As part of being an attorney in Illinois, we are required to take 30 hours of continuing legal education every two years. Personally I find this requirement to be a joke because I and every lawyer in my network constantly reads up on new case law and we also discuss cases together. Be that as it may, I do it because you know, I like to keep my license.
My most recent class was a one hour course in which the instructor said that the point of the class could be summed up in one sentence: Don’t take cases that you aren’t experienced with. I then listened to one hour of various speakers repeating that same thing which should be obvious to anyone. If you are a lawyer, you shouldn’t tell a client that it’s a good idea for you to represent them if you don’t have a track record of handling similar cases. Of course a client would never want an inexperienced attorney, but most won’t admit that they aren’t the best choice.
When a lawyer takes a handful of cases in a practice area that isn’t their focus, it’s called dabbling. Some lawyers do nothing but dabble because they only care about keeping their practice open, not what’s ethically right. The one interesting fact that I learned from this class is that dabbling is the leading cause of legal malpractice lawsuits. What ends up happening is these inexperienced lawyers either blow the time limits for filing a case or do something that harms the case.
So what does all of this have to do with Illinois workers’ compensation law?
Recently I got a call from a worker who suffered horrible injuries. He fell off a roof and broke his ankles, skull and many other body parts. His concern was that his lawyer was telling him to take a settlement of around $10,000.00. It didn’t seem right to me because the injuries were horrific. My first thought was that the client must not be telling us the whole story because no lawyer I know would have told him to take that amount.
On further investigation we discovered that his lawyer is a dabbler. Apparently he got to this attorney because someone he knew had used him for a divorce or traffic ticket and was pleased with the result. Instead of being honest and admitting that workers’ compensation wasn’t his specialty, especially for such a serious injury, this dabbler took on the case. Essentially the insurance company and their lawyer pushed him around and he took their word for it on how work comp worked in Illinois.
This included the injured worker being sent for an AMA rating which is an outdated formula that provides impairment ratings for injuries. It was part of the law changes in 2011, but it’s only supposed to be part of what is considered in these claims. When your lawyer doesn’t know what they are doing, they’ll believe the insurance company who says that their offer will only be based on the AMA ratings.
As a result, the dabbler recommended a settlement that is way, way less than the case is worth. The client was smart enough to seek a second opinion. The dabbler probably realized that if the case went to trial, he wouldn’t know how to properly present a case to get full value. The insurance company new this too.
The good news is that it’s not too late to turn things around. The bad news is that we haven’t yet discovered what other errors were made in the handling of this claim.
Moral of the story is that no matter what type of case you have, hire a specialist, not a dabbler. And that’s true whether you are picking a law firm, doctor, accountant, plumber, roofer, or any other professional. If they say they handle work comp, make them prove it to you.