There is no law that says workers’ compensation attorneys in Illinois can’t represent both insurance companies as well as injured workers. There also isn’t a law that says doctors can’t do back surgeries and deliver babies. In both cases, just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
When Illinois attorneys play both sides, it usually isn’t in the best interests of some of their clients. Typically you will see this happen where a firm does mostly insurance defense work, but they take on cases for injured workers here or there. In my experience, these firms are mostly defense-oriented but maybe 10-20% of their caseload involves representing injured workers.
It’s not that these lawyers don’t know what they are doing. They often do. It’s a few other things that make them, in my opinion, a terrible choice for injured workers. Here are some reasons why:
1. They aren’t passionate about helping injured workers. That doesn’t matter in every case, but quite often a worker will get a raw deal from the insurance company or their employer. If you aren’t invested in fighting for your client, you aren’t the best choice for your client.
2. A lawyer who primarily represents an insurance company wants to keep their involvement on the down-low. They aren’t interested in being seen at court helping injured workers or making case law that helps workers and hurts insurance companies. This would all be bad for their long-term business. It’s not unusual for insurance people to show up at court hearings. If they see their defense lawyers helping a worker, they could lose that business. As a result, we’ve seen cases where a case should go to trial and doesn’t because the lawyer doesn’t want to be embarrassed. That’s them looking out for them, not for you. That’s a decision a lawyer shouldn’t ever make.
3. You’ll never be a priority. One insurance company can bring in millions in fees to a law firm. The best Illinois work comp case is almost never going to be worth more than the high five figures to a lawyer. That’s not chump change, but if an attorney has two calls to return, one from the insurance company, one from an injured worker, you can bet that the one they can bill for will be called first. That’s not you.
4. It forces them to potentially argue against themselves. Let’s say you hire one of these lawyers and they have two similar cases, one for an employer, one for a worker. They could be before an Arbitrator on the same day trying to state that the IME doctor isn’t credible for your case and then arguing that the IME doctor is credible on the case for the employer. It makes them look foolish, is a huge conflict of interest, and can hurt you.
5. Conflicts of interest can arise even if they don’t exist in the beginning. Let’s say you get hurt working for UPS and you hire a primarily defense attorney who is happy to take on the case as he doesn’t represent UPS or their insurance company, Liberty Mutual. Six months in, an insurance adjuster he has a great relationship with leaves their job and ends up at Liberty Mutual. They want to offer him the business, but then realize he has your case. So now he either drops you, makes sure not to make any waves that can hurt his future business, or sells you out. These are all terrible choices for you.
I could go on, but it really makes me cringe when I see this happen. My advice to you before you hire any Illinois workers’ compensation attorney is to ask them how much work they do on behalf of insurance companies. If the answer is more than zero I would suggest you keep looking.