Where Are the Pro Bono Personal Injury Lawyers?

Our lawyers spend a lot of time trying to make our community a better place and we do pro bono work helping victims.  For us, this often involves helping clients whose cases we cannot take. We do things like fighting for children to help them get the help they need from the school system or assisting victims who are trying to manage the damages from their car accident case.  We spend hundreds of hours a year on this type of pro bono work for the community.

One question we occasionally get from prospective clients is whether we accept personal injury cases on a pro bono basis. The answer to this question is no.  If you google “pro bono personal injury lawyer Baltimore”, the response you get is crickets.

People are sometimes surprised to hear that.  It is not that personal injury and malpractice lawyers don’t care about helping people in need. I know we care very much about that. Fighting for the “little guy” is the underlying theme of our law practice. We love to go out and battle with big insurance companies to get financial compensation for our hard-working clients.

The reason we don’t take personal injury cases on a pro bono basis is that the economic realities of personal injury law make pro bono work unnecessary and impracticable. There are 2 basic reasons for this: (1) we already work on a contingency fee basis so we only get paid if we succeed in getting compensation for our client; and (2) we pay for the expenses that can be very significant in personal injury cases.

Contingency Fees in Personal Injury Cases

miller-zois_0144-200x300Pro bono work in personal injury law is not really necessary like it is in other practice areas. The reason for this is that personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. A personal injury lawyer does not charge a client any upfront fees. Rather, we receive a percentage of any compensation that we recover on behalf of the client. If we don’t succeed in recovering any money for a client, we don’t get paid, and that client does not owe us anything.

In practice, the contingency fee system gives everyone the same access to legal representation regardless of financial means. You don’t need money to hire the best personal injury lawyer in town, you just need to have a good case. This makes personal injury law completely different from other types of law practice. If you need a business lawyer or a criminal defense lawyer, they will charge you upfront and by the hour.

The cost of hiring a lawyer by the hour is financially prohibitive for a large segment of the population. This means that many people who really need a lawyer, literally cannot afford to hire one. In this context, pro bono legal services make a lot of sense. For lawyers who would otherwise be unaffordable, representing deserving clients on a pro bono basis provides a meaningful, valuable public service.

Personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee arrangement, which means that there are no financial barriers to qualify for legal representation. You don’t need any money at all to hire a personal injury lawyer. Everyone has equal access to personal injury attorneys regardless of financial status. This is the primary reason that personal injury lawyers don’t handle cases on a pro bono basis. It just isn’t necessary as it is in other legal fields.

Personal Injury Lawyers Pay for Expenses

The other primary reason personal injury lawyers don’t take pro bono cases is because of the expenses associated with tort cases. Many people don’t realize that bringing a personal injury lawsuit is very expensive because you have to hire various expert witnesses to support the case.

For instance, in a medical malpractice suit, the plaintiff must present testimony from expert witnesses (i.e., other doctors) to support their allegations that the defendant was negligent. Hiring a doctor to be an expert witness can cost anywhere from $250 to $750 an hour and they might end up spending over 100 hours of more on the case.

The costs of expert witnesses in a typical medical malpractice lawsuit can easily exceed $100,000.  In complicated cases, our costs might be $300,000.  Even in a less complex type of personal injury case, such as an auto accident, there can still be several thousand dollars in witness fees and other expenses. The personal injury lawyer pays for these expenses and gets reimbursed if they win your case. If they lose your case, they don’t get reimbursed and you don’t have to pay anything.

Paying for expenses means that personal injury lawyers make a financial investment in every case they take. If they take a personal injury case on a pro bono case, not only will the lawyer not get paid for their time but they will end up having to pay thousands of dollars in expenses too. This makes pro bono work in a personal injury case a very different proposition for the lawyer.