Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The personal injury lawyer: job shadow Part II.

(Author's note: this is the second part in a series about job shadows with Louisville lawyers) A few yards away from the bankruptcy lawyer’s office in downtown Louisville, Michael A. Schafer slides a stack of documents across his desk and motions for me to take a look. It’s a “settlement brochure” for a car wreck case, but the thing is thick enough to be a phone book. There are dozens of medical records, witness statements, even a personal diary written by the client. Schafer thinks the case may produce a six-figure settlement, which means a fee of at least $30,000 for his services. But this case seems to be the exception to the rule. Schafer, a former county prosecutor and a 1985 graduate of our law school, works a lot more cases that lead to fees of $3,000 to $5,000. Personal injury also is a crowded field, he tells me. Lots of lawyers, lots of advertising, and a limited client base. About 80 percent of Schafer’s case load is car wrecks. He also deals with motorcycle accidents, bicycle collisions, and dog bites. A lot of what Schafer does is not taught in law school, especially not during the first year. I’m in his office on this cold winter day to learn about the field of personal injury as part of a half-day job shadow. I’m trying to figure out what to do with my law degree when I graduate, and perhaps land a job during my first summer break. Schafer tells me he spends a lot of time counseling injured clients, listening to their personal problems, doling out sympathy. He also does a lot of negotiating. A substantial number of cases are settled before a lawsuit is even filed, and according to one of his brochures, 98 percent of cases are settled without the client stepping foot in a courtroom.

I sit in Schafer’s office for almost three hours, listening to him work the phones, and peppering him with questions. For a busy lawyer, he’s exceedingly patient. He talks about the importance of relationship building with other lawyers, physicians, insurance companies.

Personal injury seems appealing on a number of fronts. For one, it means a big paycheck if you can successfully market yourself and find the right clients. It’s also the financial bread and butter of many law firms, even if reality doesn’t play out exactly like it does in, say, a John Grisham novel like the The Rainmaker. Schafer does admit that personal injury has a bad reputation, partly due to those ubiquitous television ads. But the image of the ambulance chaser isn’t justified, he says, and most people change their tune about personal injury after they get screwed by an insurance company. Schafer still does a lot of advertising and marketing, as you can see from the above video. He says the Internet is the “great equalizer in the law business” in terms of marketing, and a key way for a solo practitioner to get the word out.

I leave Schafer’s office with even more questions swirling in my head. How would I create a Web site about myself? Would I even want one? What kinds of personal injury cases would I take if I entered the field? Whatever the answers, I’m grateful for Schafer’s generous allotment of time during this second job shadow. As we gear up for the big summer job hunt in February (see the new summer job poll in the upper right corner of this page), it’s helped me get a much better sense of how I might be spending my days in the future.


  1. Truly said.. Great post. This is really a good perspective and very well-written article. Thanks for your great effort. Please carry on the good work.

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  2. Whaever happened to this case? How was all the victims doing now? Were they compensated? My heart really goes to the poor little victims of this negligence. tsk