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Most of us have seen the movie Rainmaker with Danny DeVito. If not, I included a scene that comes to mind when many people attempt to describe their vision of the venerable negligence attorney. (See below) Of course, most of us have undoubtedly heard the ad hominem jokes and slurs about personal injury lawyers.
Many pundits call us ambulance chasers, thieves with suits on, and so forth. You name it; if it’s derogatory, it has probably been attributed to the infamous “PI” lawyer at some point in time.
As you can see above, the new attorney, Matt Damon, is not too thrilled about chasing “ambulances.” But DeVito made it clear he, Damon, would starve if he did not hustle. Yes, they were walking through a hospital trying to sign up for injury cases, which is hilarious.
Of course, capping at a hospital is a practice that is prohibited in California and most states. But DeVito would argue that he was there on other business and just happened to strike up a conversation.
Either way, ethical decision-making in the real world could mean the difference between staying in practice or going under with your story in the back of the attorney discipline section of the Daily Journal. It certainly has happened to a lot of newbie lawyers, and it will probably continue to happen. Your job is not to be that guy.
You are making sure that you make the most ethical decisions should be a straightforward statement to agree with. However, properly weighing different factors is essential. You must ensure that you act in a potentially beneficial manner to yourself and those around you with minimal negative repercussions.
Below you can see some general guidelines to guide you toward what might be the correct decision.
By seeing whether or not such a situation has a moral side, you will get into the correct state of mind to make a decision. There is a significant difference in approaching such a problem if a moral or ethical decision is involved.
By determining who is directly involved in such a decision, it will be easier to see their motives and background. This way, you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Now you can determine if noble causes do not motivate their interests. Determine how these people interact with each other, yourself, and society. Now you can decide if this changes your perspective on how they should be treated.
What ideas or concepts may be a conflict or risk in such a circumstance?
You will weigh the possible results by thoroughly thinking out a series of potential outcomes. These will allow you to see what may happen to the other parties. So now you can see how it may affect them in the short and long run. And this helps you merge ideas into a better result for all sides involved.
Seeing these options will also determine the adverse effects or benefits to the parties involved. In any event, weighing the harm or upside should allow for an easier decision.
You can quickly assess your current situation by looking at similar past cases. Also, by determining other parties’ actions and their analogs in other cases, you can better understand what action you should take.
Speak to those involved and those with experience or insight. That will also make a significant difference. Speaking to those that have been in similar situations helps shed light on the situation. After that, you will develop a broader perspective to make a rational decision.
Weighing your choice next to the laws and rules of organizations also helps. After all, people must obey specific laws. These laws include those regulating doctors or attorneys. Making sure that what you do is legal, honest, and consistent with these regulations is vital.
So if you are the judge, you must ask yourself if you are comfortable making such a decision and live with the consequences. Is this something you can carry with you (publicly if needed) for years? Also, does it serve as an excellent example for others?
But expunging the vision of an ambulance chaser from the minds of most consumers is probably not possible. So in your practice, you have to make the right decision every time.
Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.