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.
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.
Look for an attorney who inspires confidence and treats you with respect. The initial consultation is a great time to evaluate the attorney's professionalism and demeanor when dealing with clients. A quality attorney will answer all your questions patiently and authoritatively, and will listen to and address your concerns. If you have to meet with three or four (or more) attorneys before finding one who inspires complete confidence, that's a relatively small price to pay.
Also take note of the attitudes and behavior of the secretaries, legal assistants, and paralegals in the office, as you'll likely be interacting with them on a regular basis. If they treat you rudely or dismissively, or don't return your calls promptly, feel free to take your business elsewhere. As your case progresses, your attorney should provide you with periodic updates on the status of your claim. If you rarely hear from your attorney, find a lawyer who will give your case the attention it deserves.