Internet Buyer Beware - Shop Locally for Professional Advice
We all know buying local helps our community. We get swayed by the convenience of online shopping when we can get the same thing without going to a store. After all, a plastic doll made in China will be identical whether sold online or at the local store. But when it comes to professional advice, online may not really be the same as local.
In the last few years, the online shopping trend has spilled over into professional advice. For example, if you browse the web for advice on what to do after a car wreck, slick ads with Hollywood-style production pop up. Want someone to deal with the insurance? Just click. Need an evaluation of your case? Submit a form.
More and more Montana citizens are getting drawn into these ads and hiring law firms without knowing the attorney or whey they are located. They may be communicating with people who have never successfully handled an injury case in Montana. Big city firms get their lawyers licensed to practice law in multiple states. They meet the minimum legal requirements but may not establish a local presence or have the local knowledge to sufficiently represent clients. If a case is nothing more than negotiations with an insurance company, that may work out; much like ordering a tree from a Florida nursery may work out. Maybe the Florida arborist understands how the cold, the heat, and the wind along the Rocky Mountain Front will affect the tree they are selling. Common sense says the person who lives and works in Montana, year in and year out, will have a better perspective on how things work.
When it comes to legal matters, the only way to negotiate a fair settlement is to know what the case is really worth; it means having background knowledge of Montana law and how Montana juries evaluate things. Maybe someone sitting in an office in downtown Denver knows, maybe not. Even so, being knowledgeable only goes so far.
One must also consider that insurance companies take every advantage they can get. Cases settle for fair value only because the insurer can be forced to pay what is fair through litigation. Insurance companies know that an out-of-state lawyer cannot afford the time or money to travel to Montana for every step of litigation. Without the threat of litigation, the insurer has the leverage to force a lower settlement.
Following a car wreck, no one would reasonably fill out an online form explaining the dents in the car and then ship it off to Seattle to get it fixed. The cost would be obscene. It is no different when the lawyer has to travel to Montana every time something happens in a case. Even if the lawyer is willing and able to get on a plane every time something happens, the client pays those costs.
When you need advice for a major life decision, make sure you can rely on it.
Originally appeared in Signature MT Magazine Volume 14, Issue 04, 2022