I got a call from a very angry woman whose husband had an Illinois workers’ compensation claim.  She was really pissed because he was taken off work by his doctor for a week and she discovered that under Illinois law, he will not get paid for the first three days he missed.  This is going to really hurt them financially as they live paycheck to paycheck.

She wanted to hire an attorney to have this law changed and was very mad when I told her it was not possible. In her mind, laws get changed in court all the time and the “right” lawyer could make this happen. I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain that this wasn’t realistic and even if it somehow was, no attorney would spend years in litigation to try and get them three days of pay.

I feel bad for her as she’s clearly frustrated.  The knowledge that her husband could get a settlement for his injury which would hopefully make up for some of the financial loss did not comfort her.  That said, a good lawyer doesn’t tell you what you want to hear or fill you with false hope. It’s our job to tell the truth and that’s what I did.

So how do you change the law in Illinois?

Obscure issues can get changed based on a Judge’s decision.  For example, Illinois workers’ compensation law on the settlement value of shoulder injuries has changed through the courts because it was not clearly defined in the law.  But when a law or rule is plainly laid out, a court can’t change it because they think it’s bad or should be something else.  Judges only make law when they are interpreting something that wasn’t obvious when the law was made or if it’s unconstitutional.

If you really want to change a law, the way to do it is through the legislature.  They propose and make laws that the Governor then signs off on.  It’s a marathon in most situations to make this happen, but it’s really the way it most commonly happens. It’s very rare that a court ruling drastically changes the way we function in society. When it does happen it’s usually in big cases like interpreting the equal protection clause to apply to same sex marriage.

Issues like work comp benefits or child support or time limits to file a lawsuit, etc. are almost always going to come from the legislature. So if you have an issue to bring, contact your state Senator or state Representative and discuss the issue with him or her.  They have the ability to propose laws and have them voted on.

I’d love to say that brilliant, aggressive attorneys are the exception to this rule, but it’s really just not true.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely giving you false hope.