Within the span of two days recently, I had two calls looking for lawyers who speak a foreign language and could also handle a workers’ compensation claim.  That is understandable because if you don’t speak English well, you want to be able to communicate with your lawyer.

The first caller wanted a Polish speaking workers’ compensation lawyer in Chicago. The second wanted a law firm that spoke Serbian and also had offices in Chicago.

The problem with the requests is that the callers were placing a higher value on the ability to speak the language than they were the experience of the attorney.

Illinois workers’ compensation laws aren’t brain surgery, unless you don’t regularly deal with them.  The “smartest” lawyers graduate law school and end up working at huge firms like Jenner & Block or Sidley & Austin. Those attorneys handle complex cases and deal with mergers of multi billion dollar companies.  But if you asked them how to calculate a TTD rate or what role a nurse case manager should have, they wouldn’t be able to help you.  I can’t do their job and they can’t do mine.

The point is that no lawyer knows how to handle every case that walks through the door. So while I understand the desire of people to have an attorney who speaks their native language, it’s way more important that the lawyer know how to handle the case and what the laws are.

Now we do have attorneys in our state wide network who speak many different languages.  But the point is that you’ll see firms who take any case that walks in to their office, even if they don’t know how to handle it.  They make clients feel comfortable by speaking the same language, but they really aren’t doing what is best for the injured worker.

It would be like going to a doctor because he/she speaks Polish to deliver your baby and then asking the same doctor to do your back surgery. It’s just not a good idea or safe.  But we see immigration lawyers who want to also handle job accidents all the time.

What I tell people, no matter their situation, is to take a long term view toward their case.  Think about what’s best for you in the long run.  That includes getting all of the medical care that you need.  It includes making sure that you are able to work again.  And it means making sure you know your rights and you have someone in your corner who does as well and can protect you.