Hiring an attorney with experience gives you an immediate advantage. Ask what kind of law they practice. Make sure they take workers' compensation cases regularly. And if possible, find someone who focuses their entire practice on representing injured workers. Ask what types of injuries they are familiar with, especially if your type of injury is complex. The closer the attorney's experience matches your situation, the better off you will be. An experienced workers' compensation attorney should know how to negotiate with insurance companies. If you have a work injury claim, this is who you'll be dealing with in most situations (not directly with your employer).
Hire an attorney near where your claim will be heard. If you haven't filed a workers' compensation claim yet, ask them where your case will be heard. And ask them if they appear before the arbitrators at that location. In Cook County, all claims are given to arbitrators downtown at the Thompson Center in the loop. This is the main offices of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission. There are dozens of workers' compensation attorneys who have offices close by because they go here often. This is important. The more often the attorney argues before the Chicago arbitrators, the more likely they are to know who the arbitrators are and how they make decisions. If you have a Cook County claim, consider hiring an attorney or firm with offices downtown. It won't cost you any more to do so because workers' compensation attorneys do not charge on an hourly basis.
Before hiring an attorney, ask them about how they interact with their clients. Ask how they communicate -- phone, mail, e-mail -- and how often they will keep you updated on your case. Ask what their strategy is for your type of case and how they will take your concerns into account. A good attorney will keep you informed along the way of any changes in your case and will ask for input in any major decisions regarding how your claim is handled.
Ask a potential attorney about their hearing and trial experience. A good attorney is willing to take your case to trial if necessary. Most workers' compensation cases end with a settlement, but if there is reason to go to trial, you'll want an attorney who has significant trial experience as well as a willingness to fight for your benefits.
You don't have to hire the first attorney you find
Don't be afraid to call around, especially if the first attorney you contact or interview doesn't seem interested in your case. You can meet with several before deciding who to hire. If you aren't satisfied with their answers, find someone else.