Where to Find Words of Wisdom – Or “Which Button Do I Push?”

Getting the Legal Information You Need – How To Do It?

I am sure I have mentioned this before, but the people of WV and our profession are better off because a Morgantown Lawyer named Darrell (Dan) Ringer became interested in WV Public Broadcasting.

Dan may remember how we got to know one another. I don’t. I think he is too young to have been a law school classmate, but my wife Nancy and  I “double dated” with his lovely wife Rebecca (Becky) Bonner Ringer “before”. Becky is an alumna of our school, WV Wesleyan College.

I believe we went to to Julio’s in Clarksburg and partook in Julio’s “home made” wine. Becky is an active Facebook friend, always ready with an insightful or funny post. Dan doesn’t post much even though he is attuned to technology.

Dan has logged hundreds of shows for The Law Works http://www.wvpubcast.org/lawworks.aspxThere is a huge archive of shows available on the web.

I would be more up on the content of the shows, but we moved farther out into the country and were without public television for over eight years! Dan was there before we moved, and he’s still there! Direct TV finally figured a way for us to have access to WV Public Television, and boy did we miss it.

Dan draws on his vast web of contacts statewide; politicians, office holders, governmental employees, law school professors, State Bar Officers, prosecutors, and trial lawyers, both plaintiffs’ and defendants’. Even I was privileged to appear, with Pat Nichols, to discuss the challenges and joys of practicing in a small, and smaller, WV city.

Last night Nancy and I stopped for a moment on channel 24 as Dan interviewed former Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely. As Dan asked, “What is workers compensation”, I reached for the channel changer. But, noting that Neely had already said something humorous, I let it stay and continued to type some Christmas e-mails. Justice Neely’s manner, in person and in his written opinions, is unique, funny, frank, and perceptive.

As Justice Neely explained there were lots of people who didn’t work, filing false or exaggerated claims, and sitting back in their recliners, he almost lost me. Not that there are no such claims, or that some people do not become dependent on “the system”, but that has not been my experience. Injured people tend mostly to crave to get well, in their bodies and pocket books.

After explaining that workers comp is a system that allows compensation for injured workers that is not dependent upon proving negligence in court, he moved on to “deliberate intent”, a subject I have already written on. Just search for “deliberate” in this blog.

Justice Nealy then said something that I know he has said in a written opinion, because I rely on that opinion a lot.In fact, he articulated the rule that allows fee splitting and associating, so long as it is transparent and fair. 

He was talking about what he called “deeds and wills” lawyers in small towns. Frankly, that term is one I use, and is a bit demeaning. It means the guy who does a little bit of everything but avoids the courtroom.

He explained that going to such lawyers to consult on a MAJOR CASE, as opposed to being attracted by a slick advertisement, makes good sense, and he explained why.

His point is well made.The local lawyer, who is competent and in tune with his profession, has a certain number of “big” cases come along during his or her career.

These might be employees’ “deliberate intent” cases, such as the ones filed by the Sago and Upper Big Branch Mine miners and families, product liability (4-wheeler or SUV rollover cases, etc.), Medical Malpractice, or even an auto, truck, or motorcyle collisions with major injuries.

Neely pointed out that calling the local lawyer makes good sense. Even if that lawyer was not on the trial lawyers’ (WV Association for Justice) board for 20 years as I was, he or she almost certainly will know some of the relative handful of lawyers who “specialize” (his word; not one we are allowed to use) in a certain high risk area of the law. The phrase we are allowed to use is “focused area of practice”. It means a lawyer has done lots of a particular kind of case.

The rule allows the local lawyer to refer his client to, and share his fee with,  a lawyer who can afford to advance, and therefore risk, $50,000 – $100,000 or more, plus his and his staff’s time, in order to pursue claim of $300,000 to $10,000,000.

I have had 7-8  of what my former partner Randy Levine called “impact cases”. In fact, Randy co-counseled with me in two such cases; a two week murder trial which nearly did us in (our client now walks free after paying his debt to society) and a judgment for $900,000 (including interest) against a mining company. We were young and foolish risk takers back then.

Fortunately for Randy and me, the clients money paid the tens of thousands of dollars of litigation expenses in those cases, but usually the client cannot afford such expenses, or to pay in advance, SO, we work on a contingency basis.

The lawyers in the larger cities with “primary areas of focus” need clients, and we local lawyers often find potentially big cases, so it is a natural that we associate.

The total fee is the same. Depending on the role of the referring lawyer, the receiving lawyer will often share 1/3 or 1/4 of the total fee with the referring lawyer. You do the math. If the contingency fee is 40%, as it is in the high risk cases, the referring lawyer receives 10%-14% of the final judgment or settlement. The receiving lawyer gets the rest, and assumes all or most of the costs and takes responsibility as lead counsel.

What does the client get? With the help of the referring lawyer, he gets the knowledge of who is competent to do that kind of case. Neely opined that only 35 or so of WV’s 8000 lawyers are really good at deliberate intent cases. Perhaps Med Mal and Product Liability have 100 lawyers each. By interviewing the client and gathering prelimary evidence, I can increase the chance the other lawyer will accept the case.

And, the client benefits by having a local counsel. As local counsel, I have; 

a. Helped our clients through family or other legal issues while their case is pending;

b. Kept peace between squabbling clients, even helping ease a sharing of a settlement after the parties were no longer married;

c. Become a squeaking wheel for a client who was feeling neglected;

d. Hosted a deposition or filled in at a hearing;

e. Used my negotiating skills and diplomatic skills during an all day mediation to help keep our team together and the client(s) mollified.

Even in sports, I have always tried to find a role for myself that suited my skills and ability. I do that today. I appreciate that former Justice Neely recognizes this important role that the local “deeds and wills” lawyer has to pay.

The Billboard and T.V. lawyers all appear to be aggressive and competent, but their colleagues tend to know the “real deals” from the pretenders. After all, of our payday depends on picking the right person, so we ARE going to pick someone we know to be competent.

TWO sources of wisdom: Dan’ Ringer’s The Law Works, and your good old reliable local lawyer!


This post was written by Burton Hunter

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