Posted by Gary Burger on July 27, 2015 in Law
Burger Law frequently co-counsels with lawyers throughout the Midwest in personal injury cases. Winning referral relationships are built on open communication, dedication to teamwork and excellent service to the client. Gary Burger had a recent $5,000,000 recovery which resulted in a substantial referral fee to the originating attorney.
Before we turn to the details of that case, let’s review a couple Rules of Professional Conduct. Clients are best served by an attorney with the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for competent representation. Missouri Rule of Professional Conduct Rule 4-1.1. We would not prepare a trust, represent a client in a criminal matter or file a bankruptcy because we do not practice in those areas of law. So, we refer those cases to attorneys who concentrate in those practice areas.
Missouri ethics rules approve splitting fees between lawyers under Rule 1.5(e). This facilitates getting the client to the best lawyer for the type of case. Fee divisions are appropriate if: the division is in proportion to the work done or both lawyers/firms assume joint responsibility; the client agrees and this agreement is confirmed in writing; and the total fee is reasonable. We pay generous fees to referring counsel in civil and workers compensation cases. Our role with co-counsel varies from no involvement to working the whole case up and trying it with the referring lawyer. Most lawyers like to keep in communication with us and the client. Referring fees vary with different levels of participation. We typically finance the case and pay all expenses.
In the 5 million dollar case that Gary settled, another attorney was representing the surviving family of a young father who was tragically killed in a tractor-trailer accident. The fully loaded truck crashed into the father’s SUV at an intersection, killing both the truck driver and the young father. The force of the crash pushed the SUV a great distance and caused the tractor-trailer to overturn and slide along the road. The attorney representing the family realized the high value of the case and co-counseled with us because of our experience, resources and results.
We aggressively worked the case up, filed suit immediately and hired the best available accident reconstruction expert. We then examined and photographed the vehicles to secure evidence for trial. We met with the referring lawyer and the family of the young father. These attorney-client meetings are obviously important because the client must want the co-counsel arrangement and be a participant and stakeholder in the case. The client signed a new representation agreement reflecting the fee sharing arrangement (but under Rule 1.5(e) a new agreement is not necessary).
Our investigation showed that the tractor-trailer violated a red traffic signal, was exceeding the speed limit and driving in the left hand turn lane — over the center line — when it crashed into client’s SUV coming out of the River City Casino. The case did not settle at the court ordered mediation, but we established a good relationship with the defendant’s adjuster. We declined lower settlement offers and later secured a $5 million recovery. This involved much legal work and great tactics. The case would have been remanded to state court because we added the estate of the decedent as a defendant – a decedent’s residency cannot defeat diversity but his estate can – but the case settled. The balance of the settlement was placed in a structured settlement to benefit the minor child, a separate conservatorship was opened and we handled all probate matters in the case. (Four separate cases were filed by us to do so.)
The fee to referring counsel was disclosed to and approved by Courts at the hearing approving the wrongful death settlement and in the conservatorship hearings. Our firm gave many hundreds of thousands of dollars to our capable co-counsel who well assisted in referring the case and in client relations at all stages of the case (and in distributing the money).
At any given time, a large percentage of our practice is made up of cases involving civil collision, medical malpractice, wrongful death and workers’ compensation claims. If you have a client with a complex personal injury case and want experienced and competent assistance in handling the matter, we invite you to contact our law firm. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you!