I’ve talked in the past about when to hire attorneys (as soon as possible), and why to hire an attorney (an attorney is the only person in the workers’ comp system who is on the side of the injured worker, and whose fate is tied directly to the fate of the injured worker, because they don’t get paid unless they get something for the injured worker). I have not, however, talked about how to hire the best attorney for you.
First, consider the fact that you are making a decision to hire the attorney. You are under no obligation to hire an attorney at all, but if you decide to hire one, then you want to make sure that you hire the attorney who is the best attorney for you.
The skill and experience of attorneys certainly varies, and it is a good thing to talk to friends and coworkers about what attorney they hired and their experience with that attorney. That is the first step in determining which attorney in the pool of attorneys is going to be a good person for you to hire.
Next, you can do research online, but that should not be your final decision maker any more than listening to an ad on the radio or watching an ad on television.
You should schedule an appointment (perhaps more than one) to visit with an attorney. Again, remember you are making a decision so you should be interviewing the attorney in the same way that the attorney is interviewing you.
Many people who come in to see me are nervous and somewhat scared about this decision. That is natural, but you should try to overcome that as much as possible.
When I first started out, I was very concerned that my employer would be upset with me if a new client visited me and they chose not to hire me or this law firm. As a consequence, I frequently pushed people to sign up. I no longer do that. I want to make sure that the potential client is as comfortable as possible and I always tell them that they can sign the paperwork while we’re in our conference, or they can take it home to review and discuss it with their loved ones (i.e., spouse, significant other, parent, etc.). If you are being pressured to sign at that first conference, you probably should be somewhat suspicious about that attorney.
If you feel comfortable in making a decision while you are sitting there, then you should by all means sign the attorney retention agreement, but if you need more time to think about it, you should take the paperwork home.
If you choose to meet with more than one attorney, you should do the attorneys you choose not to hire the courtesy of letting them know that you decided not to hire them, so they can close their file.
Very few new clients ask me questions about myself, but I would encourage you to do so. Finding out what the attorney’s experience is and how long they’ve been in practice are good things to help you in making a decision.
It is not unreasonable to ask the attorney how he or she practices law and how they will be representing you.
For instance, in my office, we have a very specific set of things that will happen. Once we’re hired, we will immediately ask the insurance company to ask for a copy of that individual’s file. Once we receive that (two to three weeks after we ask for it), then we’ll ask the person to make another appointment to come in and visit about the file. At that point, we’ll begin making plans for how we’re going to proceed. Since every case is different, it is difficult to generalize about it, but if there is a legal issue that we need to go to hearing on, I can request a hearing.
Once I request a hearing, I know that the matter will be set before an administrative law judge within 90 days. If I do not begin the work for the hearing at the time I request it, then again, a couple of weeks later, I will ask the new client to schedule another appointment so we can begin taking appropriate steps. I always keep the injured worker fully apprised about where the case is and what is need to put ourselves in a position to win. Sometimes this means spending money, and I’ll let the client know that that is what is going to have to happen and that they’re going to be responsible for it.
If the insurer thinks that settlement might be a good idea (or if I think settlement might be a good idea), I will ask my client to schedule an appointment so that we can discuss that in detail and get a good understanding of the maximum value of the case. Once I have explained to my client how the case is valued and why it is valued at that particular amount, I will then get authority to make a demand on the other side, and we will proceed through negotiations.
If I think mediation (settlement conference) is a good idea, then I’ll discuss that with the client.
At no time will I make decisions about how to process the claim, negotiate the claim, or prepare the case, without the client being fully informed.
If your potential attorney cannot provide you a good understanding of how he or she will proceed, how they are going to keep you informed and allow you to make the decisions that are rightfully the decisions for the injured person, then that is not a good attorney for you to hire.
In the end, the decision about who to hire is always with the injured person. They should hire someone whom they trust and with whom they are comfortable, because a workers compensation claim can frequently involve making some tremendously important and difficult decisions.