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The launch of AccidentValues.com was part of Warnken LLC’s shift from a criminal-law to a civil-law practice under the founder’s son, Byron B. Warnken, right. ‘I lack the expertise to do what he does in the accident cases,’ says law professor Byron L. Warnken, left, who still handles appeals and post-conviction cases at the firm. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Online tool promotes Warnken LLC’s P.I. practice

When a car crash results in property damage and physical injuries, getting help is the first priority. But not far behind that is the question of who will pay for medical bills, repairs and other damages — and how much.

With that in mind, Byron B. Warnken’s firm, Warnken LLC, launched AccidentValues.com, a site where users can get an estimate for the value of their accident case and, if they choose, connect with a lawyer.

The site’s launch last year was one part of the firm’s shift from criminal law, the focus of Byron L. Warnken — the firm’s founding member and a University of Baltimore School of Law professor — to his son’s areas of practice, including workers’ compensation and personal injury.

“When I ran the firm, certainly the bulk of our practice was in the area of criminal law,” said Byron L. Warnken, who works part-time at the practice, handling appeals and conviction cases. “I lack the expertise to do what he does in the accident cases, although naturally I support what he’s doing.”

Two other attorneys, Rebecca L. Smith and Matt McKenzie, also practice at Warnken LLC, which also takes cases in the areas of medical malpractice, law enforcement representation and workers’ compensation.

In fact, AccidentValues was based in part on a similar site the firm introduced about three years ago to calculate workers’ compensation estimates in Maryland, MDCompLaw.com, Byron B. Warnken said. The sites’ success demonstrates that law firms are not immune to the digital trends gripping the rest of the business world, he said.

“If you’re not figuring out a way to engage with your website visitors and potential clients, they’re going to move on,” he said. “They’re going to go somewhere where they can find what they want to find. A lot of the calculator sites will take you through the process and say, ‘A lawyer will get back to you,’ which I find very frustrating for the user.”

While AccidentValues gives users the option to calculate an estimate without contacting an attorney, it’s also been an effective marketing tool for the firm, Warnken said. Over the past year, Warnken LLC has handled about 20 cases from Maryland users who went through the site to reach an attorney.

To calculate an estimate, AccidentValues asks the user to input a monetary value for damage to the user’s car and property, out-of-pocket and covered medical bills so far, anticipated future medical bills and total lost wages. It also requests specific information about the accident, including whether the user went to the hospital or received medical treatment elsewhere, whether airbags deployed, if there were witnesses or arrests and whether any cars were towed.

“No two cases are alike, but the formula — the way an estimation is arrived at — is always the same, and that’s just something we captured algorithmically,” the younger Warnken said.

The site then gives a dollar estimate of how much an accident case may be worth, while reminding the user that every case varies and that no attorney/client relationship is formed by simply using the calculator — the user still must contact an attorney to attempt to recover the damages.

Not everyone is a fan of that approach, including fellow personal injury attorney Stephen L. Freedman of the Law Offices of Michael A. Freedman in Owings Mills.

Freedman’s firm, an auto accident and personal injury firm, launched a mobile app a few years ago that prompts users to input information about an accident, such as insurance information and witness phone numbers.

However, it doesn’t put a monetary figure on the case, Stephen Freedman said.

Without seeing all the client’s medical bills, he said, it’s almost impossible to give an estimate of the value of the case.

“That doesn’t bode too well for our profession,” he said. “I think that’s great that we have the technology, but to just throw a figure out like that seems unprofessional. There’s no way to tell at the beginning how much a case is worth.”

But because people today tend to look online first for information when they’re in an accident, Byron B. Warnken said, AccidentValues offers a way for them to estimate the value of an accident without having to piece together information from articles or other sources.

“It certainly relies on the injured party’s input of information, so if there’s bad data in, there’s going to be bad data out,” he said. “Is it perfect? Probably not. But I would put it up against any other [site] on the Internet.”

It’s also been popular enough that the firm made a modification that seems counterintuitive for a marketing tool: While you can get to and from the Warnken LLC website from AccidentValues.com, the AccidentValues homepage does not include Warnken LLC’s name or logo.

Originally, Warnken said, the site was intended to capture potential clients from Maryland, where Warnken LLC attorneys are licensed to practice. But it got so many hits from outside the state that it made sense to tweak it so that users across the country could connect with a lawyer who could represent them.

“It’s been a feeling-out process as to what this site is supposed to be,” he said.