How to Choose a Workers' Compensation Lawyer for your Case in North Carolina
This Guide gives an injured worker tips on how to research the qualifications and experience of a lawyer, so that the worker can choose the best possible lawyer to help with his or her workers' compensation claim.
Do you need a lawyer?You may not need a lawyer to help you with your Workers' Compensation claim in North Carolina. However, you definitely will need a lawyer on your claim if one of the following situations describes your case:
But You DO Need a Lawyer When One of These Scenarios OccursIf your claim has been denied by the insurance company, you are not going to get anywhere without a competent Workers' Compensation lawyer to represent your interests. Once the claim is denied, the insurance company is not going to spend any more time or effort on it. The insurance company does not care whether you die or not, so long as the company does not have to pay for it. It is possible that if you request a hearing in front of the Industrial Commission to fight the denial, the insurance company may offer you a token small settlement amount (a "nuisance value" settlement) just to make it go away. But if your case has merit, and it was still denied, you are not going to get fair value on your denied case without the help of an experienced and competent Workers' Compensation lawyer. And insurance companies deny meritorious claims every day. So don't take the denial at face value. They may be wrong, and often are wrong.
Additional reasons to hire a lawyer for your workers' compensation case:You need help getting your benefit right calculated correctly. Or, you need help getting your medical treatment approved. And finally, if you receive a "Form 24" in the mail seeking to suspend or terminate your weekly wage loss (indemnity compensation) benefits.
But there are other less common situations in which you need a lawyer. Workers' Comp lawyers give free consultations, so don't hesitate to call if you have questions.
Look for a "Certified Specialist" in North CarolinaMany lawyers advertise that they handle Workers' Compensation cases. However, in North Carolina, it is fairly easy to find the lawyers who actually concentrate on Workers' Compensation as the main area of their practice. In North Carolina, our state bar has set up a "specialization" certification program. Lawyers can apply to be awarded the designation "specialist" in several areas of the law, including Workers' Compensation. Beginning in the year 2000, North Carolina lawyers were able to seek "Certified Specialist in Workers' Compensation Law" status in NC.
As of this writing in November 2016, we have 220 Board Certified Specialists in Workers' Compensation law practicing in North Carolina. Many of those lawyers only handle cases on behalf of the insurance companies and employers, but of the total, approximately 114 just handle cases for injured workers.
In order to become a Certified Specialist, a lawyer must have at least 500 hours per year of experience in Workers' Compensation during each of the previous five years, the lawyer must have taken a greater number of continuing legal education course hours in Workers' Compensation or a related area than the minimum required by law to maintain the law license, and the lawyer must receive a recommendation from several of his professional peers vouching for his ability to handle Workers' Compensation matters.
Specialists also have to pass a workers' comp Bar Exam to be CertifiedIn addition, the lawyer must pass a six-hour bar exam just on Workers' Compensation, which contains approximately 300 questions. After meeting all of these criteria, the lawyer becomes certified by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization to call himself a Specialist in Workers' Compensation law.
The state bar has therefore vetted all of the lawyers who wish to be known as a Specialist in Workers' Compensation law. that area. You cannot become a Specialist without meeting all of these criteria. The six-hour bar exam on Workers' Compensation topics was one of the toughest tests that I ever took in four years of college and three years of law school. That test was second in difficulty only to the two-day bar exam that I had to take after graduation from law school in order to get my license to practice law. Certified Specialist lawyers are ready to handle your case. They know what they are doing. So, the first place you need to start looking for a lawyer is the list of Board Certified Specialists in Workers' Compensation law that is published by the North Carolina State Bar at this website: www.boardoflegalspecialists.com.
The AVVO.com profile is a good place to learn more about a lawyerAfter you have found the list of specialists, then you can do further research on the lawyers. The specialists list will give you the names of the specialist lawyers in your county or city, and then you can go to a site such as avvo.com, and perform further investigation and research into these individual lawyers. Avvo.com rates lawyers on a scale of zero to 10, although a lawyer who has not "claimed his profile" will have a starting point score of 6.0 to 7.0. After a lawyer claims his profile and fills in his biographical information, and starts to get client reviews and peer endorsements, the score will rise with the highest score being a 10.0. The score is a useful tool for comparison, but what is really helpful AVVO.com profiles are the client reviews and the peer endorsements.
The client reviews are particularly helpful because you can read through those and get a sense of how the lawyer interacts with his clients. You can also get a sense of how effective the lawyer is by reading what people have to say about him or her. The peer endorsements are helpful sometimes, but you should probably pay more attention to the ones from lawyers who appear to actually know the lawyer being reviewed.
Other online sources provide helpful ratings and information about lawyersAnother way to research a lawyer is to look him up on Martindale.com and see how he is rated by that peer review organization. Martindale-Hubble has been around for about 100 years rating lawyers on a scale of CV-BV-AV-AV Preeminent. In this rating scheme, A is the highest level of ability. The V is a necessary part of any rating and it means that the lawyer's peers believe that the rated lawyer conducts himself with good ethics and professionalism.
The AV Preeminent rating means that the lawyer's peer reviews, from other lawyers that he has dealt with in his practice, place him in the top 5% of the lawyers reviewed in the country. An AV Preeminent lawyer is therefore considered to be in the top 5% in the country in terms of Martindale-Hubble's rating system, in both legal ability and ethical conduct. Some younger lawyers are not rated at all, and that does not mean that they are not good lawyers. A lawyer has to practice approximately 8 or 10 years before getting a rating so a lawyer who has been in practice for, say, five years might be a very good lawyer but will not yet have a rating simply because he or she has not been practicing law long enough.
And finally, you can check a lawyer's track record as a litigator in front of the Industrial Commission. You can look up the cases that lawyer has handled at the Commission going back approximately ten years. Before you hire a lawyer, look him or her up at the Commission web site, and make sure that lawyer will actually go to court for a client and see the case through the trial (litigation) process. This is especially true if you are tempted to hire a lawyer who advertises extensively. You can look up a particular lawyer's track record at the Commission's database link posted below. You want to log in to "Livelink" and use the lawyer's name as your search term.