you will be receiving from the settlement.  This breakdown should also show you what the attorney is collecting, the disbursements charged on your case, and the amount of any liens that are being deducted from the settlement.  A reputable personal injury attorney will make sure you know exactly how much money you will receive before you sign a release.


Your attorney should never say, “Your case is settled,” but instead that there is “an offer to settle your case.”  If your attorney believes that it’s a great settlement, it’s their job to explain why, it’s always the client’s choice whether or not to accept a settlement.

Wittenstein & Wittenstein has been serving the community for more than 60 years.  We uphold the highest ethical standards, answering all our clients questions and returning calls promptly.  Let us show you what it’s like to have a great lawyer!



2019-01-28T11:29:12+00:00By |0 Comments

About the Author:

Alyce Wittenstein is a world class attorney, blogger and filmmaker. She began working at the firm in 1985 as a managing paralegal, learning all the practices and procedures of the firm from Mr. Wittenstein and the staff. From 1995-1998, she attended CUNY Law School where she made a mark as a teaching assistant for Civil Rights leader Haywood Burns. She founded a Human Rights Delegation to Haiti and studied Constitutional Law with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Working at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commision (EEOC), she learned a great deal about Employment Discrimination matters. She brought her knowledge of the Personal Injury practice and her passion for Civil Rights to the firm when she was admitted to the Bar in 1999. In 2000, she became a partner and the firm name was changed to Wittenstein & Wittenstein, Esqs. PC.

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