The last 25 years have been particularly brutal on both injured workers and on the lawyers who represent them. In 1990, the legislature met in special session and enacted some very significant changes in the law. At that time, the law was relatively simple to understand, and reasonable lucrative for the attorneys representing injured workers. There were somewhere between 300 and 400 lawyers who identified themselves as primarily representing injured workers in the state. In 1995, there was additional legislation to further reduce the costs of the workers’ compensation system. The reality of our workers’ compensation system is that the overwhelming majority of the money is spent in benefits for injured workers, and therefore the only serious way to reduce costs is to reduce benefits and/or reduce access of injured workers to those benefits.
25 years after the so-called Mahonia Hall changes (so called because a management and labor group met in the basement of the governor’s mansion, Mahonia Hall), we have gone from somewhere between 300 and 400 attorneys who self-identified themselves as representing injured workers, to somewhere between 70 and 80. Most of the attorneys doing the now extremely complicated work of representing injured workers are nearing the end of their career. The younger lawyers that are trying to take up the battle on behalf of injured workers are mostly solo practitioners and are not being effectively mentored by the older attorneys.
On June 22nd Governor Kate Brown signed HB 2764 a bill which will help claimant attorneys and their clients.
(Attorney Fee Bill – Click here) which will increase somewhat the attorney fees that can be earned for representing injured workers. Attorneys will get paid in some instances where they have to do work to effectively represent their clients, but before passage of this bill, were not getting paid. The bill also shifts the burden in some cases (particularly time loss cases) from paying the attorneys from the injured worker to the insurance company. The Workers’ Compensation Board will soon be meeting to explore changing the limits on attorney’s fees that are paid out of compensation, and we can expect that attorneys representing injured workers will begin making more money, and should begin hiring and mentoring younger lawyers in this difficult field. Injured workers, far more than insurance companies, need the assistance of attorneys in navigating the complexities of this system. If they don’t have adequate, competent legal assistance, those injured workers will suffer the consequences and will have claims denied that should not be denied, and will not get the full range of benefits to which they are entitled.
Here at Moore & Jensen, we expect that this is going to mean that we will have an easier time hiring young lawyer(s) who can follow in the footsteps of the partners here as they retire.