The proper selection of defense attorneys is one of the most important things a self-insured employer can do to control cost of the larger workers’ compensation claims. It is also one of the most over-looked ways to control claim cost. Whether you are new to the world of self-insurance, or just not happy with the results your defense attorneys are achieving, the selection of new defense attorneys should be carefully considered. An in-depth outline of the criteria you consider important in the selection process should be prepared and used to select the defense attorney that will best suit your needs.
Criteria to Consider When Selecting Your Attorney
Law firms come in many different sizes. There are the large national law firms with an office in various large cities. There are large local firms that have dozens of attorneys all working from one office. There are also intermediate and small law firms that specialize only in workers’ compensation defense. There are the sole practitioners.
The best size for the self-insured employer is the law firm that can cover all of the self-insured employer’s locations with experienced attorneys. For a single location self-insured employer, just about any size law firm that has adequate resources to cover all your workers’ compensation claims can be considered.
Some risk managers opt to have multiple defense firms, picking the best defense attorney(s) at two or more law firms to handle their claims. They even it let be known that the defense attorney has competition for the self-insured employer’s business.
The number of years of law practice is only one aspect of experience. When considering a defense attorney, ask how much of the attorney’s time is spent in defending workers’ compensation claims. An insurance defense attorney may spend most of his time on automobile insurance claims and workers’ compensation is a side line.
A good way to measure experience is to ask for a list of references. The truly experienced workers’ compensation defense attorney will have a long list of references of self-insured employers and insurance companies she/he has worked for. Companies in your industry that are on the list of references should be contacted for their thoughts on the expertise of the defense attorney(s) you are considering.
The defense attorney you are considering should have an in-depth understanding of the workers’ compensation laws and the administrative regulations of the state. The attorney should know inside out the hearings/trial process which could decide the outcome of your workers’ compensation claims. The attorney should know how to maximize the local practices for mediation, arbitration and settlement negotiations.
Not only does the defense attorney need to have extensive knowledge of workers’ compensation, but also have knowledge of areas of the law that can overlap workers’ compensation – for example: subrogation, social security disability, vocational rehabilitation, products liability and automobile liability.
It is often difficult to determine initially, but the self-insured employer needs to know if the defense attorney have a rigid way of doing things, or is willing to consider the recommendations of the client. The defense attorney hired should be amendable to complying with your Litigation Management Best Practices.
A discussion with the defense attorney about fees should be a part of your interview process. Not only do you need to know the hourly rate for the partners, but also the hourly rates for junior partners, paralegals and clerical staff.
You should confirm the defense attorney will delegate work to subordinates whenever possible to achieve cost-effectiveness without diminishing the quality of the defense. If the senior partner is handling every aspect of the defense of a claim, you will pay a lot more than when the partner delegates appropriate task to the paralegal, for example.
Depending on your preferences, the defense attorney should bill for services in the time frame you select. While some self-insured employers opt to get just one bill at the end of the claim, most employers are requesting monthly bills or quarterly bills to avoid billing surprises.
The defense counsel you select should be instructed on what leeway they have in incurring cost for experts, court reporters, etc. Also, the attorney should know prior to starting work your parameters for the cost of legal research.
The defense attorney should understand prior to starting to work for your company that your company will consider legal fee audits.
Before hiring any defense attorney to handle your workers’ compensation claims, an in-depth interview with the attorney should be completed.
The defense attorney you select should be willing to comply with your reporting requirements whether it is monthly reporting, quarterly reporting or reporting all significant events timely.
It is often a good indication of the attorney’s professionalism when the attorney is active in the local and state bar examinations. If the attorney is on the bar association’s workers’ compensation committee, that is even better.
Properly Selecting An Attorney Is Worth the Time
The proper selection of new defense counsel will take some of your time, but the selection of the highly qualified defense attorney that best meshes with your needs will result in a reduction of the cost of your litigated claims.
Author Michael Stack, Principal, COMPClub, Amaxx LLC. He is co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, and founder of COMPClub an interactive training program teaching workers’ comp cost containment best practices. Through this platform he is in the trenches on a monthly basis with risk managers, brokers, consultants, attorney’s, and adjusters teaching timeless workers’ comp cost containment strategies, as well as working with members to develop new tactics and systems to address the issues facing organizations today. This unique position allows him to continuously be at the forefront of innovation and thought leadership in workers’ compensation cost containment. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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