One rather vague thing I say to injured Illinois workers is that if you discover that your attorney isn’t doing a good job, you should switch law firms before it’s too late.  The response I get to that is usually something like, “How will I know they are doing a bad job?”

That’s a great question to my vague advice. Sometimes it feels obvious like if they aren’t returning your phone calls or don’t answer your questions. Other times you catch them in lies like if they say it takes years to get in to court.

Another way to tell is if you meet with them in person. Even with most correspondence now being by email, your lawyer should have a file on you and your case.  At first that file would just have notes on how you got hurt, what they’ve discussed with you and copies of paperwork filed at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission such as an application for adjustment of claim.

As time goes on, that file should get bigger and bigger and medical records and bills are provided, correspondence is received from the insurance company or their lawyer, trial motions and other items related to your case come in to play.  Many times a lawyer will make summary reports of your case if it’s dragged on for a while. They do this for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a great way to organize your case. Second, it will memorialize things that have happened and plans of action. Third, it allows someone else in their office to pick the file up in an emergency and grasp what the case is about.

If a case is around for over a year, you’d expect the file folder to be filled. So if you meet with your lawyer at their office or in court and the folder doesn’t exist or is empty, that could be a bad sign. While some lawyers scan all documents and try to keep everything on a computer, if you go to court, copies will be needed for the other attorney and potentially for witnesses. Most experienced attorneys don’t have everything on a hard drive.

I thought of this after our firm was involved in taking over a case from another lawyer. When this happens, the old lawyer is required to turn their file on the client over to the new lawyer. This is so the new lawyer can pick up the case and start running with it. In this recent case which another lawyer had for almost a year, there was practically nothing in the file. No medical records. No accident reports. No bills. So essentially we had to start a case from scratch which delayed our ability to help the client.  The attorney who handled this case was very bothered by the delay because he wanted to give great service from the get go. That’s impossible to do without information.

So I can’t tell you how thick exactly a file should be on your case, but if you’ve sent off work slips and other medical records to your attorney and you know there has been a lot of correspondence on a case, if there’s hardly anything in your file, that’s a bad sign. If most of what they know about your case is in their head, that’s an even worse sign. Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer where all the information is related to your case. And if they don’t have a good answer, run.