Monday, January 4, 2010

Case Runners

When I was a young warthog/Bad Lawyer I fell in with a gang of ambulance chasers.  As I've alluded to in the past, these guys were to the magisterium of the law, what maggots are to health care--they serve a therapeutic purpose but when you look closely they're still parasites.  Yet given a choice of lawyers to drink coffee with I'd choose most of them over the big firm asshats I've known.  As thieving and reprehesible as these personal injury types were/are--most of them will still leave you with bus fare. 

There is a slang, an argot to ambulance chasers.  A car accident with two injured occupants is a double-bagger, an amputated limb is an arm-off or a leg-off; blindness, an eye-out.  Almost all of these firms have actual "chasers" or case "runners."  These are the lay persons who hustle business for the personal injury firms.  At the firms I was at, these were pretty bottom shelf guys who hung out in neighborhood bars, or were pretty-networked guys with a shop or a union who would refer business to the personal injury practice.  The range of compensation for this sort of thing ranaged from "thank you" to "favors" like free representation in their personal legal matters, liquor, invites to lawfirm parties, wads of cash, all of the above, and in some practices established compensation.  At your large metropolitan hospitals it is not unusual to see "case runners" just hanging out with cellphones waiting to make a connection for the large personal injury practices.  These are a variation on the sorts og guys who parachute into Bhopal or other catastrophes to sign up personal injury clients for the guys like the sharks I worked with. 

To some extent a lot of what passes for lawyer advertising on television and radio is nothing more than a high-tech version fo precisely the same thing.  Commercial outfits advertise, do intake through 1-800 phone numbers and broker services out to participating law firms.  The other end of those business entities cold call law offices looking for lawyers to "buy into" the serices.

This is all unquestionably ehtically-problematic but Free Speech challenges to prohibitions on lawyer advertising broke down almost all barriers and taste in lawyer advertising as we have demonstrated repeatedly with posts on over the top lawyer advertising. Still "barratry" is illegal but the prohibition is almost never prosecuted or enforced.  Prohibitions on "barratry" mean that a lawyer is not supposed to be stirring up or buying legal work--and, yet it is done all the time in your face.   If you don't know this you aren't watching television.  This rule is so ignored that in most states, when you vote in a new attorney general, private legal work goes out to the law firms that donated to him or her, via "special attorney general," assignments.  If you have ever owed an unpaid tax, or fee to the state you may have received a letter from one of your attorney general's campaign contributors--purchased legal work.

State attorney general barratry is high-end compared to the stuff I want us to focus on--let's look at the lowlifes who are "case runners." My San had this report about the case of Willie Garcia (pic) written by John MacCormack of the Express-News, I'll quote, to give you an idea of what caught my attention: 

"A case-runner, in the legal jargon of South Texas, is someone who solicits clients for personal injury lawyers through a web of contacts with police, courthouse officials, funeral homes, morgue and medical workers.While it's legal for a person seeking legal representation to approach someone and then be referred to a lawyer, it is illegal for anyone to solicit clients for lawyers [ed. obviously this is not true, but his larger point is what I'm getting at in this post].

The practice is formally known as barratry, a third-degree felony in most cases in Texas. Despite this, it's widespread in South Texas and rarely prosecuted.

Garcia was not your average ambulance-chaser, according to South Texas sources. His reach was global, and at one point, he said in a deposition, his business was bringing in $1.5 million a month and he was paying a Mexican partner $40,000 a month.

Garcia apparently began his referral business about two decades ago, after a close call in a barratry case in the wake of the Alton, [Texas] bus accident in which 21 schoolchildren drowned."

OK, here's the point.  Our system of jurisprudence is rotten to the core on one level.  We expect that bright young men and women who can get into our law schools, incur the debt of going to law schools having learned high ideals; go out in the legal/business world;  hang out their shingle; pay their telephone, computer and electric expenses;  malpractice premiums, taxes, secretary, experts, court costs; and we expect them to think about and write about the law, and above all we expect them to competently represent clients while competing with this kind of shit!?  You might point out to me that lawyers do this--let me tell you a little secret, they don't.  Anecdotally, there will be one or two lawyers who make it through, who aren't eaten by the sharks, or worse, the creditors, the greedheads, the disciplinary authorities--but the existing seas of sharks, and cheats, and well-paid case runners so corrupt the seas that it is not unrealistic to contend that solo private practice is an invitation to a drowning. 

You can tell I'm pretty upbeat, huh?


  1. is this real, how do they get away with it ?

  2. Dwayne--this is very real, I think in the smaller personal injury firms the practice is rationalized as a mattter of referrals and favors given--but, I assure you kick the rock over and you will find some pretty sordid behaviors. You'll notice that one of the things Mr. Kay, Mouthpiece Hall of Infamy-- got cited for was splitting fees with non-lawyers, this is what that rule seeks to prohibit, e.g. buying cases.


  3. hi,
    i just wanted to say how much i enjoy reading your blog. in a world full of spin, it's nice to get some fact-based analysis.
    keep up the good work.
    Personal Injury Attorney Houston

  4. Nicholas--

    Thank you for your kind and supportive comment. It is greatly appreciated. Please promote Bad Lawyer, I'm always looking for readers, in my position sharing "the light" is about all that I have going for me, at least for the time being!


  5. during a difficult time in my life a lawyer stepped in said he would help in turn for me "advertising" for his firm. turned out i was case running ..was left stuck out of vehicle and money. anything i can do?

  6. A fantastic read….very literate and informative. Many thanks

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  7. would love to get in contact with BL.about this.

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