A caller to our office was pursuing a worker’ compensation claim for carpal tunnel.  They had a lot of questions, but one of them was wanting to know what the odds were of them winning their case.

I get questions like that a lot about Illinois workers compensation law.  The honest answer is that every case is different and that a win to some people might be a loss to someone else and might be a push to another person.

There’s one very shady Chicago workers’ compensation law firm who advertises that they’ve won 98% of their cases.  That “win” total includes cases on which they recovered $500 for their clients when insurance companies just paid to make the case go away. If your medical bills aren’t paid, is that a win?  Of course not, but they claim that it is.

For this caller, the only way to say they won would be if their case was disputed and went to trial.  Most cases settle though. If 100% of your medical bills get paid, all of your time off work gets paid and you get a settlement for 85% of what your lawyer thinks your case is worth, would you consider that a win?  Most people would, but some would not.

If your best case scenario is getting $500,000.00 and they won’t budge past $420,000.00, is that a win?  It certainly could be and that’s a lot of money.

If your attorney is able to get every medical procedure your doctor recommends except one additional week of physical therapy, would you consider the case to have gone well?

What most people really want to know is if they will get most of the benefits they are entitled to.  To determine the chances of that, we have to look at the case facts. How were you hurt?  What possible defenses does the insurance company have?  What prior medical problems did you have?

In this case, since they are claiming a repetitive trauma injury, they’d have to prove how often they used their hands at work, the force applied, the angle of their wrists and of course get an orthopedic doctor to state that more likely than not their job contributed to them getting carpal tunnel.  The insurance company will surely have a hired gun IME doctor to state that it’s not work related.  They will point to things like diabetes, obesity, pregnancy, etc. that could be the “real” cause.

The stronger the possible defenses, the greater a chance you either go to trial or reach a compromise settlement.  Any compromise could be considered a win or loss depending on your perspective.

To me, the better strategy is to work with your lawyer to determine the best and worst case scenario on your claim.  After that you try and get most of the best case scenario as possible.  You almost never get everything, but the closer you are to that, the more that it will feel like a win to you in the end.

If you are considering a dissolution of marriage, you may have several questions and concerns. It can be a difficult time, but it is important to understand the process of family law. Just as each state enforces their marriage laws, the states regulate their divorce laws. Here, we have given you a few things we think you should know when considering a divorce in Illinois.

  1. No-Fault Divorce – For the most part, fault doesn’t matter in a divorce. One may think that issues such as adultery, cruelty or abuse should be taken into consideration during a divorce, but for the most part, they aren’t. Like the rest of the US, Illinois follows no-fault divorce laws, meaning that grounds for divorce are not taken into consideration when deciding how marital property should be divided, whether alimony should be awarded or how much child support a parent should pay.
  1. Annulments – In many ways, an annulment of a marriage in Illinois is very similar to divorce. You can expect to see the same kinds of property division, child and spousal support arrangements, and court proceedings in an annulment case as in a divorce case. However, annulments are rare and have strict grounds to be able to obtain an annulment.
  1. Attorney fees – Attorney’s fees are a significant chunk of the cost of divorce. Not only do you pay the attorney’s rate, you may be responsible for paralegals rates, court fees, witnesses, consultants, etc. A majority of attorneys require a retainer. With a retainer, you will pay a couple thousand up front and the attorney will then deduct their rate from the retainer as the case is handled. Once the retainer runs out, you’d most likely be required to refill it.
  1. Civil Unions – When it comes to the Illinois marriage and divorce laws, a civil union is similar to a marriage. The dissolution of civil unions follows the same procedures and is subject to the same rights and obligations that are in involved in the dissolution of marriages.
  1. Child Custody – Children do not necessarily get a say in their custody preference. Illinois requires judges to determine child custody based on the best interests of the child, if the parents cannot agree. The custody preferences of mature children may be considered, but ultimately it is up to the judge to decide.
  1. “Father’s Rights” – Don’t be fooled by a “Father’s Rights” lawyer. This term is just a marketing ploy. A good family lawyer is capable of handling a child custody case, no matter whom they’re representing.
  1. Conflict of Interest – If you and your spouse are on good terms you may think using the same attorney would be a smart and financial choice. Not only is it a conflict of interest, it is illegal. An attorney can only represent one party. What is best for one spouse is not necessarily best for the other spouse.

Divorce can be a tricky process and there are other laws you should be made aware of. Call and talk to one of our attorneys for free.

We are Chicago lawyers who since 2001 have offered free legal guidance and lawyer referrals to anyone who needs it on all Illinois legal matters. If you want to ask us a question just call us at 312-346-5320 or fill out our contact form.  We don’t promise you’ll like our answer, but do promise to give direct, honest advice.

Most of my blog posts are based off of cases I’ve read/worked on or good questions from callers. Some questions don’t need a whole post. Every few months I like to put together a post of some great questions that don’t need a big explanation.  In no particular order here are some recent good ones.

Can my employer make overtime mandatory?

Yes.  Unless you are in a union where hours can be negotiated, generally speaking your hours are what your employer says they are.  They have to pay you of course, but if you refuse to work overtime you can get fired.  I recommend everyone google the phrase “at will employment” for more information on your rights as an employee or lack there of.

Do you know a lawyer who specializes in unemployment?

This has been a hot topic unfortunately. The bad news is that I’ve never met a lawyer who focuses on this because it’s not an easy way to make a career. I’m sure they are out there somewhere, but I’ve never met them.

Is it legal for my lawyer to charge 40% of the recovery on my car accident case?

Legal? Yes.  A good idea to go with someone charging that much?  Usually no.  Most lawyers will charge 33%, sometimes less.  The exception is usually if the case has to be appealed following a trial.  I’d shop around if your attorney is asking for 40%.

My license is suspended in Texas so I can’t get a license here.  Can you help with that?

Most likely you need to clear up your out of state problem first.

The QDRO my ex wants me to sign says that if she dies the balance of what she is owed will go to her estate.  Is that common? Legal?

It is legal. It’s common among attorneys who are looking out for their clients, but it’s not mandatory and certainly negotiable.

I think I got Covid from work, but I’m not an essential worker.  Do I have a case?

You may based on the reasons you think it’s from work, but most likely would need your doctor to state that it’s more likely than not your job played a role in you getting it.

Why are the only IDFPR attorneys I can find in Chicago?

That’s because most of the hearings take place there.  Also it’s a very niche area of practice and making a living at it as a downstate lawyer would be hard.  You want someone who has a lot of experience with those cases and the reality is that those people are in Chicago. The good news is that they almost always can work with you by phone and email.

I settled my case eight years ago.  I think my lawyer gave me bad advice. Can I sue them?

You can sue anyone for anything, but this case would get tossed out because you waited to long. You can’t go back farther than six years to sue your attorney.  Also having regrets over a bad settlement is usually not a case.

These are some quick answers.  As always, every case is different so please take this as just general advice.  If you have concerns about your situation, contact us at any time.

It’s been 26 years since I first walked into Chicago-Kent on Adams.  I was an immature 22 year old who only applied to law school because a friend from college enlightened me that having a law degree can create a lot of options for you. Plus, it allowed me to delay entering the working world, which looking back, is a real entitled, white-privilege type of thought to have.  Of course law school and living wasn’t as expensive back then, and I was able to survive off of some savings and jobs as a law clerk and bartender.

It would be naive and arrogant to think I have all the answers for new law students, most of whom weren’t born when I started school.  Certainly technology and Covid have changed a ton for them compared to what I went through. But I do think I have honest advice that can help.  In no particular order, here are some things I wish I knew, or think you should know.

1. You will quickly discover that being a 1L is often a psych job. You hear the old, “Look to your left and right, one of those people won’t be here in three years” nonsense. People get paranoid and competitive. They read something for class and want to make sure you know how hard they are working.  The good news is that bad vibe does disappear once everyone settles in. And the people that are gone usually leave, not because they flunked out, but because they quit after realizing law school wasn’t for them. Better to do that before you have a huge student loan bill to pay back.

2. Do you know how to read a legal opinion?  I’m not aware of anywhere that it’s taught before you get to law school and I don’t recall being taught how to do it.  Instead it was just something you figure out over time.  Here’s a great resource to reduce that learning curve. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1160925#.XvJfyQGbaGI.twitter

3. If you go to a top 25 law school, being in the top half of your class can be enough to get a high paying summer clerk job, assuming those jobs come back next year (which I think they will). I’m not saying working at Jenner and Block, Sidley, Baker, etc. is a good idea.  That depends on the person.  But the summer clerking jobs pay a ton and can open up doors for you. If you are at a second or third tier school like I went to, you better be in the top 10% if you want one of those jobs.

4. One thing you will realize once you start working in a law firm is that there are a lot of smart lawyers.  There are also a lot of dumb ones.  All of those people passed the Bar exam.  That should give you confidence that if this is what you want to do, it’s attainable for you.  I’m sure you will see the same in your law school class. Some people will blow you away by how intelligent they are.  Others will blow you away because you won’t believe they got admitted to the same school as you.

5. Use your age to your advantage.  Lawyers have traditionally been slow to adapt to technology and slower to understand it. If you are knowledgeable about coding or social media, use that to your benefit when looking for jobs and creating your resume.  Just like speaking a foreign language, a niche skill can benefit you.  Some young lawyer is going to make a killing by teaching law firms how to really use social media.

6. I think the best way to succeed in law school academically is to treat it like a job. If you work from 9-5 most days that is enough to do well in class.

7. Network, network, network. Going on informational interviews is a great way to get to know people.  Become friends with your classmates.  Aside from being fun, the lawyers you know down the road can open many doors for you.

8. Participate in your school’s legal clinic. The best class I had in law school was a legal clinic on mediation. It taught me a ton and allowed me to become a licensed mediator and work on real cases.  Other clinics allow you to work for the State’s Attorney’s office and handle some actual cases.  There are options for almost every area of law. It’s a great resume builder and more importantly gives you exposure to practicing which will help you decide what area of law you might want to focus on.

9. Don’t be a dick. This is kind of the opposite of networking.  If you fail to realize that all of your classmates have value or you just act like an asshole, it will surely come back to hurt you some day.

10. Don’t be dumb on social media.  I’m sure I would have failed this advice if Instagram was around in the 90’s and I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but if you wouldn’t want something about your personal life coming up in a job interview, don’t post it. Most firms I know look into this stuff.

11. Have some fun. If you are in Chicago, you are in one of the best cities in the world.  You can’t enjoy all it has to offer right now, but I’d bet there are still some mixers with your classmates, chances to explore the City, etc. that you can still take advantage of. Don’t get psyched out by how hard law school is supposed to be. I remember one classmate who really enjoyed himself saying, “All I want to do is write wills for old ladies, I don’t need to worry about all the other stuff.”  It’s a good point in that if you treat law school like a job, even if you have to work a real job too, there still can be some time for yourself.  And I assure you that most law firms want to bring in people who are comfortable socializing as it’s often part of the job.  I’m not saying be a clown, but don’t be a hermit either.

I hope this helps a little. I wouldn’t say that law school was amazing, but I do have many good memories and my college friend was correct.  Being an attorney can open up many different possibilities in life for you.

 

Another week, another apparently terrible police involved shooting. This time it was close to home, just over the border in Kenosha where Jacob Blake was shot in front of his kids despite being unarmed.  It seems to be another case of unjustified, excessive force.

I don’t claim to be an expert on police issues, although it’s clear that something different than business as usual must be done. Not militarizing the police seems to make sense as does having social workers and other trained experts respond to calls that don’t need someone with a gun and a badge like traffic accidents and suicide calls.  Certainly solutions for the City of Chicago might not be the right ones for a small, rural police department.

No matter where you are though, I question why police officers don’t have to have a license?  You need a license in Illinois to work as a private security contractor or private investigator or even a hair dresser and attorney.  We all had to go through background checks and pass a character and fitness test. We have to fill out an application.  This is the step involved before going for a job interview.

If during our time as a professional we do something wrong, we are held accountable by an licensing board that has an independent hearing process.  Results of complaints can range from nothing to loss of license or anything in between like censure or suspension.  If we have substance abuse or other problems, there are resources for getting help.

Nobody (I think) wants unjustified police shootings.  Everyone I know supports good cops. But it’s very apparent that we have a broken system.  If you think cops are good and want good cops, is there any justification for opposing them to be licensed like most other professionals in Illinois including the ones that carry guns?  I don’t think there is.

The fact that we have never done it this way doesn’t mean we should keep doing it that way. This is especially true in Chicago where taxpayers have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits against the police.

Would licensing law enforcement officers solve everything? Of course not.  The realistic goal is to reduce bad behavior and be able to remove bad actors when they don’t live up to the professional standards that are set.  This doesn’t require them to be perfect or always look over their shoulder. What is does is set standards and have a real accountability system in place.

It would certainly make sense if we make the move to have social workers take on some police work such as responding to some domestic abuse situations.  Social workers in Illinois already have to be licensed by the State.  We essentially ask police to handle matters that they are not trained for in place of people who have to be licensed to handle those matters.  Licensing cops is the logical next step.

To me this is all an extension of calls to defund the police which are really calls to change the way the police operate and make them do it in a smarter, safer and more economical way.  If there is a reason that police officers shouldn’t be held to the same standards and accountability as any other Illinois professional, I’d love to hear it.

We’ve noticed an uptick of late of attorneys in Illinois telling their potential clients what they want to hear.  Business is down for a lot of law firms and some are doing whatever they can to land a client.  This includes flat out lying.

If you were hurt in a car accident and want to know the likely value of your case, if it seems to be worth $40,000.00, an honest lawyer will say it’s worth $40,000.00.  If the lawyer thinks it’s too soon to say what it’s worth, the honest one will say they can’t give you a good estimate right now and explain why.

The lying lawyer who just wants you as a client will tell you that your case worth $40,000.00 is worth $100,000.00. Why?  Because if you call three lawyers and two tell you the case is worth 40k and the third says they’ll get you 100k, that last one sounds good.  The reality we find in most of these situations is that this is the type of lawyer who only cares about themselves and not the client.  When push comes to shove and they are getting you a much lower amount to settle, they will just come up with some b.s. excuse/lie and move on.

In one case we were called on, the lawyer got the settlement offer which was less than half of what they originally promised.  When the client called them out on it, the attorney denied ever saying that and then told the client if they don’t like it they should get a new attorney.  Unfortunately by then it was too late.

In another case, a person with very serious injuries from a car accident was hit by a 20 year old who only has $30,000 worth of insurance.  The reality is that nobody is going to ever recover more than $30,000 on that case because even if you go after the 20 year old as an individual, they have nothing.  A caller to my office told me some lawyer said the case was worth a million dollars!  That might be what the case is worth because the injuries were so major, but if they tell the client they are going to get more than 30k they are full of it.

The good news is that most attorneys I come across are honest, decent people.  The bad news is that there are enough that are just bad business people or desperate and think they have to say what a client wants to hear.  All we can tell you is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is and you should be aware of that before you sign with a lawyer.

It feels a bit morbid to write this, but with Covid-19 and all of the workers who feel unsure about returning to work, especially teachers, we wanted to do something to help out.

The reality is that everyone should have some sort of living will that directs what you want to have happen in case you aren’t able to make health care decisions for yourself.  The last thing you want to have happen is be incapacitated and have your family members arguing over what care you should or shouldn’t have.  You certainly don’t want them making decisions that you disagree with.

Estate planning attorneys will usually charge a couple hundred dollars to complete a Power Of Attorney For Health Care Form. This is a short document that directs someone you appoint to make decisions for you if you can’t make them on your own.  Most people don’t want to think about that type of decision and certainly don’t want to spend money on it.

Our solution is to offer this form to every Illinois resident for FREE. No strings attached.  You can find it here on our Illinois lawyer referral website. We also provide instructions on completing the form and are happy to talk to you for free any time as well.

We can’t provide every legal service people need for free, but documents that are essentially one size fits all shouldn’t be used to charge people as if a lawyer prepared a fresh document.  And most importantly you really do not want to be in a situation where you or someone you care about has to rely on others or worse yet, the State of Illinois, to make a medical decision for them. Hopefully this helps solve both problems.

Call us at 312-346-5320 with any questions about this or any other Illinois legal matter.

 

In normal times, the Illinois Bar exam would have taken place two weeks ago.  Due to Covid it first got pushed to September 9 and 10 and now is going to be online October 5 & 6.

I remember a lot from the summer of 1994 when I took the Illinois Bar test.  The night it finished was a huge celebration with my classmates.  The summer itself was very stressful because if I didn’t pass I have no idea what I would do.

Back then every law student I knew took a class called BarBri.  It was started by a guy named Michael Spak who was also a professor at my law school.  The first week of the class he came to speak to us and gave what in my opinion is the key to passing the test.

He asked us how many of us were nervous about passing.  Not everyone raised their hand, but I do know that most people were anxious at least.  He then asked how many of us had clerked in law firms or been to the Daley Center. Almost every hand went up.  Professor Spak asked how many times we saw an attorney at a firm or court and looked at them and thought to ourselves, “I can’t believe that person is a lawyer.”  Most hands went up for that too and we all had a good laugh.

He then gave me all the confidence I would need.  He said something to the effect of “All of those dumb people passed the bar exam to become a lawyer and if they did it then so can you!”

That was a great pep talk and the advice after that was to just do the work and treat it like a job.  Their class had years of success in getting people to pass and I’m sure they or some other group is still doing that type of work.  We all blew off certain parts of school, but with the bar exam, if you go to every class, do all the reading, take all the practice tests and do it over and over and over, your chances of success are really high.

This isn’t some magical advice.  I was 25 when I took the bar and was doing it during a typical fun Chicago summer.  Those taking the exam this September don’t have neighborhood festivals, Cubs games or a huge nightlife to distract them.  In that way, taking the Bar during Covid is slightly easier.  But of course there are still fun things to do in Chicago (or anywhere) and while you should be having fun, the people I know who didn’t pass had too much fun and didn’t take getting ready for the exam serious enough.

The reality is that if you treat this time like a job you care about – and you should because you are the owner of the company – then you will likely pass.  When you take practice tests, you’ll have an idea of how well you are likely to do.  The more practice tests you take, the more you study, the better your chances.

And whether you get the best grade possible or the lowest passing grade possible, you still get to be a lawyer.

There is no other magic formula.  It’s kind of like weight loss.  There are a lot of gimmicks, but at the end of the day if you want to lose weight it usually comes down to diet and exercise. If you want to pass the Bar in 1994 or 2020 or 2040, it’s a matter of putting in a lot of work so you are as prepared as possible.

We are straight talking, experienced Chicago attorneys who will talk to you for free. Call us any time at 312-346-5320 for a free consultation.

A very nice woman contacted me about a possible medical malpractice lawsuit.  She had a previous breast implant surgery and was now in a lot of pain due to scar tissue building up.  She told me that she believed the doctor would settle quickly because he had insurance and wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to his reputation.

I get similar calls for people who want to sue huge companies like Amazon, McDonalds, etc.  They will tell me that the company will settle because they are worth billions.

In the words of that famous commercial which I think is for car insurance, “That’s not how any of this works!”

Insurance companies and big corporations don’t just give money away.  Might they pay someone $1,500 to make a headache go away?  At times, sure.  But if you are looking for real money, you need the facts on your side.

When it comes to settling a medical malpractice lawsuit in Illinois, there are typically two things you need in your favor: 1. Provable negligence. 2. Major injuries.

When it comes to provable negligence, that’s not just showing that you were harmed by a doctor or they messed up, but also showing that their mistake was against the standard of care and caused you a harm that you wouldn’t have otherwise suffered.  By that I mean, if your doctor nicks your colon in a colonoscopy, that is a mistake, but it’s a risk of that procedure.  If they tell you on October 1 that you don’t have cancer, but you learn on October 10th that you have stage four cancer, it’s a screw up, but not one that will make a difference in your ultimate outcome. In other words, that ten day delay won’t change anything.

As for major injuries, let’s say you go to a hospital with chest pain and they send you home saying you are fine.  That night you have more pain and go to a different hospital where they discover an aneurysm that is about to burst. Emergency surgery saves your life.  That first hospital was negligent, but their error didn’t cause a major injury.  Even if you have a surgical error that causes you to miss three months of work, the value of that case isn’t much.  No matter the case, it costs a lot to bring a lawsuit because you have to pay for experts.  A lot of cases cost $100,000.00 or more to go to trial.  Insurance companies of course know this, so generally they don’t pay much for minor injuries because they know that no lawyer is going to spend 100k in hopes of recovering 150k for a client.

This doesn’t mean there are never five and low six figure malpractice settlements in Illinois.  What it does mean though is finding an attorney to take on a case like this can be challenging. When push comes to shove, doctors win more than 80% of cases that go to trial.  So most lawyers we know are very selective in the cases they take on.

Cases that do settle tend to be ones that have very big injuries.  Death, brain damage, permanent disability, etc.  Those aren’t guaranteed wins, but you have a better chance of getting an insurance company to offer money if they think you can also prove negligence.

I don’t write any of this to discourage you, but rather to be honest about how most cases seem to go.  Please call us any time for a free consultation to see if you have a case.  There is never a fee to pursue a claim unless a recovery is made for you.

Before I talk about workers’ compensation law and Coronavirus, I want to talk about work comp law and marijuana.  Long story short, if you get hurt at work and test positive for marijuana, it creates a “rebuttable presumption” that you were high when you got hurt and allows the insurance company to deny your case.  This is of course ridiculous as marijuana stays in your system for a while.  The good news is that you can through your testimony and/or witnesses show that you weren’t high when you got hurt and win your case.

Why do I bring this up?  Because with Coronavirus, this same philosophy has been made law, but in this case it’s for the benefit of workers in Illinois.

From March 9, 2020 through December 31, 2020 (and it may be extended if we don’t get out of this mess), if you get Covid and work in certain jobs, a law was put in to place that creates a “rebuttable presumption” that if you have Covid, you got it from work.

So if you are a healthcare worker or front line worker and get Covid, it’s presumed that you got it from work although the insurance company has a chance to argue otherwise.  That means 100% of your medical bills will be paid with no co-pays or out of pocket expenses.  This is huge as there have been many reports of people hospitalized with Coronavirus having bills in the six or seven figures.  It also means that you will get compensated for your time off of work which is great because it doesn’t put pressure on you financially to rush back to work when your doctor feels you should be at home.  And it also means  that you will be entitled to a settlement for how this will affect you in the future.

It’s obvious what healthcare workers are, but what is a front line worker?  That means law enforcement officers and anyone employed by a company that was deemed an essential business.  This includes people who work at grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, convenience stores, hardware stores, transportation providers, schools, restaurants and many other businesses.  The only exception is if you don’t come in to contact with the general public as part of your job.

The presumption that Covid came from work may be rebutted by evidence including that the employee was working from home or on leave for a period of 14 or more consecutive days immediately prior to getting diagnosed, showing that the employer was following current public health guidelines for two weeks prior to when the employee claims they contracted COVID-19 or that the employee was exposed to COVID-19 by an another source.

The bottom line is that if you have or had Covid, you should contact a lawyer to discuss whether or  not you have a workers’ compensation case.  Feel free to call us any time at 312-346-5320.