by Kenneth A. David, Esq.
No, the point of this question is not to drum up more business. However, there are a couple of considerations here to both protect your company and to get the best result. If a claimant requests a hearing, you should retain a lawyer. Board Rule 102(B)2 requires you to hire a lawyer within 21 days of the date of the hearing notice. Usually that notice is issued within 48 hours of the hearing request. You could decide to represent yourself and notify the judge of your decision. Legally, there is a debate over whether legal representation is required for a corporation and whether an officer or employee can represent the company. However, from a practical standpoint, there are complexities involved in even the most basic hearing. More importantly, what do you think about the strength of a claim when a claimant decides to represent himself? A judge might not automatically conclude an employer’s case is weak because there is no lawyer; it is even possible, you might argue, that no lawyer is necessary because your case is so strong. However, the reality is that judges are likely to be tougher on an employer with no lawyer. It may not be right, but it is the reality.
A more interesting question is when should you retain a lawyer when there is no litigation? There is no right answer to this question, but with all biases aside here, if you expect a claim will go into litigation, getting a lawyer involved early is usually best so you can potentially avoid litigation or be fully prepared and not “playing from behind.” Another reality is that many claimants’ attorneys would rather deal with a lawyer than an adjuster because they think that will get an issue or a claim resolved sooner. That is not always true and certainly lawyer involvement can increase expenses. Ultimately, look at whether lawyer involvement will actually decrease overall expenses in the claim. It is possibly analogous to the idea of bringing in a pain management physician early in a claim. You might be able to cut to the chase much quicker and resolve the issues. Or you might increase the level of pain!