One of the great things about Illinois workers’ compensation law is that when you sign up with an attorney, everyone has to use the same contract. It’s created and provided by the State of Illinois. It lays out the attorney fee (20%), that we get reimbursed for expenses, that a settlement can’t be made without your consent, and that we agree to represent you. It also has one line that is confusing and some lawyers use it in an unethical way. It says:
If the client terminates this agreement before recovery, the client will pay the attorney a reasonable fee, as determined by the Workers’ Compensation Commission, from the subsequent recovery (not to exceed the amounts listed in A-C above) plus any unpaid expenses related to advocating the claim up to the date the agreement ended.
I’ve seen an uptick of lawyers either using this clause to say they can’t be fired or creating a separate document that says the client agrees not to terminate them. The new document isn’t enforceable and if any attorney tries to imply that the State provided contract means you can’t fire your lawyer, they are lying.
What this document says is that the total attorney fee in a workers’ compensation case can not exceed 20% of the recovery. So if you do fire your attorney and hire a new one, you aren’t paying them both the fee. They would have to split that 20%.
In other words, if you get a settlement of $100,000.00, the attorney fee can’t exceed $20,000.00. That’s true if you have one lawyer, two lawyers, or ten lawyers. Usually the attorneys will work out a fee split, but if not, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission will sort it out. It doesn’t affect you and your bottom line in any way.
Also, your lawyer can’t make you pay them back their expenses before you are able to get a new lawyer. They will either get reimbursed by the new attorney or at when the case settles.
I find that the firms that use these scare tactics are the ones that have lots of clients who want to fire them because their service is so bad. Rather than improve how they treat their clients, they play games. Rather than actually fight for their clients, they try to trick them into believing they are stuck.
Look, in an idea world you’d hire a great attorney, they’d care about you, they’d do a great job, you’d get a nice settlement and you’d move on with your life. For whatever reason, for many injured workers in Illinois, their lawyer is a big cause of stress. It shouldn’t be that way. If that happens to you, you can and should switch firms. And your current firm can’t stop you.