Workers' Compensation Attorney Career Profile and Job Description
Accidents at work occur frequently: a broken arm from a fall off a ladder, a back injury from lifting heavy boxes or a repetitive motion injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome are common examples.
A workers' compensation attorney helps workers who are injured on the job recover compensation for their injuries, including medical bills and lost wages. Workers' compensation laws permit workers who are hurt on the job to receive a number of benefits, depending on the injury. These benefits may include:
- Permanent total disability benefits
- Permanent partial disability benefits
- Temporary partial disability benefits
- Medical benefits
- Wage reimbursement benefits
- Vocational rehabilitation benefits
Workers' Compensation Laws
Workers' compensation law is governing by state workers' compensation acts and federal statutes which provide for fixed awards to employees or their dependents in the event of employment-related accidents and diseases. These statutorily-prescribed awards enable the injured worker to receive compensation without initiating legal action against his or her employer. The various state acts differ with respect to the type of workers covered, amount and duration of benefits and other details.
Federal employees are covered under a number of federal laws including:
- Federal Employees Compensation Act (federal workers)
- The Jones Act (seaman)
- Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (longshore and harbor workers)
The effect of most workers' compensation laws is to make the employer strictly liable to an employee for injuries sustained in the course of employment, without regard of the negligence of the employer or employee. In order to have a valid claim, the injury must arise in the course and scope of employment and an employee-employer relationship must exist (independent contractors are not covered under most workers' compensation laws).
Workers' Compensation Attorney - Job Duties
The goal of the workers' compensation attorney representing the claimant (injured worker) is to help him or her obtain benefits. The goal of the workers' compensation lawyer representing the defendant (the employer or the employer's insurance company) is to mitigate the defendant's liability. Typical job functions of a workers' compensation lawyer include:
- Gathering medical evidence and medical records
- Taking depositions of the claimant, physicians, medical experts and other parties
- Conducting discovery
- Performing legal research
- Remaining current with developments in the law
- Drafting pleadings, findings of fact, motions, briefs, opinions and other legal documents
- Litigating cases before a workers' compensation judge or referee
The Role of the Workers' Compensation Attorney - Claimant Side
Workers' compensation lawyers on the claimant side assist injured workers with filing and litigating claims. A workers' compensation attorney representing the claimant will typically:
- Answer client questions and guide him or her through the workers' compensation process.
- Contact medical providers and complete paperwork relating to the claim.
- Represent the interests of the claimant at hearings, trials, depositions, oral arguments, mediations, arbitrations and other proceedings.
- Assist the injured worker with workers' compensation benefits, including appropriate medical care.
- Communicate with the worker's supervisors on the injured workers' status.
- Negotiate settlements on behalf of the claimant.
The Role of the Workers' Compensation Attorney - Defense Side
On the defense side, workers' compensation attorneys help insurance companies or self-insured employers mitigate their exposure and defend workers' compensation claims. Workers' compensation attorneys on the defense side may:
- Represent the interests of the employer or insurer at hearings, trials, depositions, oral arguments, mediations, arbitrations and other proceedings.
- Communicate with claims representatives
- Monitor loss run reports for trends and increases and alerts management to concerns.
- Assist with the investigation of accidents and problem areas
- Manage workers' compensation costs to reduce liability
- Compile and submit reports required by company management
- Coordinate and attend claims reviews
- Negotiate settlements on behalf of the insurance company
Skills and Knowledge
In addition to these essential legal skills, the skills and knowledge required to excel as a workers' compensation attorney include:
- Litigation experience and strong trial experience
- Working knowledge of workers' compensation laws and procedures
- Excellent oral and written communication skills
- Strong research and analytical skills
- Ability to handle large caseloads and juggle multiple priorities and deadlines
- Excellent negotiation skills
- Ability to work independently as well as in a team environment
- Strong technology skills including proficiency with Microsoft Office software and legal research platforms such as Lexis and Westlaw
- Understanding of medical, scientific, construction, products, engineering and similar issues inherent in workers compensation cases
Skills specific to the claimant side:
- Understanding of claims filing process
- Compassion and understanding of injured worker's plight
Skills specific to the defense side:
- Understanding of claims handling guidelines for each business unit
- Ability to budget costs and calculate exposure
- Knowledge of billing procedures
Like all attorneys in the United States, workers' compensation lawyers must obtain an undergraduate degree, complete four years of law school and obtain a license to practice law by passing the bar exam.
Workers' compensation attorneys work in an office environment. They are most frequently employed in a law firm or corporate legal department. Frequent travel to hearings, arbitrations, depositions and job sites is required. Long hours may be required due to travel to hearings and depositions in distant locations.