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Should Firms Treat Personal Injury Cases as Pro Bono?

According to this article, Law firms are offering services to victims' families for free, a few Minneapolis firms are offering legal services pro bono to the victims of last month's I-35 W Mississippi River bridge collapse. The article reports that law firms such as Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, Soucie and Bolt and Wil Fluegel are among those that have signed up to represent victims without a fee. However, at least one firm, Schwebel, Goetz & Swieben, declined to join the group of firms waiving a fee and, instead, will represent victims or their families through a contingency arrangement. The article notes that just the costs of the suit -- investigative work and discovery -- will run at least $1 million, with the cost of lawyers' time exceeding that.

One expert quoted in the article describes the reasons that a law firm might forgo fees in these kinds of cases:

David Schultz, who teaches legal ethics at the University of Minnesota School of Law, said he can come up with two reasons for a firm to offer free work. One is noble, and the other is smart business. "This plays well," Schultz said. "Then you get to Ciresi's firm as he's running for U.S. Senate. It helps temper any edge that he's just a money-grubbing trial lawyer."  Still, Schultz said, "If it's simply about doing good work -- it's an exceedingly generous offer by law firms in cases that could potentially make lawyers millions of dollars. For anybody who was on that bridge, you have a potential lawsuit."

While it's hard to criticize the firms taking cases at no cost, I do question whether their decision represents an optimal allocation of scarce pro bono resources. Why take on a huge case where there are probably at least a dozen highly qualified personal injury firms to handle the matter? And is it appropriate to characterize this work as pro bono when the clients have numerous other options? 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 20, 2007 at 03:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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