For many law students, answering the question, “What type of law are you going to practice?” can be a daunting task. One thing they don’t teach you in law school is what a lawyer actually does. How could they? The law has countless areas of practice and most areas require lawyers to do entirely different things. If they gave you all that practical information there would be no time for torts. So how can a student decide if they prefer to practice family law, negotiate real estate contracts, work for a health insurer, a large corporate law firm, or a small personally injury firm, if they don’t know exactly what any of these lawyers do on a daily basis.
Young lawyers and law students interested in litigation, being part of a community, and helping regular people can find a meaningful career in PA workers’ compensation. Whether you’re an applicant, law student, or even an attorney, you may not be familiar with this area of the law. For those interested in litigation specifically, this could be a great place to get your start.
First year attorneys can expect to appear before judges, take depositions, and negotiate settlements in mediation. Prior to the pandemic, Pennsylvania workers’ comp attorneys would travel to different locations throughout PA for all of these things. However, they have been conducted remotely ever since. While there has been some discussion about returning to in person hearings, it is unclear if/when that will happen.
Workers’ compensation judges, court reporters, paralegals, office staff, and attorneys make up their own community by region. A Pennsylvania workers compensation court is an administrative court. It is a separate entity from civil and criminal courts. Workers’ comp has its own judges, its own procedure and formalities, and many attorneys practice workers’ compensation exclusively. PA workers’ comp attorneys experience a more relaxed standard of practice than their peers in federal and state court. They often develop long lasting amicable relationships with opposing counsel and judges. For these reasons, attorneys enjoy the familial aspects of this area. For these same reasons, reputation is extremely important. Certain professional, legal, or social missteps can cause more damage to a career in PA workers compensation than a less niche area of practice.
Pennsylvania workers’ compensation is litigated under the Pennsylvania Workmen’s Compensation Act and the Occupational Disease Act. Attorneys must identify whether an injured worker has a viable case under the Act. This usually entails simply asking the client about the circumstances surrounding their work injury. If certain criteria are met, and the attorney feels the rules of the Act are satisfied, a claim will be filed on behalf of the injured worker seeking compensation. Primarily, claimants are seeking wage loss benefits, reimbursement for medical bills, and legal fees. Naturally, employers and insurance carriers do not want to pay these benefits. Thus, attorneys litigate a case. This involves taking doctor’s depositions, testimony from the claimant, and collecting other relevant evidence. They appear at hearings, monitor the client’s case, petition the court, and write briefs. Often, a mediation is held and both parities’ attorneys negotiate a settlement figure with the help of a neutral judge. Many injured workers and their attorneys view settlement as the best case scenario where the worker is paid a lump sum in exchange for waiving the right to future compensation on the claim. Alternatively, if settlement is unreachable, the case will go to decision and a workers’ compensation judge will review the evidence then grant or deny the claim.
Importantly, at the end of the day, you will be helping people. PA workers’ compensation attorneys provide a valuable service to individuals in some very unfortunate circumstances. We’ve all seen unscrupulous personal injury attorneys and bad actor clients gaming the system in movies and on television. While these people surely exist to some extent, they really are few and far between in comparison to the amount of people who honestly need help. Much more common is the employee who injured his back after 20 years of manual labor. Although his doctor said he can no longer perform the job, the insurance carrier denied his claim. Their doctor said his back problems were caused by arthritis. Worse yet, they surveilled him lifting a case of water at the grocery store and say he is no longer injured. The employee returns to work before full recovery, suffers further injury, and now must undergo surgery. Workers’ compensation lawyers see situations like this play out time and time again. Many injured workers earn a modest living, are currently suffering some amount of wage loss, and are up against an insurance company who employs a team of attorneys. It can be personally and professionally rewarding to succeed on behalf of these clients. Many attorneys note the ability to help people in dire situations as their job’s most fulfilling aspect. If any of the foregoing sounds desirable, workers compensation may be the right area to begin your legal career.
If you injure yourself at work, we strongly encourage you to hire the law firm of Pearson Koutcher to represent you in your claim. Our Pennsylvania workers’ compensation lawyers are experienced, hard-working, and compassionate. If you are looking for a workers’ compensation attorney near me, contact Pearson Koutcher Law today.