Workers' Compensation Lawyers
What to Consider When Hiring a Workers' Compensation Lawyer
If you are hurt on the job or develop an occupational disease, you may need a workers’ compensation lawyer to help you file a claim for benefits. This is especially likely if your injury or illness is serious or unusual, if it aggravated a pre-existing condition, if it developed gradually over time, or if it arose outside your employer’s normal workplace. Although you do not need to prove fault to get benefits, your case still may be contested. Workers’ compensation insurers are profit-making businesses that are focused on their bottom line, and they will look for any way possible to reduce or deny your benefits. An attorney will know how to counter these efforts and maximize your claim. Even if you do not hire a lawyer initially, you should strongly consider taking this step if you face any resistance from an insurer.
Deciding who is the right lawyer for you can be challenging. A basic Google search can be a good place to start, but this should be only a first step. Google searches will lead to a wide range of results, including many paid listings that do not necessarily reflect the skill of a lawyer or their aptitude for your case. Similarly, you might gain useful insights from talking to friends or family members who have hired a workers’ compensation attorney, but the right fit for them may not be the right fit for you. Each situation is unique. Here are certain guidelines that can help you knowledgeably research and compare attorneys.
Background and Experience
You should hire a lawyer who has substantial experience helping workers in situations similar to yours. Some claims are more complex than others. For example, if you have degenerative disc disease, and it was exacerbated by lifting heavy objects at work, you will want to hire a lawyer who has handled claims involving the aggravation of a pre-existing condition. If you were hit by a distracted driver while you were driving for your job, you may want to hire an attorney who can pursue both workers’ compensation benefits and a third-party personal injury claim against the distracted driver. If you filed a claim on your own, and it was denied, you should hire a lawyer who is experienced in workers’ compensation hearings and appeals. Some attorneys may have relevant board certifications or memberships in professional organizations. They may have received awards or other formal recognition of their legal prowess.
In general, you should aim to hire an attorney without a history of serious disciplinary issues. Information about an attorney’s professional record can be found by searching for them on the state bar website for their jurisdiction. You may want to review the details of any disciplinary action to get a sense of the events leading to it. Some violations are less significant than others. You may not want to automatically remove an attorney from your consideration based on a very minor infraction if they are currently in good standing.
On the other hand, a record of serious violations should be a red flag, even if the attorney has achieved some good results. You do not want egregious mistakes by your attorney to undermine a case that is otherwise strong, especially since your financial security may depend on the outcome.
Reviews and Testimonials
Reviews by previous clients can give you a sense of what it would be like to work with an attorney. You may find insights into their personality, level of professionalism, and communication skills. Client reviews can be helpful even if the details of your case are different from a previous client’s case. However, beware of very brief reviews that are harshly negative or effusively positive without providing details. These reviews may not be trustworthy.
If an attorney has received favorable reviews from other attorneys, this may indicate that they have a strong reputation in the legal community. They may be more likely to be respected by insurers and workers’ compensation judges, which can help resolve your case more favorably and efficiently.
Often, a workers’ compensation lawyer will discuss their most notable successes on their website or blog. Each case is decided on its own facts, so you should not assume that you will receive the same outcome as a previous client. However, a history of strong results for people in roughly similar situations to yours can be a promising sign. You may also gain insight into the cases in which an attorney performs most impressively if many of their strongest results involve the same type of situation.
Most workers’ compensation lawyers offer a free consultation to prospective clients. You can set up a consultation by phone or online after providing some initial details about your case. The consultation helps the client and the attorney decide whether they are the right fit for each other. Even if you are impressed by an attorney’s credentials and achievements, you should not choose them on that basis alone. Instead, you should make sure to work with a lawyer whom you can trust and who relates well to you. You should feel that your lawyer is personally invested in your case, rather than treating you as just another case number. Ideally, you should set up consultations with several attorneys before deciding whom to hire.
Bringing a list of questions to the consultation can help you decide whether an attorney is the right fit. For example, you may want to ask about their initial perceptions of the strength and value of your claim. You should not expect a precise answer, but a general impression can help set your expectations. An optimistic answer may be encouraging, but you should think twice if an attorney makes guarantees or seems much more confident than their competitors. They may be overpromising. Also, you should listen to how the attorney explains their evaluation. They should be able to articulate their reasoning in a way that is coherent and accessible to a non-lawyer.
Fees and Costs
Fees are another important issue to address at the consultation. Workers’ compensation lawyers usually work on a contingency fee basis. This means that they do not charge fees upfront but instead collect their fee as a percentage of the benefits that they obtain for a client. (Often, only certain types of benefits are used as a basis for calculating the fee.) The percentage varies by state, and the fee may need to be approved by a judge or another third party before the attorney collects it. Any fee arrangement should be clearly set out in the representation agreement so that you understand your obligations.
In addition to attorney fees, a workers’ compensation claim may involve out-of-pocket costs. These may include expenses such as witness fees, medical appointments and tests, and any records related to your injury or illness. Your attorney likely will cover these costs upfront, and they will deduct them from your eventual settlement or award. If you do not get benefits, you may or may not need to pay these costs.
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