Substitution of Attorneys and Dismissals of Attorney in California Workers’ Compensation: What You Need to Know

Why are there Attorneys in the Workers’ Compensation System?

California Workers’ Compensation Law is an Administrative Law. Parties in Civil Court matters have access to Jury Trials. In Workers’ Compensation Law, there are no juries. The Workers’ Compensation Administrative Law Judge (WCJ) is responsible for adjudicating the case. The WCJ will act as the finder of fact. Attorneys are allowed to participate in workers’ compensation proceedings to advocate on issues relating to establishing facts and the law with respect to a particular case.

Frequently, because of the complexity of California Workers’ Compensation Law, the parties employ attorneys. California Workers’ Compensation Law is so complicated that the California State Bar offers attorneys the opportunity to certify as a specialist within the field.

All parties involved in litigation before the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, Injured Workers, Insurance Companies, Claims Administrators, Employers and Lien Claimants, employ Attorneys to represent them.

Why Do Parties Change Attorneys?

Like all relationships, Attorney-Client relationships do not always work or cannot work. At that point, the Client and/or the Attorney may have to act to dissolve the relationship. Further, businesses have other reasons as to why they change attorneys.

Two of the most common reasons why there is a change of attorneys are as follows:

Availability of Attorney

An attorney’s availability is a basis for changing attorneys. The death of the attorney, the disbarment of the attorney, or that the fact that the attorney is no longer licensed to practice law are the common availability issues.

Breakdown in Relationship

The breakdown in the relationship is another reason why a client changes attorneys. These include breakdowns in communication between the Attorney and Client, the lack of communication between the Attorney and Client, the failure of the Attorney to perform duties requested the development of a conflict of interest between the Client and the Attorney.

Can an Injured Worker terminate their relationship with their current attorney?

Yes. An Injured Worker at any time can terminate their relationship with their attorney at any time. It does not cost additional money to do so. The change of attorney, however, may cause delay in their case. It also may or may not help in the prosecution of the case. Also, if an Injured Worker changes attorneys too many times, it may limit their ability to obtain additional counsel. Many attorneys do not wish to substitute in on cases in which there has been prior representation. New Attorney’s lack of interest in signing on is magnified when there have been multiple attorneys in the past. Again, changing attorneys is a serious matter. It should not be done on a whim. Prior to doing so, it is advised that there should be some attempt to repair the relationship, if possible.

What is a Dismissal of Attorney?

Essentially, there are two types of dismissals of attorney. The first Dismissal of Attorney is one in which the Client executes the Dismissal of attorney form. Once this form is filed at the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, the Client will then be considered “In Pro Per.” In other words, without representation. The Dismissal of Attorney is a form which needs to be signed by the party and filed at the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. It can be obtained at the WCAB website.

In some circumstances, an attorney will file to be relieved as counsel of record. This is akin to a dismissal of attorney. This can occur when the Client is uncooperative, there is a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship or there is non-payment of fees. The Attorney will petition to court to be relieved as counsel. It is up to the Workers’ Compensation Judge to issue the order relieving counsel. It is the WCJ’s discretion to issue the order.

What is a Substitution of Attorneys?

A Substitution of Attorneys is a procedure in which a party replaces their legal representative with a different one. A Substitution of Attorney occurs by preparing the Substitution of Attorney form and filing it as the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. The form is executed by the Client, the Former Attorney and the New Attorney.

Why Does an Insurance Company change attorneys?

Insurance Companies change attorneys for a number of reasons. First, there may be a change in Insurance Company Panels. Insurance Companies frequently employ only attorneys that have been hand selected for representation by the carrier or employer. Sometimes, Law Firms are dropped from the Insurance Company Panels. As a result, there may be a change in attorneys. The change, in those circumstances, may have nothing to do with the attorney’s handling of the matter. Also, sometimes there may be a financial dispute between the Insurance Company and Attorney and that may cause the basis for the change. Also, there may be a situation in which there is a change in the adjuster and the adjuster wishes to have another attorney handle the matter. Also, there may be some conflict concerning how the file was handled and the result of the conflict is that the carrier changes attorney.

Sometime, at the end of the case, after the legal matters have been handled, the Insurance Company will dismiss their attorney and handle the matter on their own. This is usually done with respect to the handling of liens or administering of the future medical care.

substition of attorney and dismissal of attorney in california workers comp

Why Do Employers change attorneys?

Employers have their own reasons for changing attorneys besides the reasons noted above. Some of the additional reasons for an Employer to change attorneys is when an Employer has a change in management. The other reason is that there may be a fee dispute with the current attorney. It could be either the Employer is not paying the attorney or the attorney has billed too much.

In sum, Is it a good idea to change attorneys?

It depends. Each case involves a special analysis concerning this issue. Consultation with an attorney is recommended prior to making the decision. Sometimes, it is possible that the attorney and client can work together to resolve the problems so that a change of attorney is not necessary. Other times, it is apparent that the replacement attorney has a better insight and plan as to how to successfully prosecute a claim. Particular issues may not have been addressed by the current attorney. Careful research and consideration should be done prior to making such a decision.

The Law Offices of Edward J. Singer

With more than 25 years of expertise in defending workers’ rights, the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, A Professional Law Corporation, is here to assist. If you have any workers’ compensation questions or issues, please do not hesitate to contact our offices.