If you’re like most injured workers, your workers’ compensation case is probably pretty important to you. Your case should be important to your lawyer, too. You should be confident that your lawyer can get you the maximum benefits possible and that your case is getting the attention that it deserves. But, how do you know if your lawyer is doing a good job?
Your Lawyer Takes the Time to Understand Your Case
Your first contact with a lawyer will probably be a phone call or a face to face meeting at the lawyer’s office. This is when the lawyer will hear about your case for the first time. A good lawyer will question you closely about your injury, the accident or series of events that caused your injury, the medical treatment you’ve received, any medical conditions you had prior to your work injury, and whether you’ve taken off time from work due to your injury.
While there is no hard and fast rule about how much time the first meeting should last, it generally takes about an hour for an experienced lawyer to evaluate your case and explain your options. (To learn more about this initial meeting, see What to Ask Before Hiring a Workers’ Comp Lawyer.)
Your Lawyer Explains the Fees and Costs of the Case
If the lawyer decides to take your case, the lawyer should clearly explain his or her legal fees and whether you are responsible for paying the expenses of the case (copying costs, filing fees, and the like). In workers’ comp cases, attorneys’ fees are usually a percentage of the benefits you receive as a settlement or award. Nearly all states have a cap on the fee that a workers’ comp lawyer can charge. The cap depends on the state where you live, but it usually ranges from 10% to 25%. The lawyer should provide you with a written agreement describing how the fee will be calculated and how expenses will be paid.
(For information on negotiating fees and costs, see What Does It Cost to Hire a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer?)
Your Lawyer Gives You a Realistic Assessment of Your Case
After your initial meeting, your lawyer will collect your medical records, employment records, and any other documents that are relevant to your case. A good lawyer will review all the records before evaluating your claim. Once you reach maximum medical improvement—the point in your recovery where your condition is good as it’s going to get—your lawyer should schedule another meeting to reevaluate your case. Your lawyer should explain the different types of benefits to which you might be entitled. Your lawyer should also give you some idea of how long it might take to reach a settlement or have a hearing in your case.
A good lawyer will give you a clear understanding of the possible outcomes of your case and any defenses the insurance company may use to defeat your claim. Your lawyer should give you realistic expectations about your case. Be wary of any lawyer who describes your case as a “slam dunk” or a “sure thing.”
Your Lawyer Explains Your Role
Your lawyer should explain your role in the process and how you can help move your claim forward. For example, you can avoid unnecessary delays by attending all doctors’ appointments, cooperating fully with your doctors and therapists, and being faithful about following the treatment plan.
Your lawyer should also inform you about when you will need to actively participate in the legal process. For example, you may need to testify at a deposition or a hearing, attend an independent medical examination requested by the insurance company, or meet with a vocational rehabilitation counselor to find a new line of work. A good lawyer will personally meet with you before each of these events and help you prepare.
Your Lawyer Is Accessible
A good lawyer will make sure that you get a response to your calls or emails within a reasonable time. Many lawyers use the “24-hour rule,” which means that they try to return every call within 24 hours, even if it’s just to say that they are tied up and will get back to you as soon as possible. However, there may be times when the lawyer is busier than usual, so don’t panic if it takes a few days to get a return call. If your lawyer doesn’t get back to you for weeks at a time, you may have a problem on your hands. (For more information, see Signs That Your Workers’ Compensation Lawyer is Doing a Bad Job.)
Many lawyers have assistants whose primary role is to be the contact for the client, especially when it comes to scheduling matters or quick updates about your case. So don’t expect your lawyer to personally call you back or respond to every question you have. Lawyers are busy working on several cases and usually can’t drop everything to speak with you every time you call. If it’s a relatively simple matter, the lawyer will often have an assistant pass on the message to you.
However, you should expect a personal call from your lawyer in certain situations. For example, if you have a true emergency, your lawyer should call you back right away. Be careful not to describe every call as an emergency, though. If your benefits check is a day late, it is not an emergency. If you ran out of pain medication and the pharmacy won’t fill your prescription because the insurance company refused to pay, then you may have an emergency.