Lawyers Seeking Clients, Clients Seeking Lawyers: Sources of Contingency Fee Cases and Their Implications for Case Handling
Herbert M. Kritzer
University of Minnesota Law School
Jayanth K. Krishnan
Indiana University Maurer School of Law
This paper examines the ways that Wisconsin contingency fee lawyers obtain clients. It draws upon a survey of Wisconsin practitioners, three months of observation in lawyers' offices, semi-structured interviews with practitioners, a survey of recipients of direct mail solicitations from Wisconsin contingency fee practitioners, and a survey of Wisconsin residents about whether they had predilections concerning which lawyer or law firm they would use should they have an injury claim. The analyses show that most lawyers draw the vast majority of their cases from a combination of referrals from prior clients, referrals from other lawyers (mostly uncompensated referrals), and repeat clients. Relatively few clients come through media advertising or direct mail solicitation, even for most of those lawyers who aggressively employ media and direct mail. The key factor for obtaining clients is the lawyer's (or firm's) reputation. The need to maintain a reputation that will bring in clients serves to limit the ability of contingency fee lawyers to pursue courses of action that run counter to their clients' interests.
JEL Classification: K13, L14, L84
Date posted: July 30, 1998