Workers’ comp lawyers don’t usually work for free (or “pro bono,” in legal jargon). And most legal aid organizations, which offer free or discounted legal services to low-income individuals, don't handle workers’ comp cases because this area of the law is so highly specialized. But even if you have little money, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t afford to hire a lawyer to protect your interests through the complicated workers’ compensation process.
Why Workers' Comp Lawyers Are Usually Affordable
The vast majority of workers' compensation attorneys won’t charge you any money up front. Instead, they receive a limited percentage of any cash benefits they win for you. In most cases, you won't owe a fee until you receive a workers' comp settlement or award. This arrangement, known as a contingency fee, is designed to allow all injured employees who are eligible for workers’ comp benefits to receive quality legal representation. States regulate these fees, and many states have a cap on the percentage lawyers can receive—usually 10% to 20%. (For more details, see our article on what workers' compensation lawyers charge.)
When You Might Have Trouble Finding a Workers' Comp Lawyer
Even if you have a legitimate workers' comp claim, you might have difficulty finding an attorney to handle your case in certain situations, including when:
- You had a minor workplace injury that involves few benefits, or the main dispute is over medical treatment. Because attorneys are paid a portion of the cash benefits awarded, it's not worth it for most lawyers to handle cases involving relatively minor injures (where the benefits may only be a few thousand dollars or less) or disputes that are mainly over medical bills or future medical treatment.
- You live in a rural area without a workers' compensation attorney nearby. Even if this is true, you should try to contact a workers' comp lawyer in the nearest medium-sized town or city. If the case is strong enough or valuable enough, most attorneys are willling to travel to represent their clients at hearings or in court.
How to Find an Attorney to Handle Your Case
You may be able to handle your case on your own if you suffered a minor injury that didn’t aggravate any pre-existing conditions, your employer admits it was a work-related injury, and you missed little or no work. But in almost all other situations, it’s essential to get the help of an experienced attorney with expertise in workers’ compensation law. (Learn more about when you should hire a workers’ comp lawyer.)
Here are some good ways to look for legal help:
- 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 potential clients, so don't be afraid to shop around.
- Referrals. Finding a quality attorney can be challenging, especially when you don't have a very valuable case. If you've spoken to lawyers who say they 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. Many county bar associations provide legal referral services that include free or very low-cost consultations with qualified attorneys.
- Legal aid. If you're still having trouble finding an attorney to take your case, try contacting the legal aid organization in your area. A few legal aid agencies or similar nonprofits 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 "injured worker" clinics where you can speak for free with volunteer attorneys or paralegals.
- Law schools. Your local law school could be a resource as well. Many schools offer legal clinics that provide their students with real-world experience under the supervision of seasoned attorneys. And some schools have developed workers' rights clinics where poor individuals can get free assistance with their workers' comp claims.
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.