Lawyers and Time Loss Money
Workers compensation lawyers in Washington State receive and deliver clients’ time loss money and other money benefits on a regular basis.
There are two main reasons this money goes through the lawyers office:
- L&I only allows one mailing address per claim. Lawyers who are doing their job will insist on receiving directly from L&I all mail. This includes orders, checks, and other correspondence. The mail is sent to the law office so they can review the claim information and then send it on to their clients. That process allows the attorney to see all important information and to act quickly to protect client rights.
- The lawyer often needs to deposit the check in their trust account so from it they can make disbursements such as case costs and agreed upon attorney fees.
Lawyers are required to handle client funds honestly. There are bar association rules for lawyers. These rules require lawyers to use trust accounts, report to the client in writing how funds are distributed, and promptly deliver the clients’ money to them.
The Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) 1.15 A&B set out the precise rules for how lawyers must safeguard clients property.
The rules apply to the receipt and distribution of time loss money by lawyers. In particular:
- A lawyer must deposit clients funds into a trust account. RPC 1.15A (c)(1).
- A lawyer must promptly pay the client the money which belongs to the client RPC 1.15A (f)
- A lawyer must not pay funds from the trust account until the funds have cleared the banking process and have been collected. RPC 1.15A (h)(7)
Workers Compensation Law Offices Use Legal Assistants
Workers compensation for lawyers is litigation heavy. This means the lawyer is busy with trial oriented work that only the lawyer can do. The result is that the efficient lawyer will use paralegals and legal assistants in workers compensation to help them get things done. The paralegals job is to handle regular office affairs, so the attorney has time to work on case preparation and litigation. Paralegals will keep the attorney from being constantly interrupted by client concerns the paralegal can adequately handle. It’s their job to shield the attorney, but not totally block access. Paralegals are important people. They need to get the job done. They need to both know what is going on in your case and they need to communicate clearly and honestly.
Almost all paralegals work hard and effectively for the clients. There are some exceptions. It’s the lawyer’s duty to supervise his or her paralegals. Almost all lawyers do a good job of that, others not so much.
Time Loss Checks Are Sometimes Late
You are probably reading this because you have had problems with your time loss checks. There is no way I know what your concerns are, nor can I advise you what to do. You need to talk to your lawyer about your time loss concerns. I will mention how the time loss process works, some common problems, and some possible solutions.
PROBLEM #1: L&I or the self-insured didn’t send it to the law office, or if they did send they didn’t send it on time.
- The law requires time loss payments be made on time. They are to be paid at regular semi-monthly or biweekly intervals to ensure speedy financial relief during the worker’s disability. In order to be eligible for continuing time-loss compensation, the injured worker must be receiving regular curative treatment. The attending medical provider must certify that the worker’s ongoing inability to work is the result of the accepted medical condition(s).
- There are legal reasons why a check may be late or absent. Legal concerns include lack of medical certification by the doctor, a valid job offer made by the employer, and medical questions regarding unrelated conditions or pre-existing conditions. These are valid reasons why a check would be late. These legal concerns need to be handled. Talk to the lawyer or paralegal, figure out what needs to be done and who needs to do what. Help them make it happen.
- Administrative concerns of L&I or the Self Insured including, just didn’t get it done. Maybe there is not enough personnel, maybe they are too busy or maybe somebody is sick, or on vacation. These and similiar excuses are not good enough. L&I and the self-insured have rules which govern their payment of time loss. Your law office needs to make them follow the rules. Every slow claims manager has a supervisor. Every supervisor has a supervisor. Make them aware. Those checks need to arrive on time.
PROBLEM #2: The law office didn’t send it to you on time.
- The lawyer needs to fix this problem. The law office needs to process and send you your check promptly RPC 1.15 A (f).
Details about how time loss checks arrive in the lawyer’s office.
Checks are sent to the law office from L&I of the self-insured in two ways. They are either paper checks or ACH bank to bank transfers.
The law office then passes the check onto the client, or deposits the money into the trust account, deducts fees and costs if any, then writes and sends a check to the client, either on paper or as an ACH transfer.
These client checks should be sent or made available to the client promptly. In most circumstances clients hope promptly means to be sent out or available for pickup the same day they arrive in the law office. Sadly there is no rule or case law defining what promptly means in this circumstance. Let your lawyer know what you need. Ask your lawyer for his definition of promptly. Ask that this become part of the fee agreement if necessary.
Law firms need to use clear communication The law is full of legal terms and technical jargon, and using the correct words is important to lawyers. However if you don’t understand what is being said, then ask for an explanation in non technical terms. If you still can’t understand, ask for the explanation in writing.
Clear communication means different things to different people. If English is your second language or if you have a hard time processing information, you still deserve an explanation that you can understand. If you don’t understand you need to say so.
Speech is sometimes laced with vague language. For example, the check didn’t arrive because of “administrative problems”. That is vague. Ask questions and find out what that means, and who is going to do what about it.
Why won’t my attorney or paralegal call me back?
I can’t speak for them, but they have their reasons. I will say this:
- Often they won’t call you because of the amount of time it takes to connect, listen, empathize, chat, and answer.
- Sometimes it is best to put your questions into an e-mail. This can save a lot of time and it cuts to the chase.
- An email makes it easier for you stick to the substance of the issue, and then allows them to answer once and be done. Try it – it might work.
You should be getting reliable and honest information from your law office.
If you don’t believe the things which are being said about your time loss check, this is a serious matter. Lawyers and their staff are required to tell the truth. Most of them tell the truth all the time.
Give your law office the benefit of the doubt, and assume their communications are truthful. However if you suspect you’re not getting a straight story and the same problems keep coming up again and again, then check out what is being said by getting additional information.
- You can find out if and when checks were sent to the law office by looking at your online file if you have a state fund case.
- You can find out if and when the check was received by the lawyer by viewing the date received stamp on your payment order.
- You can find out when the lawyer deposited the money in the trust account and what he did with it by asking t lawyer for an accounting of how and when your funds were handled.
If you are certain your law office is not honest do something about it. Confront the lawyer. If you can’t get to him a certified letter will get his attention. You can always fire the lawyer if that seems appropriate. You can contact the bar association if necessary. Dishonest lawyers should find a new line of work.
Lawyers and their offices should be helpful when you have a time loss concern. Clients need their money and they need it promptly. Lawyers should not be casual about the handling of clients’ money. Getting time loss money into and out of the law office is often the most important thing a lawyer can do for a client. If there is a regular problem, be sure your lawyer understands your concerns. You are a lawyer’s client and not their customer.
Don’t Call Us About Problems with Your Lawyer
We wrote this article for your information. We hope the information will help you. We are not in the business of telling your lawyer how to handle your case. If you have problem with your lawyer or law office, talk to them. Do not call us about your lawyer.
If you can’t take it anymore, you always have a right to fire your lawyer.