A paralegal is an integral position at many law firms. This position requires education and training in many aspects of law. Many people see paralegals as secretaries to attorneys. Although that was common 30 years ago, today the paralegal acts as a vital role in the outcome of cases. It takes diligence and certainty to get through the day in a busy law firm. The personal injury paralegal works directly under the lawyer maintaining multiple calendars, balancing numerous cases as well as filing legal documents. The case manager works more with the insurance company, medical providers and the client through the treatment process and ultimately the closing of the case if the case settles before litigation.
One of the main focal points is working with a variety of clients. People from all walks of life come into law firms looking for assistance. Paralegals and case managers in the personal injury field must carry a strong mind, a firm shake and be prepared for anything.
The process of a personal injury claim can vary greatly depending on the type of accident or injury sustained. Most cases begin with the ‘intake’ of your information where you typically review the details of your claim with an intake specialist who gathers your information as well as the details of what happened to you when you were injured. The intake specialist will then work directly with the attorney in determining which paralegal or case manager should handle your file. The next step is to begin treatment- this is what a case manager will help you with. The case manager acts as a liaison between the lawyer, the medical providers and the clients. The case manager is your first point of contact in a personal injury law firm; they too work directly with the attorney.
Many times people do not have health insurance or they lack the cash to see a doctor or chiropractor. A case manager will assist the attorney in drafting a “Letter of Protection,” the LOP is a promise to the medical providers for payment once your case settles, the payment will come out of your final settlement. The next letter is a “Letter of Representation” this LOR is to notify your insurers and the defendant’s insurer that you are represented by an attorney and that all communication must go through the attorney’s office. Your assigned case manager will also request all medical records and your background history. It is imperative that you are honest with your case manager and attorney from the start as things in your past WILL surface. Insurance adjusters and defense attorneys have access to multitudes of databases that will give them a complete criminal and injury history back to your childhood. If you tell us we can deal with a checkered history; not telling us gives us no chance to prepare for this certain attack on your character.
The case manager will set you up with an appointment to meet with your attorney usually within the first month of getting your case started; this allows time for the case manager to gather all necessary records and compile a thorough case for the attorney to review. The case manager also orders your work/employment records if you have missed work due to the injury as well as requested compensation for your money and time travelling to treatment facilities. In the meantime you are recuperating and getting back to your life while your case manager is obtaining witness testimony, PIP information, documenting all correspondence in their case management computer system.
So, from the start of your case a lot has happened within a few months. The case manager should have all of your documents, treatments, diagnosis, statements, and appointments out of the way once you are done treating. Then, the real fun begins. The settlement demand is prepared and sent to the attorney for review. Now, it may seem like the attorney has been in the shadows this whole time, but in fact the attorney has communicated with the case manager daily about each case. The attorney reads the notes in the case management system, the attorney advises the case manager on which tactics to use, which questions to ask and what to steer away from. The attorney is the safety net, always available for the benefit of the client and the firm. Once the settlement demand is reviewed and edited by the attorney, it is then mailed to the insurance company. It is called a demand because the case manager is demanding the insurance company to not only acknowledge liability, but also compensate you for the injury.
Depending on the demand response from the insurance company the case manager will begin negotiating with them for a settlement. There are many factors involved in the settlement agreement such as how much insurance the defendant had, as well as how badly injured you are from the accident. If an agreement cannot be reached with the insurance company the attorney will meet with the client to discuss other options such as litigation to get you a proper recovery. Sometimes, but not often, the insurance company settles for the exact amount demanded. Most often the insurance company will dispute certain aspects of the claim, they simply don’t want to pay full amounts. Once the case settles then the case manager will begin negotiating liens, and costs with various agencies and medical providers. They begin by contacting the health care and treatment providers and request that they lower your cost of service; by doing this we are helping you receive more net money in your pocket. It is the attorney job to ensure that the most advantageous settlement is reached. Furthermore, if you have health insurance coverage through Medicare or Medicaid the case manager must follow a government mandated procedure in requesting negotiations and reductions. The case manager will prepare all health insurance disclosure documents, assist the attorney in negotiating all liens and obtain cost information from the law firm’s bookkeeper. The attorney will review the final closing documents and set an appointment for the client(s) to come in and sign the documents. Many times settlement checks must sit in the attorney’s trust account for a certain period of time before the funds can be dispersed. You will receive the balance of your settlement after the attorney’s fees, firm costs and medical providers are paid.
Once you receive your check you are good to go- but the work in the law office is not done on your case. The next step is for the case manager to close out your file by storing or shredding documents pertaining to your case. The file is approved for closure by the attorney; the law firm will give you any records you want to keep any records before destroying your file. The law firm is only required to maintain minimal records. Most of your file will either be given to you or destroyed. Any remaining portion of your file will only be stored for 7 years before it is completely destroyed.
What if you go to court, what is the paralegals job?
If you cannot reach settlement then the attorney will notify the litigation paralegal that a pre-suit case was not able to be settled and a lawsuit will need to be filed. The case manager will meet with the attorney and paralegal to review the details of your claims. The paralegal will then “take-over” your case and assist the attorney in filing a lawsuit by submitting a formal complaint to the court against the defendant and/or his/her insurance company. This procedure requires a lot of paperwork and timing. Once the complaint is filed, the paralegal will begin working on your discovery with the attorney which includes: Interrogatory questions to the opposing party. Document production form the opposing party and testimony under oath of all the key witnesses in the case. The paralegal will also respond to interrogatories and Request to Produce from the defendant. These documents can be basic information such as driver’s license, insurance information, medical records and bills. As the case moves along the paralegals for each attorney will coordinate and schedule a depositions. The paralegal must work with 2 or more attorney calendars as well as the court’s availability to get these scheduled. A deposition is an out-of-court sworn testimony. Many times it is reduced to writing, i.e. deposition transcript, so that it can be used n court. Once the depositions are scheduled then your attorney will meet with you once or twice to review the procedure as well as your expectations.
Next, the paralegal will coordinate a mediation with opposing counsel and the mediator. This process is designed to give all parties involved the best chance at resolving the case prior to trial and potentially saving the expense of taking a case though a week long jury trial. A court mediator is a lawyer who uses unbiased tactics to mediate between parties. The objective is to reach settlement. If they do not reach settlement during mediation then the parties get ready for the long haul. So far, all of this can take two years.
If the case does not settle, the judge will set a trial week. At trial your attorney presents your side of the case in-front of a jury. Trials are risky. You do not know who will end up on your jury nor can you predict the outcome of the trial. You could end up with more money that you were asking or you could end up with $0. Additionally, you may owe or be owed court fees, attorney fees. The whole process is staged by the paralegal, they are the backbone of your case. They work hand in hand with the attorney to prepare all aspects of the case; they line of witnesses to testify, issue subpoenas, coordinate medical professional testimony, prepare exhibits for trial and work hand in hand with the attorney on nights and weekends before and during the trial. As you can see case managers deal with the initial intake and management of the case through the pre-litigation process, while the paralegal takes over and handles the file once litigation has been filed. The attorney is in constant communication about your case with the paralegal and the case manager ensuring that no detail is left untouched.
Whew! As you can see, it takes a special type of person to be passionate in the personal injury paralegal field. The process in handling a personal injury claim whether it is from a vehicle accident or a slip and fall is very detailed. Some cases are opened and closed within a matter of several months, while others drag out in a slow battle for years. The circumstances of your case outcome are dependent on the amount evidence that is available as well as the tenacity of the law group you hire. Quick minded, detailed oriented, thorough people are the best kind of folks to be handling your case. Willing to help you, happy to meet you and always available is what we at Brooks Law Group strive to be. Give us a call when you are ready to discuss your options.