I have been an Illinois workers' compensation attorney since 1997. I started off my career as an insurance defense lawyer (yuck!) which was great training for not only being a lawyer, but learning how to properly represent injured workers. It helps to learn how insurance companies think, strategies they use, etc.
One of the first things I learned was who the bad attorneys were for injured workers. These were the attorneys that the veteran lawyers didn't think did a good job for their clients. Some were lazy, some were incompetent and some just didn't care. But to me the worst thing I heard someone called was a lawyer who would take “short money.”
Short money refers to a case where someone settles for much less than the case is worth. Let's say we think your case is worth between $50,000.00 on the low end and $70,000.00. A short money lawyer will convince their client to take $40,000.00. That's a lot of money, but not as much as the client is entitled to.
Why would they do this? Some law firms have so many cases that their only goal is to get cases settled. It's not about what's best for the client, but instead about settling as many as possible. A 40k settlement gets them an $8,000 fee A $60,000 settlement would get them $12,000. But if the lawyer is overwhelmed by cases, they'd forgo the extra $4,000 their firm could make just to move one quickly. That means no writing letters to the other attorney, no phone calls, no preparing and showing up for a pre-trial before an Arbitrator, no depositions of doctors, etc. Those are all of the things you need to do to get the most money possible for a client on a case.
Even when they do some of the work required, we find that they will take the low end of what a case could settle for. It all comes down to worrying about the firm and themselves and not the people who have trusted them to fight for them.
So what can you as an injured Illinois worker do to make sure this doesn't happen to you?
The honest answer is that there's likely no way for you to know what your case is really worth unless you can get 3-5 firms to take a look at your case. That's not really possible. What you can do is look out for red flags such as:
1. Do you almost never get to talk to a lawyer, but instead deal with a paralegal or assistant?
2. Do they not answer your questions?
3. Is the case moving slowly?
4. Do they promise things that don't happen?
5. Is what they say the case is worth much more than what they are telling you to take?
All of these red flags can be the sign of a bad attorney who would make you take short money to settle your case. The only recourse is to switch lawyers before an offer is made because once one happens it's often too late.
Disclaimer: WorkersCompensation.com publishes independently generated writings from a variety of workers' compensation industry stakeholders. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of WorkersCompensation.com.