One of the great things about hiring an Illinois workers’ compensation attorney is that there is no up front money involved. By law, we have to work on a contingency basis, which means we only get paid if we win the case. That fee is 20% of the settlement we get you. That said, some cases are worth more money in the hands of some lawyers as compared to others.

In other words, with one attorney you might be able to settle a case for $100,000 and with another you’d only get $75,000. Or in other cases the right lawyer will be the difference between winning or losing a trial. And of course a better lawyer is more likely to stop some of the nonsense that can come from insurance companies.

There is no one predictor for hiring the best lawyer for your case. But there is one basic question that you should ask before you sign up with any work comp attorney. The question is:

How long have you been licensed to practice law and been handling work comp cases in Illinois?

There is no right answer, but when you see a lawyer who has been only been licensed for a year or two, it’s a red flag. A big one. They might be the smartest, best lawyer with one year experience in the world. They might really care about doing a good job. But they are also limited by their real experience or lack there of.

In other words, if they are handling your case, it means that they are learning how to handle cases by practicing on your case. It’s certainly possible they could do a good job, but it’s more likely that something will come up that they’ve never dealt with before or that they will be pushed around a bit by the insurance company or defense lawyer.

There is one notorious Chicago workers’ compensation law firm who hires a lot of young lawyers and throws them to the wolves by assigning them a bunch of cases before they are really ready. Even if they have senior attorneys they can go to if they have questions, those lawyers won’t be holding their hand on phone calls with the insurance company or defense attorney, at pre-trials or at arbitration. And those senior attorneys have their own case load to worry about as well.

So how long should an attorney be licensed? There is no right answer, but I wouldn’t hire a work comp attorney with less than five years experience and if it’s a bigger injury I’d insist on someone with ten or more years of time handling cases.

And by the way, it’s not just really young attorneys you should look out for. Any time I see a lawyer in their 70’s or 80’s I really question what they are doing. Maybe they just don’t want to retire, but I find it hard to believe that they are really all in and trying to do a great job for all of their clients. Plus there’s also the risk that they will spend a lot of their time on vacation or that they will have health issues.

Bottom line is that it doesn’t cost any more to get the right attorney, but it could certainly cost you if you hire the wrong one.