Several months ago, I was contacted by the eldest of six adult children who was concerned and angered about the circumstances involving his mother’s death following complications related to a fall that occurred at the facility.
Apparently his 88-year-old mother was admitted to the facility for rehabilitation following a stroke, which left one side of her body motionless. According to the son, the staff at the facility inappropriately allowed the woman to sit unsupervised on the toilet as two staff members waited outside of the bathroom (for more information on nursing home falls look here).
Considering the woman’s physical condition, it wasn’t too surprising that within minutes, the elderly woman fell from the commode and struck her arm and head on a nearby sink. The fall resulted in a badly fractured arm and fracture to her skull with a bleed on her brain. Within weeks of the incident, the woman succumbed to her injuries.
Legal rights of family members in wrongful death matters
Like most significant injury cases, I am a big believer in sitting down with the family to make sure everyone is on the same page. In the case of person who died with a will in place, it is similarly important to meet with the individuals who have legal rights granted to them under terms of the will.
In this particular case, the decedent passed without a will or surviving spouse meaning that all of the adult-children would likely be considered takers under the wrongful death laws of Illinois. While any of the children could theoretically move forward, with respect to pursuing a legal claim—independently of one another. One of my fears remained that I always find that cases involving splintered family interests almost universally fall apart as infighting quickly undermines the real issues in the underlying case.
Arranging a meeting with the family
From a business perspective, I liked the facts of the case and the personalities involved. I was interested in working on the case. Unfortunately, over several months talking with my main family contact, I was receiving mixed messages from the family about how—or if– to proceed. I repeatedly asked the siblings for a meeting at my office, but it seemed like for one reason or another busy schedules always got in the way.
So after some discussion, the family asked me to a meeting at a sibling’s home—on a Sunday morning. As a guy with two young kids involved in many activities, games and birthday parties– weekends are usually quite hectic for me. Nonetheless, after coordinating some plans with my wife and our baby sitter—I set out for the meeting.
Benefits of meeting clients on their own terms
No need to worry– the meeting went fine and I signed up the case.
However, in driving back from the meeting I realized how much I learned about this particular family and their unique situation, but meeting with them in the comfort of their home. I also began to think about the conversation that my Circle of Legal Trust colleague, Ron Miller, and myself were having a couple of weeks ago on Google+. As Ron usually does, he posted a link to an articulate Maryland Injury Lawyers blog post of his about his experience meeting a client at his hospital room. Ron mentions how he generally ‘eschews’ such meetings as hospital staff tend to view such meetings with a cynical eye towards ambulance chasing.
While I certainly respect Ron’s work and his perspective on these meetings, I feel very much to the contrary— particularly for more serious injury cases, I actually prefer to meet with clients in their homes or hospital rooms as it creates a unique opportunity for me to really see what type of people my clients really are– when they’re at ease and not trying to make a good impression on a lawyer.
While I guess I could write a novel about my impression of attorney-client meetings– and relationships that I’ve observed over the years, here are the primary reasons that I find ‘out of office meetings’ to be both beneficial for client and attorney alike.
- Many people don’t like lawyers or their offices
My primary office is in downtown Chicago in a high-rise building. Strictly from a logistical perspective, many clients simply don’t like making the trek into the city—dealing with the crowds, the traffic and overall environment. I find that even when they ‘bite the bullet’ and agree to come into the office, there is an inherent level of discomfort and aggravation simply by coming into my office.
- A physical barrier to meeting at my office
Even though my office is handicapped accessible, most people with serious injuries that may be confined to a wheelchair or hospital be really are incapable of coming to meet me at my office.
- More rapid response to accidents
Sure, there will be naysayers who claim the only reason that personal injury lawyers want to meet with clients as soon as feasible following an accident is to get the case signed up, but there really are many benefits for a lawyer to get involved with a case as soon as feasible following an accident. Perhaps, I’ll need to elaborate on this issue in an upcoming article, but early involvement typically means:
- Opportunity to take witness statements, photos, and other accident investigation in an accurate of a matter as possible following an incident
- Prevent the insurance company involved in accident from contacting my client directly
- Begin collecting relevant medical records and bills
- Preserve physical evidence relating to the incident
- Assess the legal issues early on and craft an approach to addressing the case with an eye towards which avenues may be most beneficial for the client
Particularly from the perspective of a client, I find that home or hospital meets help get the attorney-client relationship off to a good start due to:
- Fostering personal relationships
Particular in injury cases where the damages are significant, most cases require a good amount of litigation. Unfortunately, litigation is time consuming and stressful for everyone involved. When there’s high stakes involved, cases typically take on a life of their own. Many cases go in for years. Developing a good relationship early on is
important crucial to the successful litigation of a case.
- A token of good will that the lawyer is indeed invested in the case
I’ve long stopped counting the number of times a client said to me, “the other lawyers I spoke to said they were too busy to visit with me at home”. While everyone is busy, making the extra effort to accommodate someone on their terms, at their time, on their turf goes a tremendous way towards building goodwill. Besides, who doesn’t like being taken care of? I’ve had many long-term clients who still talk about ‘their meeting’.
Home & Hospital Visits Not Just A Cliche
I’ve become so accustomed to personal injury terminology that ‘home’ and ‘hospital’ visits have become just part of the package. While I’m sure there will always be attorneys who always throw these in for good measure, I suspect that a good number of them have never truly had the pleasure of meeting client on their own terms– their loss indeed. As for perspective clients, I suggest that seek out an attorney who’s not scared to go the extra distance for your case. Who know’s, you just might find a guy who actually does what he claims to do?