Workers' comp lawyers, unlike some other types of lawyers, don't usually work pro bono (for free). And legal aid organizations, which offer free or discounted legal services to low-income individuals, generally don't handle workers' compensation cases. Because the field of workers' compensation law is highly specialized, most legal aid agencies refer workers' comp cases to private attorneys who practice disability law exclusively.
Why Workers' Comp Lawyers Are Usually Affordable
Injured workers, even those living near the poverty line, can usually afford to hire private attorneys to handle their workers' compensation cases. That's because most workers' compensation attorneys don't require any money up front from prospective clients. Instead, they're paid a percentage of any cash benefits recovered, usually 10% to 20%. In most cases, you won't owe a fee unless your claim is approved or you receive a workers' comp settlement. This arrangement, known as a contingency fee, is designed to allow all injured workers with bona fide workers' compensation claims to receive quality legal representation. For more information, read Nolo's article on what workers' compensation lawyers charge.
When You Might Have Trouble Finding a Workers' Comp Lawyer
There some situations in which an injured workers with a worthy workers' compensation case might not be able to find an attorney, such as:
- The claim arises from a relatively minor workplace injury, and few benefits are at issue. Because attorneys are paid a portion of the benefits awarded, it's simply not worth it for most attorneys to handle a case in which a few thousand dollars or less is in dispute. If you've suffered a minor injury at work, such as a cut that requires a few stitches, you may be unlikely to find a private attorney to take your case.
- The case primarily involves the insurer's or employer's obligation to pay existing medical bills, or to cover additional medical treatment. Under the contingency fee arrangement, workers' comp attorneys are paid a percentage of any monetary benefits awarded. Thus, there is little incentive for attorneys to handle cases where the dispute concerns the payment of medical bills or the authorization of further medical treatment.
- You live in a rural area without a workers' compensation attorney nearby. If the case is strong enough or valuable enough, most attorneys are willing to travel to represent their clients' at hearings or in court. Thus, even if you live in a remote area, you should try to contact a workers' comp attorney in the nearest medium-sized town.
How to Find an Attorney to Handle Your Case
It's essential that you hire an attorney with expertise in workers' compensation law. There are several ways to find one. You can seek recommendations from friends and family members, search on the Internet or in the Yellow Pages, or contact your state bar association's referral service. Here are some good ways to find lawyers as well.
Nolo. Look in Nolo's lawyer directory or fill out Nolo's form for a free case evaluation by a workers' comp attorney. Most workers' comp lawyers offer free, no-obligation consultations with new clients, so don't be afraid to shop around.
Legal aid. If you're having trouble finding an attorney to take your case for one of the above reasons, contact the legal aid organization in your area. A few legal aid agencies have attorneys who handle workers' compensation issues, and those that don't can often provide you with information and guidance to help you proceed on your own. In addition, some legal aid organizations offer occasional "injured worker" clinics where you can speak for free with volunteer attorneys or paralegals. While they won't be able to represent you, they can provide you with legal advice specifically tailored to your situation.
Nonprofits. Another option is to find a non-profit organization in your area that focuses on workers' rights. For example, Worksafe, a non-profit located in Oakland, California, advocates for "safety, health, and justice" in the workplace. They provide training for legal aid attorneys in the field of workers' compensation, while also collaborating with legal services organizations to provide injured worker clinics.
Law schools. Your local law school could be a resource as well. Many schools offer legal clinics which provide their students with real-world experience under the supervision of seasoned attorneys. Some law schools, including Boalt (U.C. Berkeley), U.C. Hastings, and Santa Clara, have developed workers' rights clinics where poor individuals can get free assistance with their workers' comp claims.
Referrals. Finding a quality attorney can be challenging, especially when you don't have a very valuable case. If local attorneys can't represent you, ask if they can provide a referral to another attorney or legal aid clinic. State and local bar associations should also be able to point you in the right direction. If you're persistent and willing to make a few (or more) phone calls, you'll give yourself the best chance of finding a great workers' comp attorney to represent you.