When filing for workers' compensation benefits, minor delays and frustrations are an inevitable part of the process, no matter whom you hire to represent you. But there are some telltale signs that your lawyer is not up to the task, from poor communication to ethical issues to lack of legal knowledge.
Before deciding to terminate the attorney-client relationship, make sure you're doing so for the right reasons. It's also essential that you have a plan in place to avoid putting your claim in jeopardy.
If you've hired an experienced workers' comp lawyer, they should know the system inside and out. But that's only part of what being a good lawyer requires. Diligence, honesty, and open communication are also essential.
Very few attorneys make perfect decisions one hundred percent of the time, and it would be foolish to fire your attorney on a whim. However, there are some red flags that cannot be ignored.
Trust is the bedrock of the attorney-client relationship. If you feel you can't speak freely to your attorney or believe that your attorney is asking you to act illegally or unethically, it's time to move on. On the issue of ethics, most states have websites that layout what you can do if your attorney has crossed the line.
Another critical aspect of your relationship with your lawyer is communication. If your workers' compensation attorney isn't returning your phone calls or emails or is failing to provide updates on the status of your case, you should consider terminating the relationship.
The application of the law to the facts dictates the outcome of most legal disputes. There's a good chance you will not recover benefits if your lawyer doesn't understand the nature of your work and how you were injured, or the specific legal hurdles that underlie your claim. Sometimes preparation involves developing medical evidence or writing pre-hearing briefs. If your lawyer isn't putting any noticeable time, effort, or expense into your case, find one who will.
Each state has rules, procedures, and deadlines that all workers' compensation cases must follow as they move through the system. If your lawyer is inexperienced or lacks attention to detail, your claim could be dismissed on a technicality rather than being resolved on its substantive merits.
There's a fine line between being a tireless advocate and refusing to listen or work with others. Most cases settle so it's important for your lawyer to consider competing viewpoints, whether it's opposing counsel, an expert witness, or the workers' compensation judge.
A single red flag should give you pause. Any combination might jeopardize your claim. But if you plan on terminating your lawyer, be certain that your assessment of the situation is accurate and not clouded by emotion.
Litigation is stressful, especially when you're injured and unable to work. However, there are some things to think about before you terminate your lawyer.
Communication is a two-way street. If you are dissatisfied with your attorney's performance, attempt to reach out and have a discussion. Most legal disputes have many moving parts, and something could have gotten lost in the shuffle that would shed light on your lawyer's actions.
Few litigants understand just how slow the court system can move. Most workers' compensation cases take more than a year to resolve and often involve multiple scheduling orders, physical exams, hearings, and settlement conferences. The process can get bogged down by common things such as court recesses, illness, weather, vacations, witness unavailability, or extraordinary situations such as the pandemic. Many times, these delays are not your lawyer's fault.
Good attorneys will often warn their clients in advance of possible pitfalls or delays. However, when you're worried about your health and paying the bills, it's not easy to focus on everything your lawyer tells you. Review all letters and emails before you do anything rash. Is your lawyer asleep at the wheel or did a recent correspondence explain that it could be months days before the next court date?
Before you move on, understand that terminating your lawyer will not make your case move faster. If anything, it will slow it down.
Finding someone to step in could be difficult given that some lawyers might be hesitant to live with strategic decisions that were not their own. In addition, your new lawyer's fee will most likely be reduced based on the work put in by your prior attorney.
This should not dissuade you, however, if your current lawyer's behavior is truly a problem. It's better to endure more delays and recover workers' compensation benefits than risk sticking with an attorney who is disorganized, indifferent, or incompetent.
Of course, you must do your homework before making the switch. Judges are often reluctant to delay cases once they are in full swing so you will only get one bite at the apple.
At a minimum, make sure your new attorney is experienced and has successfully handled workers' compensation cases that are similar to your claim. And don't forget that communication is the key. Articulate your expectations and goals clearly from the beginning so everyone is on the same page as you move forward.