There is no law that requires your attorney to have any amount of experience to handle your case. If you have an Illinois law license, you can sign up an Illinois workers’ compensation case.
Now if you are an injured worker, while you can hire anyone you want, you’d certainly want an attorney that has some experience and focuses on work comp law. It’s no different than wanting to have an experienced doctor for your surgery instead of someone who has only done a handful. The price in both situations is the same, but the results and your confidence in them would likely be different.
This is one big reason why we don’t recommend newly licensed attorneys or ever work with them. It’s not that they can’t do a good job, especially if they are under supervision. It’s that they really don’t know what they don’t know so the chances of them screwing up your case are much greater than someone with at least ten years of experience handling it.
Some Chicago workers’ compensation law firms like to hire brand new attorneys and assign them to handle cases right away. They’ll tell them that they should expect to be in court within a week of being sworn in to practice law. Some brag that these new attorneys will try a case within their first month. It all sounds great for the lawyer who wants to build a resume, but it’s terrible for the clients. The bigger the injury, the worse it is. A new lawyer isn’t going to know anything about Medicare or nurse case managers or fair settlements or how to conduct an evidence deposition or about 100 other things. And even as they learn, they’ll still have a lot to learn.
One caller to my office hired one of these notorious firms that hires a lot of young lawyers and throws them in to the fire. They do this because you don’t have to pay a young attorney very much money. This worker has a very serious injury that resulted in a back fusion. In the few years his case has been open, he’s been re-assigned to six (SIX!) new lawyers at the firm. They hire new ones who get frustrated because they get no training and quit. Then they hire another and the cycle continues.
So here is a guy whose case might be worth a few hundred thousand dollars and he keeps on getting recycled to young, inexperienced lawyers. Now one of them is recommending a settlement in the low five figures and telling him that any unpaid bills are his responsibility.
This is madness, but unfortunately it’s not a unique story. So here are some things I think you should know.
- You have a right to ask who will be handling your case. If it’s a young attorney, you can tell them you don’t want that and certainly in my opinion should go elsewhere if they tell you too bad.
- In almost every Illinois work comp case, you hire an attorney and are with them beginning to end. Occasionally your lawyer will leave their firm or die and it will be necessary for a new attorney at the firm to pick it up. This shouldn’t happen multiple times. If it does it’s a red flag.
- If your lawyer does change, I highly recommend that you get together with the new attorney ASAP. What typically happens is a lawyer will leave a bunch of cases behind and either the remaining lawyers divide them up or a new attorney gets hired to take over. Whatever happens, no matter what they tell you, that new attorney can’t just pick up your case and know what they need to know.
- Aside from getting together with the new lawyer, you should be your own biggest advocate. To me that means putting together, in writing, a summary of everything that’s happened so far. When you were hurt, how it happened, who saw it, who you reported it to, what medical treatment you’ve received, etc. Not every lawyer does a good job of writing down conversations with their clients and whoever is taking over these cases is likely to be overwhelmed. Any help you give them helps you.
- If it happens more than once that a new lawyer takes over, it’s a bad sign for that law firm and I’d think about getting a whole new law firm altogether.
This is probably one of the most important posts I’ve written because it happens a lot, but isn’t talked about a lot. If you have any questions, you can call or email us any time. We help with work injuries everywhere in Illinois via our state wide network.