The first is to protect you.
The second is to protect me.
End of article.
You can read another article now...
***Wait just a second.***
That's NOT all there is.
But, the two reasons above are true.
Let's talk about protecting you.
When an insurance company sends a settlement check to us, they are obligated to notify YOU that they are sending the check to us.
This way you KNOW that your check was sent out.
Otherwise, you'd be waiting, wondering when you're going to get your money.
Now you know.
You know when the insurance company has mailed your check.
You're no longer in the dark.
Your attorney receives the check soon afterward.
The first thing that happens when the check arrives in your attorney's office is that we must sign (endorse) our name on the back of the check.
The second thing that happens is that you must also sign your name to the back of the check.
Remember, both of our names are on the check.
The bank will not honor your check if there is only one signature on the check.
You might be thinking that if you go into your attorney's office to sign your settlement check, you'll walk out of his office with your money.
Before you can get your money, your insurance company settlement check, made out to you and to me, must be signed (endorsed) on the back of the check.
That check needs to be deposited.
Not into your bank account.
Not into your attorney's personal bank account.
Instead, it must go into a special attorney account first.
This special account is called an attorney trust account or an 'escrow' account.
By law, an attorney has an ethical obligation to safeguard a clients' money.
We have a duty to protect your money.
If an attorney violates those ethical rules, he can lose his license to practice law.
There have been instances where lawyers have gotten greedy.
There have been instance where lawyers have stolen client money.
In those instances, not only does the attorney face criminal charges for stealing your money, but they are vigorously investigated by the grievance committee of the Bar Association.
If those allegations are true, there is a good likelihood your attorney will lose his license to practice.
Ok, let's get back to signing your settlement check...
Let's say you work and don't want to travel to your lawyer's office just to sign your settlement check.
Let's face it.
It's a pain in the neck to take time out of your day, travel to your attorney's office in traffic, sign your check and make the return trip without anything to show for it.
Maybe you're physically unable to travel to your lawyer's office.
Maybe you don't have a ride.
Whatever your reason, the bottom line is that it's inconvenient.
If you don't want to go to sign your check, is there another alternative?
The answer is yes there is.
Since you and I are both legally obligated to sign that check in order to deposit it, I cannot deposit it into my escrow account without your signature.
That means if you don't sign it, I can't deposit it.
That means I can't give you your settlement money.
That means I can't get my expenses reimbursed.
That means I can't get paid my legal fee for the legal work I did to help you get your settlement.
All that hard work and effort goes to waste and comes to a complete halt, just because you don't want to travel to your lawyer's office to sign your check.
Well, here's the alternative...
Your attorney can ask you for permission to sign your check in your name so it can be deposited.
That means he will sign for his law firm and will also sign your name.
In order to protect the attorney from accusations of fraud or forgery, it is always advisable that if you agree to this (and most every client does) to have this in writing.
You simply give permission to your attorney to do this.
This avoids the need for you to trek into my office just to sign your check.
If your attorney does not get your permission in writing,
You might accuse your lawyer of forging your signature.
You might accuse your attorney of trying to circumvent the safeguards meant to protect your money.
You might be suspicious of any lawyer who wants to sign his name and also yours.
Once you've given away your right to sign your settlement check, you might think your lawyer will keep the money for himself and give you all sorts of excuses about why your money isn't ready yet.
You see, even if you come into the office to sign your check, you can't get your money just yet.
Rather, that check with your name on it and my law firm name must be deposited first.
That check must clear.
That usually takes a few days.
Once your settlement check clears, your lawyer must calculate a number of things.
He must calculate the expenses on your case.
He must calculate the attorney's fee.
If there are any liens or outstanding medical bills against the proceeds of your lawsuit, they are paid from your share of the settlement which is still sitting in his escrow account.
All remaining money is then given to you.
The check that you physically receive will be drawn from your lawyer's trust (escrow) account.
It cannot be from his personal account.
Nor can it be from his law firm checking account.
Now, before I wrap up this article, I need to point out why my name also appears on your check.
That's to protect me.
That's to protect my legal fee.
That's to make sure I will get reimbursed for the expenses I have paid on your case to prosecute your matter.
Imagine if only your name was on your settlement check.
You come in to pick up your check.
You take it to the bank and deposit it in your checking account.
A few days later your check clears.
All that money is now sitting in your account.
However, it's time to pay me.
You are obligated to pay me my legal fee.
You are obligated to pay me all the money I spent during the course of your lawsuit to move your case forward.
Some clients would forget to do this.
Some clients would simply not pay.
Some clients would get greedy.
Some clients would then try to negotiate to get those fees and expenses reduced thinking that's the way to nickel & dime me.
Some might feel I shouldn't be entitled to that money.
Like paying bills, some are late.
Some pay on time.
Some fight the amount.
Some don't pay.
In order to avoid all those possibilities and the likelihood that I would now have to sue YOU for non-payment of my legal fee, we avoid ALL that by having my name on the check as well as yours.
To recap, here's what happens in a nutshell...
Your settlement check comes to our office.
If you don't want to drive to our office to sign your check, we will get your permission in writing that you agree to allow us to sign your name to your check.
We will always send you a copy of your check when it comes in so you can see it.
We now deposit that check into our special attorney trust account.
We wait for your check to clear.
Once cleared, we calculate our expenses, our legal fee and pay any liens or bills remaining on your case.
Then you get a call saying "Come pick up your check!"
Or, we're happy to FedEx your check so you receive it the next business day.
When you come to get your check, you will also receive an itemized list of all the expenses we had on your case and how we arrived at our calculations for the attorney's fee.
To learn whether you can negotiate an attorney's fee in a medical malpractice case here in NY, I invite you to watch the quick video below...