Frequently Asked Questions
We're sure you have lots of questions, like: How does it work? How much does it cost? How long with this all take? Luckily, we've thought of the most common questions we get and answered them here. But, of course, if you have any other questions or just want to talk, please give us a call at 512 329 6800.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
This is one we get all the time. And I’ll give you the classic lawyer answer that makes all people hate lawyers: Maybe. Maybe not.
Here you go: If your case is REALLY simple—I mean, you’re not hurt, you didn’t miss work, the person who hit you accepted responsibility at the collision scene and YOU HAVE PROOF, their insurance company is being really nice to you, your property damage is minimal, and you want to wrap things up in like a week or two. Then no, you probably don’t need a lawyer.
Just call up the insurance company (what we lawyers call the “liability carrier”) and ask them to pay for your car repairs, rental car, PLUS an amount for your inconvenience and they will probably offer to pay for your car repairs, a few days of rental, and a thousand bucks. Not bad. But not good either. But hey, if this is cool with you, knock yourself out.
BUT...If you got hurt AT ALL, missed work, the driver who hit you was wishy-washy at the scene or is lying about hitting you, their insurance company is being a bunch of bozos, or if your car is really messed up and you think you might have a diminished value claim (the difference between what your car was worth before the wreck and what it’s worth after repairs), then YOU ABSO-FLIPPIN’-LUTELY NEED A LAWYER.
I know you’re smart, but do you really understand all the ins-and-outs of what you can claim for damages and what they’re worth. Not to mention the skills necessary to collect the evidence that will be admissible at trial to PROVE the other driver caused this wreck?
So, unless you’d suture yourself up—Rambo-style—if you took a bullet to your shoulder, don’t try to stitch your serious case together without a lawyer.
How Much Will this Cost?
Jon Selden & Company charges what’s called a contingency fee. This is just like the commercials you see on TV—we don’t get paid unless we win your case. When we do win your case, our fee is one-third of whatever we recover. If we have to file a lawsuit, then our fees go up to 40 percent. This is because it’s a huge pain in the you-know-what to file a lawsuit and go to court. But we will do it if it means winning your case.
Contingency fees are a great way to charge for legal services because our interests are totally aligned with your interests. In other words, we want your case to settle for as much as possible as fast as possible. Because, not only do you get more money faster, but so do we. This sure beats hourly-billing, where we’d require a HUGE retainer fee up front and then bill you a bajillion dollars an hour. In that case, our only interest is to keep stringing you along for as long as possible—not cool!
Every case has expenses too—stuff like copies, postage, medical record ordering fees, etc. We pay for all case expenses out of our firm budget, and then reimburse ourselves at the end of the case. Our case expenses in a typical car wreck case are usually a couple hundred bucks. So don’t worry, we won’t be staying at the Waldorf Astoria and flying private jets around* while we work on your case. We’ll be watching the budget very closely. Why? Because we’re spending our own money.
Remember, we want your case to settle for as much as possible as fast as possible.
*Actual question from actual client.
How Long Will This All Take?
Good question. Every case is different, but for the most part, from past experience, your case will be all wrapped up in about a year.
It really depends on how long you treat with your medical providers. We don’t want to settle your case before you’re done treating, because you may have more treatment or another injury pop up later. If you treat for a long time, then we will wait until you are finished with your treatment. If you wrap up with treatment quickly, then we will kick into gear and work on getting your case settled more quickly. It’s all up to you and your doctors.
Don’t worry, while you’re treating, we’re working. We’re busy collecting evidence and communicating with your medical providers to make sure you’re getting the best possible care. When you’re done, we’ll collect all of your medical and billing records and start going through them with a fine-tooth comb. Then we’ll type up a demand letter to the other driver’s insurance company. This is a fancy, long letter that details exactly what we think your case is worth and how much we’ll settle it for. We typically give the insurance company a few weeks to respond with a reasonable offer. If they do, then great—we’ll settle it. If they don’t, then we’re off to lawsuit-ville: Population you and us.
Again, each case if different—like a delicate little snowflake. But—bottom line—your case should be done in about a year.
Will I Have to Go to Court?
Not if we can help it.
Eight out of 10 of our cases settle before we ever file a lawsuit. This is because we’re reasonable and conservative and settle cases for fair and reasonable amounts. This is not because we are weaklings—just ask your insurance adjuster who probably says some not-nice-things when they see our letterhead come across their fax machine.
If we have to file a lawsuit, almost 100% of those cases settle before trial. There’s always the chance your case will go to trial, but we do everything we can to avoid it. This is because we don’t like litigation (what lawyers call filing a lawsuit and going through the court process). We think it sucks. It’s time consuming, EXPENSIVE, and just all-out life-sucking. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for me. Like Abraham Lincoln (himself a pretty decent lawyer and fellow) said:
“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man.”
Well said Abe. Agreed.
Will You Pay Me to Take My Case?
No joke. If you’ve ever called in sick to work and flipped on the TV during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., you’ve probably seen the annoying lawyer commercials running all day long promising to give you an “interest free loan” if you hire the lawyer to take your car accident case.
Is this ethical? Believe it or not, the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (the ethics rules for Texas lawyers) allow a lawyer to “advance or guarantee court costs, expenses of litigation or administrative proceedings, and reasonably necessary medical and living expenses.” And we pay all of our clients’ court costs and case expenses directly to the vendor out of our own budget. This is a crucial part of the case and it’s only fair that we have some “skin in the game” along with you.
But we do not give clients cash money in the form of an “advance” on living expenses or an “interest free loan.” We think that violates the spirit of the rule and is just downright in bad taste. Not to mention the fact that, at the end of the case, the client will have to pay every penny of that advance back to the lawyer. As my Mom used to say, “it’s six by one, half-dozen by the other.”
It also doesn’t say much about the lawyers offering to pay clients to hire them. Think of it this way: If you were looking for a surgeon to operate on your very serious medical condition and you found one that said “I am one of the best in my field and will do my very best. I am honest and my fees for my work are reasonable.” And then you found another doctor who said “I'll give you an "interest free loan" to let me operate on you.” Which one would you choose?
Do you Want your Lawyer to be a Lab or a Pit Bull?
A friend called me last week with a legal problem. After explaining the basic issues about a minor dispute that had exploded into a full-blown mess, he told me he wanted to hire a lawyer who’s “a real pit bull” to make the other side “as miserable as possible.”
I told him there are plenty of so-called pit bull lawyers out there who will do that—as long as you’re willing to pay them. But, I tried to convey, that’s not really what you want.
Lawyers like to advertise themselves as aggressive, all-or-nothing zealots who will stop at nothing to ruin their opponents. Some call themselves sharks. Some call themselves hammers. Some call themselves pit bulls.
I’ve found what they really are, most of the time, are big fat bullies.
A bully is someone who’s so insecure about himself that he has to abuse someone who he thinks is weaker than himself in order to feel better. It’s the same behavior you find on elementary school playgrounds and high school locker rooms. Not surprisingly, a lot of these bullies eventually decide they want to continue making people miserable as lawyers.
You see this behavior play out in the courts as bully lawyers spend all their clients’ time and money battling over stupid and irrelevant legal issues—just to abuse the other side. You see it in ridiculous discovery disputes and pointless procedural battles that do nothing but drive the other side batty and spend ridiculous sums of money.
In the end, no one wins but the bully lawyer—who gets to bill his client by the hour for every stupid, ridiculous legal filing and nasty letter he sends.
We’re not like that.
We try to be more like our loyal black lab, Dude, who spends most of his time laying on our back deck. He is always there. And, if we accidentally leave the back gate open, Dude will still be sitting there when we get home. He’s friendly, easygoing, and loyal.
But when an unknown person comes through the back gate, Dude goes nuts. He barks and growls and looks menacing. I’ve had service people say they can’t work because the “aggressive dog in the backyard” won’t let them in. Of course, as soon as Dude knows the person is friendly, he backs off and goes back up to the deck.
Of course, it’s because Dude’s loyal. He sees our house and his house and us as his family. And he won’t let anyone threaten them.
We’re the same way—friendly, easygoing, and loyal. But, if we think someone is threatening you or your case, we’ll go nuts. Because we’re loyal to you.
That’s the different between a lab and a pit bill lawyer.
How much is my case worth?
“One meeeeeeeeliiion dollars!”
Just kidding, of course. Remember, we don’t represent people who think a fender-bender earns them a ticket to some so-called “Lawsuit Lottery.” For one, that doesn’t exist. The Framers of our Constitution designed our civil justice system to fairly and accurately assign liability and value harms and losses. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best system mankind has devised yet. So there’s never a “jackpot” jury award or settlement—only fair and reasonable compensation for the real harms and losses caused by someone’s negligence.
That said, valuing cases is not an exact science. You may ask me what the weather will be like in Austin on August 8. I can tell you almost certainly that it will be hotter than a wicked witch’s white-hot steel whistle, but I don’t know if it will be cloudy or raining or windy or…you get my drift. That same thing goes for your case. I will know early on whether it will settle for a TON or a TINY bit, but there are a lot of variables in between. This is why we pay very close attention to what goes on at the courthouse and appellate courts. It’s the best way we know how to judge what actual real, live juries are compensating people in real cases.
Your case value will be determined by the sum of your economic damages (things that have a receipt) and non-economic damages (the stuff you hear about on The Good Wife or Law & Order like “pain, suffering, and mental anguish”). You may be surprised to find out that huge “million dollar verdicts” are actually quite rare (and for good reason). We are very conservative and only ask for what we think is fair and reasonable. We don’t want you—or us—to get laughed out of the courtroom or lose credibility with a judge, jury, or insurance adjuster. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.