It’s easy to choose the right Illinois workers’ compensation law firm in some respects. You want to find a firm who only handles work comp cases or at least makes that primarily what they do. In other words, if they do work comp and DUI and divorce, that’s bad, but if they do work comp and social security disability claims that’s alright, or if they are job injuries and some car accidents that can be ok, unless they are handling too many auto cases. You don’t want them to not have time for you because they are on a two week trial.
There are a million posts like this out there, so I won’t bore you with another one. I will though give you what I think is a big red flag and serves as a warning for when not to hire a lawyer if they do something.
An e-mailer to my office was upset because he had e-signed documents for a firm in Chicago to represent him, but a month had gone by and he hadn’t heard if the case was even filed yet. That’s unusual because cases are almost always filed right away since there is no cost and it makes the representation official.
What was worrying though was that he told me he had never even spoken with a lawyer. Instead, he talked to a paralegal who did all of the intake on the case. He’s never actually spoken to an attorney.
This tells you that this firm will take any case that comes through the door. Instead of vetting cases to see if they are good claims and talking to potential clients to see if they’d like to work with them, some paralegal just signs up the cases and says something to the effect of, “A lawyer will get back to you.”
So why should this worry you? So many reasons. First, if they get a reputation for taking any case that walks through the door, there is a chance that they get known as a firm that takes on crap cases. So an insurance adjuster is going to look at your case as possibly being b.s. because of the company you keep. Second, in my experience, these firms tend to go through staff and lawyers like hot cakes. So what happens is that one lawyer might be handling your case this month and then next month it could be someone else. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Because many of these cases don’t have great value and because the firm owners want to keep as much as they can for themselves, it’s common for new attorneys (e.g. the ones that just got licensed to practice law in late November) to be assigned to your case. So they have pretty much no idea what they are doing and are gaining experience on the fly by “handling” your case. Your life is in the hands of someone who potentially knows less about Illinois work comp law than you do.
Hiring an attorney isn’t like a marriage because you don’t have to love your lawyer for them to be the right fit for you. But it’s not a blind date either where you show up and hope things are going to work out. You absolutely should vet any attorney before you hire them. It doesn’t have to be a long discussion, but at the very least you should know who you’ll be working with and ask about their experience.
And if it’s a law clerk or paralegal or secretary that is going to be your main or only point of contact, then keep looking.