Mrs. Cottom’s 11-year-old daughter, Asia, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77, died when hijackers crashed the plane into the Pentagon. She and her husband, Clifton, soon had to choose between taking what they perceived as a minimal award from a federal fund set up to compensate victims or calling one of the many lawyers who had sent what Mrs. Cottom calls “advertising packages” and filing a lawsuit.

“She came to me and convinced me that she could bring justice to the situation, and I trusted what she said,” Mrs. Cottom recalled. When government compensation for deaths was eventually made, the average was $2 million, and the range was $250,000 to $7.1 million.

Pain and suffering is another matter, more ineffable. The Sept. 11th fund awarded a flat rate of $250,000 for pain and suffering for each person who died in the attacks, and another $100,000 each to surviving spouses and children.

The Cottoms’ lawyers would not say how much Asia might have received from the fund. Mrs. Cottom said she believed they would have received little more than the minimum $250,000 — an amount she found “insulting.”