Many workers’ compensation claimants grow frustrated with the performance or communication of their lawyer. They may consider firing their lawyer and hiring a new advocate to represent them. This is not always a wise idea, however, especially since a lawyer may be less willing to represent a claimant who fired their previous lawyer. They may think that they are more likely to be fired as well, and they may be concerned that they will receive a lower fee than if they handled the case from the beginning.
Sometimes an attorney is not at fault for a worker’s dissatisfaction with their case. You should expect your lawyer to treat you with courtesy and respect, and they should not make egregious mistakes, such as missing deadlines or failing to submit required documents. In other situations, though, an attorney may not be responsible for a disappointing turn of events. Perhaps a court backlog or maneuvers by the other side have delayed the process, or perhaps the merits of a worker’s case are not as strong as they believe.
Common Reasons for Changing Attorneys
Lack of communication may be the most common reason why workers’ compensation claimants consider changing attorneys. If your attorney fails to respond to your calls and emails, you may feel that the attorney lacks interest in your case or is not fully committed to it. Before firing your attorney, though, you may want to consider asking their assistants about the status of your case. You can also ask the attorney to set up a meeting or phone call at a fixed time. If they continue to brush off your concerns and fail to respond to your questions, you may want to consider changing your attorney. However, judging whether your lawyer is working hard enough on your case can be challenging. You may want to think twice before firing your attorney based on their strategic decisions or plan for your case.
Similarly, some claimants believe that their case is taking much longer than it should. The workers’ compensation process unfortunately tends to run behind schedule. This is often not the responsibility of the attorney. Setting up an independent medical examination and getting all of your medical records could take several weeks or even months. Changing your attorney probably will not solve the problem because they will encounter the same delays. It could undermine your case if you have a hearing before a judge scheduled soon, since the new attorney will be less familiar with your situation.
A situation in which you may want to seriously consider changing your attorney is when it appears that they lack knowledge and experience in workers’ compensation law. (Ideally, a claimant will avoid this problem before it arises by carefully interviewing a prospective lawyer at a free initial consultation.) If you are hiring a new lawyer on this basis, you will want to take extra care to interview each prospect and make sure that they are more knowledgeable than the previous lawyer. You might be able to ask for references from their previous clients.
Dividing Fees Between Attorneys
If you fire an attorney after they have started working on your case, the former attorney and the new attorney will need to divide the fee. The division will be based on the amount of work that each attorney handled. In workers’ compensation claims, attorney fees are usually determined on a contingency fee basis, which means that they are a percentage of the benefits awarded to the worker. This can make it difficult to find a new attorney if your current attorney has spent considerable effort on the case. The new attorney may receive only a small amount of the shared fee. This may not be worthwhile to a quality attorney.
If the two attorneys fail to agree on a fee-sharing arrangement, the former attorney can try to place an attorney’s lien on the case. They would ask the court to award a fee for their efforts when the case is over.