If you've suffered a serious work-related injury or illness, it's usually a good idea to hire an attorney to handle your workers' compensation claim. Because workers' comp law is complex and highly specialized, clients are generally not well-served by attorneys who try to dabble in workers' comp. You must find an attorney with specific expertise in workers' compensation.
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to distinguish the workers' comp experts from the dabblers. Television commercials, print ads, and internet marketing often contain more style than substance. The most reliable indicators of a quality attorney—years of experience, depth of knowledge, attention to detail, trustworthiness—are seldom apparent in an advertisement. While it might take some extra effort to find the right attorney for you, it can make all the difference in your case.
Here are some tips for finding a quality workers' comp attorney to represent you.
Ask for recommendations from friends, colleagues, and family members. Many good workers' comp attorneys do little to no advertising, instead relying on word-of-mouth and referrals from satisfied former clients. State and local bar associations and legal aid offices may be able to provide referrals as well. You're much more likely to find quality counsel through a referral than by flipping through the phone book and hoping for the best.
The Internet can be a great resource in your search. It's increasingly common for injured workers to find workers' comp lawyers on the Internet, including through Nolo's Lawyer Directory. If your prospective attorney has a website, look to see if it emphasizes workers' compensation expertise or if the practice appears to handle a wide variety of cases. Does the website contain articles or other information about workers' comp law? Are there testimonials from former clients? Does the firm appear to have a long and successful track record? While you shouldn't base your choice of attorney entirely on a website, it can still be a useful indicator of your lawyer's level of knowledge, experience, and professionalism.
Treat the initial consultation as your lawyer's job interview. Virtually all workers' comp attorneys offer free initial consultations with prospective clients. While your lawyer will certainly ask you dozens of questions related to your claim, you should be asking just as many questions of the attorney. Remember: this is a job interview, and you are the employer. The following questions will help you gauge the attorney's level of expertise in workers' compensation.
- How many years have you been handling workers' compensation claims?
- How much of your practice is devoted to workers' comp?
- Can you represent me throughout the entire workers' comp process, including at administrative hearings and appeals, and in circuit court?
- Can you provide me with any references, whether former clients or colleagues in the legal community?
- Will you be working on my case personally, or will legal assistants and paralegals handle the bulk of the work?
- If I call your office with a question about my case, will I speak to you or a legal assistant?
- Do you also represent employers and insurance companies in workers' comp cases, or only injured workers?
- Are you a member of any professional organizations in the field of workers' compensation law? Are you board-certified in workers' comp?
- Can you explain to me how a workers' compensation claim proceeds through the system? How do attorneys' fees work?
- Will I be charged for litigation-related expenses, and if so, what do those expenses include? Will I be charged even if my case is unsuccessful?
- Do you arrange for clients to receive consultative medical examinations with appropriate specialists? Under what circumstances?
- How do you estimate the value of my case? What are the strengths and weakness of my case?