Most of my readers know that total lawyer fees in any work comp claim in Illinois can never exceed 20% of what is recovered for you.  That’s true even if you switch lawyers.  The two firms can fight over who gets what from that 20%, but your bottom line will never change.
What some readers don’t know, including one that e-mailed me, is what are the reimbursable costs for a case?
Every retainer agreement for an IL work injury case is the same as we are all required to use the form provided by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.  The form is very vague and says a worker will pay “all costs and expenses of advocating” the claim.  So what exactly does that mean?
In most cases it just means that when we send a subpoena to obtain your medical records, at the end of the case we will get paid back those costs.  The same is true if we have to pay a doctor a fee for giving his deposition or a court reporter for a transcript.  Once in my career I had to fly out of state to take a deposition as my client was injured in Illinois, but treated with a doctor in Kansas where he lived.  I of course got reimbursed the cost of my flight and a rental car.
Any lawyer with a sense of decency will of course do what they can to keep expenses down.  In that case where I took the flight, I booked it months in advance to get a good rate and used a coupon for the rental.  I also arranged the deposition so I wouldn’t have to spend the night in KC which of course saved more money for my client and allowed me to sleep in my own bed.
Now I probably could have charged for the meal I ate that day (I didn’t, having great barbeque was reward enough) or even my el train fair to the airport, but in my opinion that’s somewhat petty.  I have heard of some firms charging for stamps for the letters they mail or for making copies, but that too in my opinion is ridiculous and just the cost of doing business.
You have a right to ask your attorney for a breakdown of the expenses and you don’t have to wait until the case is over to request that.  In addition, I would imagine that most lawyers would have the courtesy to tell you what something will cost before they spend their money because they are really spending your money.  We certainly do that before we pay a doctor for a deposition because those costs could be around $1,500 or more.
Bottom line is that some people have fears that they won’t be able to afford a law firm or their fees.  When it comes to Illinois work comp that is simply not true.  On average I’d estimate that most cases have less than $100 in expenses and I don’t think I can recall one where I advanced more than $4,000.00 and that was an unusual circumstance.  But it’s good to be concerned about these issues and ask questions.  The clients that have the worst experiences are typically the ones that don’t ask for explanations or express their concerns.  It’s your life and you need to look out for you.

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By Michael Helfand