Hiring an Attorney
Do you need an attorney for your workers’ compensation claim? In theory, no. As a practical matter, most definitely yes!
The workers’ compensation law was designed to be “self-executing." That means that it’s supposed to be a simple, no-hassle way for injured workers to get medical treatment and money benefits. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The law that’s in effect today favors insurance companies, and it’s fundamentally unfair to injured workers. Nobody who is familiar with the workers’ compensation system would say that the law is fair—at least not with a straight face. It’s designed to give the injured worker as little as possible, and it’s full of built-in traps that make it difficult to get even that. An experienced Florida workers’ compensation lawyer is familiar with these traps and can help keep you from falling into them. The system isn’t fair, but in most cases, it’s the only remedy an injured worker has. That’s why it’s important that you make the most of it, and the only way to do that is to hire a good lawyer.
An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can:
· make sure that you’re paid the correct amount of money benefits
· make sure that you get appropriate medical care, including all treatment(s) your doctor recommends for you
· take the insurance company to court if it refuses to pay the correct amount of money benefits or authorize the appropriate medical care
· obtain a market value settlement if you believe this is in your best interests
How to Choose the Right Attorney for Your Workers’ Compensation Case
Choosing a Florida workers’ compensation attorney is a critical decision for you. Not every law firm is a good fit for every client. These are some of the things you should consider when choosing an attorney or a law firm:
· Will you meet with an attorney for your initial consultation? Some firms assign only secretaries or paralegals for the first client meeting. At Sullivan & Hepler, an attorney will handle your initial consultation unless you would rather meet with a staff member because you have time constraints or deadlines that the attorneys can’t accommodate. This is unusual because we work hard to schedule a convenient appointment for you. We feel strongly that a face-to-face meeting with a knowledgeable professional is essential for establishing a good attorney/client relationship right from the start.
· Is the firm a local firm that regularly practices in your area?
· How long has the firm been in business?
· What is the firm’s reputation in the community? Ask other people who have had a work injury about whether they were satisfied with the services of the attorney they hired.
· Has the lawyer been disciplined by the Florida Bar for misconduct? You can find out by logging onto www.flabar.org and clicking on “Find a Lawyer" in the top left-hand corner.
· Does the law firm carry legal malpractice insurance?
· What is your impression of the firm? Are you comfortable with the attorneys and the staff? Are they folks you will get along well with?
The only money a Florida attorney is guaranteed to receive for a workers’ compensation case is a percentage of the settlement. The attorney receives 20% of the first $5,000, 15% of the second $5,000, and 10% of the remainder of the settlement. For example, if you received a $15,000 settlement, the attorney would get $2,250:
$5,000 x 20% = $1,000
$5,000 x 15% = $750
$5,000 x 10% = $500
This attorneys’ fees system highlights the most important quality you should look for when choosing an attorney for your workers’ compensation case: integrity.
The Dirty Little Secret of Florida Workers’ Compensation Attorneys’ Fees
A workers’ compensation claim can present a conflict of interest between the attorney and the client. That’s because the attorney is only guaranteed a fee if the case settles. But settlement is optional—neither you nor the insurance company can be forced to settle.
What if settlement is not in your best interests? You need to have confidence that the attorney you choose will act with only your interests in mind, which means pursuing a settlement only if it’s right for you.
Another problem is that because of the way the fee structure is designed, the attorney doesn’t make that much more money if your case settles for a little bit more. In our example above, if the claim settled for $20,000 instead of $15,000, the attorney would only make $500 more, but you would get $4,500. Some attorneys might not bother to put in the extra time it would take to get the better settlement for only $500 in additional fees. An attorney can make more money in the short-term by settling a lot of cases for smaller amounts than by working harder to settle for more in each case.
At Sullivan & Hepler, we’re not that short-sighted. We understand that it’s a mistake to take a “churn and burn" approach. First, that approach is unethical. We couldn’t sleep at night if we treated our clients that way.
Second, it’s just stupid. If you practice like that, you become a “mark." The insurance company adjusters and attorneys know which lawyers take low settlement offers, and so they offer less to begin with to those attorneys.
Third, most clients know when an attorney hasn’t done his job, and they are not satisfied clients. We rely on happy clients to help us build our practice. That’s why having happy clients is our top priority. We have been very fortunate that many of our former clients have referred friends and family members to us over the years. Why? Because they trust us.
At Sullivan & Hepler, we treat each client as an individual. We work with each client to achieve the best outcome in that particular case, no matter how much time it takes. This approach has served us well since we opened the doors in 1995, and we don’t plan to change it.