If your Pennsylvania workers' compensation, social security disability or long term disability claim involves serious injuries, you will need a lawyer. But how do you choose the right one? Some legal mills claim to be "the best firm in America" or the "best Pennsylvania Workers' Comp" lawyers. Do not fall for such hype; choosing the right lawyer may mean the difference between paying your mortgage or going to a sheriffs' sale. It's an important topic and I've devoted an entire chapter to this issue in my book The Wounded Worker: Inside the Pennsylvania Workers' Comp Maze. The following is a summary of some of the things that I wrote about more extensively in the book.
Don't hire an idiot.
You could just choose a lawyer who has one of those idiotic billboards or television ads. If you do so, however, it's more likely than not that you're going to be disappointed. Many of the ads are flatly ridiculous. Do you really think that a lawyer boasts about getting you the "best settlement" is the right lawyer for you? You want to hire someone who is willing to try your case to a conclusion. Though there may come a time when you need to consider settling your case, you hire a lawyer to fight, not to grab a quick buck.
If the lawyer on TV looks good, he's an actor; If he has a bad toupee, he's real but lousy.
Furthermore, if you think you're going to be represented by the guy on the billboard T.V. ad, you're almost certainly wrong. Many of those lawyers are actors. Others are just administrators and have not seen the inside of a courtroom in decades. You might see the face of the law firm, but the people actually doing the work in the law firm are a mixed bag. Some are good lawyers, but many are overworked, inexperienced, or burnt out. You may end up in a workers' compensation mill in which you are just another case on the assembly line.
Check the web.
First, check the web. There are independent lawyer rating services including AVVO, Super Lawyers, and Martindale-Hubbell. Ask your lawyer if he or she is a certified Pennsylvania workers' compensation specialist. Lawyers who are certified by the Pennsylvania Bar Association have to pass a rigorous written examination. If your lawyer is not a certified specialist, you have to wonder why. Keep in mind that workers' compensation is a pretty narrow specialty. If a lawyer is not devoting more than 50 percent of his practice to handling workers' compensation cases, he may not know enough about the topic to represent you effectively.
I'm sure you wouldn't want to be the first guy operated on by a medical school graduate. Physicians who have worked for many years likely have better reputations. The same is true of lawyers.
Avoid lawyers who have referral arrangements with doctors.
Be very concerned about hiring a lawyer who has the cards of a variety of doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists festooned on his desk. Though a lawyer can play an important role in directing you to a competent provider, you have to worry about the relationship that the lawyer has with medical providers he openly promotes. Does a lawyer have some sort of business relationship with the doctor? Does the doctor send the lawyer cases in return for referrals? If you're treating with your own doctor and he's good, why would you switch to some lawyer recommended by an attorney?
Your case is a battle of wits.
Keep in mind that lawyers who claim to be aggressive fighters are usually ineffective. If you want to hire the toughest guy on the block, hire Mike Tyson as your lawyer. If you want to hire a good lawyer, remember that a legal case is like a chess match and not a boxing contest. Lawyers need to think. Of course you want your lawyer to be aggressive, but you don't want the lawyer to be so aggressive that you lose your case.
Rude lawyers lose cases.
Typical of the misconceptions that many people have concerning lawyers is the belief that your cases will somehow be advanced if the lawyer is rude to his opponent. Rude lawyers lose cases. Workers' compensation judges, for example, are familiar with the reputations of the lawyers who appear before them. If a lawyer has a reputation for being a jackass, the judge knows it. The judge may well do his best to rule as fairly as possible, but you have one strike against you if you have a lawyer who is rude to his opponents, the judge, the doctors, and everyone else involved in the case.
It is extremely important for your lawyer to have a reputation for integrity. Lawyers who hide documents, lie to the court, or engage in underhanded tactics are the topic of gossip in the Pennsylvania workers' compensation community. The judges know these lawyers. If you hire a scumbag, you have another strike against you.
There is no substitute for hard work.
Make sure that the lawyer you hire works hard. If you hire a lawyer in a legal mill that makes money by pushing as many cases as quickly as possible, you may find that you get a very poor result in your case. Find out just how your lawyer prepares for your case. I, for example, gather medical records from all sources, arrange all the medical records in chronological order, review them in advance of a deposition, familiarize myself and my client with the contents of the medical records, provide the doctor with a set of those records, and formulate any questions I ask in court in advance of the hearing or deposition. If your lawyer doesn't do those sort of things, it may mean that he doesn't have the time to devote to your case.
Finally, lawyers who regularly write about the topic in which they practice are, in general, better than lawyers who don't. Has the lawyer you’re considering written any books or articles on Pennsylvania workers’ compensation? Why not?