I was talking to a work comp defense lawyer in Chicago that I’m friends with (yes, we can be friends with the other lawyer, but still want to kick their butt on your behalf).  He was telling me about a case that he won where the Arbitrator denied all benefits to the injured worker.
He thought he had a shot at it, but knew he was in good shape when the lawyer for the injured worker didn’t write proposed findings to the Arbitrator.  Proposed findings are required in every trial.  Basically it means that we write a paper that tells the Arbitrator how we think he/she should rule on the case and why.  We write it as if we are them.  In many cases they just rubber stamp one of the proposed findings with no further explanation.
Well, they can’t possibly choose your findings if you don’t turn them in.  It would be like taking a class in high school and hoping that you get an A without turning in your final exam.  To be as blunt as I can, this is legal malpractice of the worst kind and this person does not deserve to keep their law license.
My friend told me that this same lawyer wouldn’t respond to e-mails or phone calls, even when he left a message asking to discuss settling the case. And this wasn’t a once in a lifetime thing, this is his pattern of behavior.
What’s crazy is that he does have a lot of clients because he’s in a smaller town and one of the few local choices.  People there seem to assume that is what working with a lawyer is like.  And he probably feeds them all a bunch of b.s. when they complain about anything.
Nobody makes him or anyone else do this job.  Sometimes the work can be exhausting and frustrating.  For me it can also be incredibly rewarding.  If he doesn’t like it, I don’t know how he can live with himself when his lack of action ruins the life of his clients that are depending on him.
Twelve years ago I created a state wide network to identify work comp lawyers that care and will really fight for their clients.  These are people I’d hire myself if I needed help.  We don’t win every case, but we would never sell you out or blow you off.
I do think the majority of firms around have good people there that try their best.  It’s just that you only hear about nightmare stories like this guy.
You’d think that if he really hates his job he’d find something that would make him happy.  Maybe it’s too hard to give up the paycheck.  Maybe he’s just a miserable person and wouldn’t be happy doing anything.  Who knows?  I’m just glad that hasn’t happened to me and promise that if it ever does I’ll walk away instead of letting my performance hurt somebody else.

By Michael Helfand