What Does A Trial Lawyer Do…And Why Should You Care?

Court of Justice and Law Trial: Successful Female Prosecutor Presenting the Case, Making Passionate Speech to Judge, Jury. Attorney Lawyer Protecting Client with Closing Not Guilty Arguments.

Maybe you have heard about “greedy trial lawyers” whose actions raise the costs of medical care, insurance, and other things for everyone. Or perhaps you have been led to believe that the “Good Hands People” really are on the “right” side.

I have been a lawyer representing injured people and their families in personal injury and workers’ compensation cases for almost the entire 32 years of my legal career. I have encountered much misinformation about what I do, why I do it, and how I am perceived.

Allow me to examine some of this misinformation and give you a better idea of what it is that I, and other trial lawyers, do, and how it benefits us all.

Myth #1—Trial Lawyers are Greedy

For starters, let’s talk about how we get paid. Personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers almost all are paid on a contingency fee basis, meaning we receive a percentage of the gross settlement or verdict. For personal injury and medical malpractice, it is typically one-third, or 33.33 percent. For workers’ compensation, it’s 20%.

That sounds like a lot, especially if you settle a case for a million dollars, right?

But we don’t always win.

We advance the costs of litigation out of our own pockets. That means that we risk thousands, tens of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars that we may never recoup simply because we believe in our client’s case.

Further, the percentage of medical malpractice cases that are filed and result in a verdict or settlement for the plaintiff is very small. Most of those cases result in zero for everyone, and often after hundreds of thousands of dollars invested and years and years of work.

What about “simple” auto crash cases, you ask?

As I’ve mentioned only several million times to readers of my blogs, while I advocate purchasing as much auto insurance as you can afford, I’m not a big fan of insurance companies. Why not? Because they do everything possible to avoid paying people for their injuries. The main insurers will use every single delaying tactic, deny even the most patently obvious facts, and force even “slam dunk” cases to prepare for trial. This means that the entire time the claim is pending, the insurer is investing the premiums and earning interest on that. That also means that if a case has a value of $100,000 and the carrier is able to avoid paying that for four years, it has earned that many years of interest on the premiums, which helps it pay for that settlement or verdict.

That’s right; rather than pay $100,000 it knows it owes because someone that the company insured screwed up, it wastes time and money, and forces the plaintiff’s lawyer to waste time and money, and puts the squeeze on the plaintiff who can’t pay her medical bills, just because it can. Maybe it pays that much after several years of legal wrangling, maybe it gets lucky and a jury says it is worth less. Either way, it winds up ahead due to the value of invested premiums over time and the inexpensive labor of young and hungry lawyers it hires to try all those cases.

Returning to the myth of greed, plaintiffs lawyers can earn sizable fees. With the caveat that it doesn’t happen every case and many cases result in zero money. Keep in mind that the fee on a small auto crash case that settles for $9,000 after three years of litigation is $3,000. If a lawyer spends 300 hours on that case over those three years, they have earned a whopping $10 dollars an hour! That is far more the norm than not. Factor in the thousands of dollars in costs advanced that you are out of pocket during that time and you realize it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme at all.

Myth #2—Lawyers Cause Costs to Rise and Do More Harm Than Good

Some lawyers do great things like free prisoners who were wrongfully convicted, or prosecute war criminals. They are true heroes.

Personal injury lawyers and workers’ compensation lawyers do great things for ordinary people who are injured.

Take the Sterigenics verdict I wrote about in my recent blog . Without a lawyer putting the squeeze on the entities that KNOWINGLY POLLUTED the air for decades and killed and made hundreds of people ill, there would be no justice.

Similarly, when an assembly line worker loses an arm because his company didn’t bother to maintain the machine he used daily, that’s not some windfall—it’s merely trying to compensate that poor amputee for something that should never have happened. A century ago, such accidents happened and the injured worker and his family had no recourse. Is that the society we want to live in?

You have probably heard that all of these costly verdicts make things more costly, right?

That fiction has been disproven repeatedly. Medical malpractice verdicts don’t make healthcare more expensive. Auto accident cases don’t make auto insurance more costly. These “excuses”are trotted out by industry groups with an agenda. Don’t believe this nonsense.

Take a look at what I do. I recently settled a case for a woman who was stopped in her vehicle and rear ended by someone not paying attention. She was hit so hard, it broke her neck. Not only did we have to work very hard for nearly two years to get her all the compensation to which she was entitled, as she told me upon receiving her settlement check, “there is no amount of money that can ever make me want to go through this again.” Money does not make people whole. It does not remove their pain. It does not make it “worth it,” or result in a windfall. It is the best our civil justice system can do to approximate fairness.

Insurance companies, corporations, and other bad actors do not voluntarily do the right thing without us lawyers holding their feet to the fire. Without our threat of a verdict against them, they will continue to do harm to people.

Trial lawyers make your world a little safer, a little fairer, and work for positive change.

Myth #3—Trial Lawyers Don’t Produce Anything of Value

I often joke that for the child of two C.P.A.s, I’m lucky I can make a living “talking to people and dividing by 3.” I’m pretty inept when it comes to home maintenance, how things work, technology, and am always in awe of people who are good with those types of things.

So no, I do not create anything with my hands. I’m not a brain surgeon. I can change a tire, but it’s not pretty and my back would hurt for a week.

What am I doing that is of value?

I am standing up for ordinary people injured due to the negligence of others. I’m the one fighting and pushing back on the insurance companies and corporations who refuse to compensate my clients fairly. I’m the one who gets my client a $150,000 settlement when there was NO OFFER at all before I got involved.

I obtained a settlement for my client of $600,000 when he, a pedestrian, was mowed down by a speeding driver. There is no way he would have been able to navigate the system, file a lawsuit, and get that settlement without a lawyer. So yeah, I did that. In an adversary system that pits an injured, vulnerable layperson against a powerful corporation, justice is almost never done unless a plaintiff’s lawyer works hard to level the playing field..

I’m the one who obtains a workers’ compensation award at trial for my client, a city worker, who was injured at work. Why didn’t the city just pay him? Because they didn’t feel like it. The response I received was “we are never paying your client a dime unless you take us to trial.” So I did and we won and he got paid. Without a lawyer on his side, he’d get nothing.

Case closed.


  • Trial lawyers are often mischaracterized as greedy, but they take on difficult cases, incur risk and costs, often for years, and fight obstinate insurance companies and corporations.
  • Trial lawyers are accused of driving up costs. This is not true.
  • Trial lawyers add value by forcing verdicts and settlements that benefit ordinary people.

Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

As in all cases involving injury, medical malpractice, or other injury and potential liability, if you have been hit by a vehicle, immediately get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as bicycle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars.

If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has over 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything up front, and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day; contact Stephen now.

Categories: Personal Injury