Dangers of Bad Message-Board Advice to “Go File a Legal Complaint With ______”

Internet message boards about legal issues can be helpful for (1) general educational information; (2) looking for attorneys who seem to know what they’re talking about, so you can contact one; and (3) familiarizing yourself with issues that you could raise with an attorney when discussing potential legal rights. But message boards are usually terrible places to get ADVICE to ACT upon.

One common example of terrible message-board “advice”: the adviser who reads your question and replies you should “Go file a legal complaint with [name of govt. agency, etc.].”  Often, such advice comes from non-attorneys.  Sometimes, even attorneys will make this horrific and flip message-board statement to “Go file a complaint…”: when an attorney does this, it’s almost always someone who doesn’t practice in the area of law they are talking about.

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Wisconsin Bar Article References this Blog, Author

The Wisconsin Bar posted an article about legal blogging, and the article referenced this blog and me (Michael Brown, the attorney-author).  While the article’s audience is attorneys, it is good for you blog readers– non-attorneys and attorneys alike– to consider the purposes of legal blogs like this one.

Attorney-authors such as myself are motivated to blog, at least in part, to market ourselves and gain clients.  That’s the “selfish” motive I’m quoted about in the article.  I also speak about an unselfish motive: trying to help people who are unlikely to ever become clients.  Many issues I write about are for purposes of general information, and are not geared to any particular situation where a reader would be inclined to contact me or sign me up as an attorney.  Examples of this include recent articles about how a good case is like a three-legged stool, and about a study of employment discrimination settlement values.  These type of general eduction articles are not going to cause people to rush and sign me up, and that’s not the intent. There are some things that I just think are helpful to know, so I throw it out there, hoping it’s of some use, somewhere.

And of course, I write about situations where I am hoping people DO contact me with client inquiries.

In those situations, I do my best to approach client matters as win-win scenarios.  If I’m retained on contingency basis, I am paid when my client is paid more (win-win).  If another client pays me an out-of-pocket fee, I want that client to wind up with a greater financial outcome than what’s paid.  My clients are usually successful in those regards.  So hopefully, the “selfish” marketing aspect of blogging is bettered by the fact that win-win representation is the goal.

Which brings to mind a few parting thoughts.  You should always consider– and ask a potential attorney before hiring him or her, if you don’t know the answers–  these questions: (1) What does the attorney stand to gain from my matter? (2) what do I stand to gain with the attorney’s assistance?  The answers should be favorable for you as a potential client.

A final note about legal blogging– what you read is NOT legal advice! Can’t say that enough.  Blogs can be helpful in that they provide general educational information, and may make you consider issues you have not considered before.  But to get legal advice for YOUR situation and details, you would of course need to individually consult with an attorney.  And no, it does not need to be me, and of course it’s your decision in the first instance whether a given issue is important enough to you to discuss with any attorney, or to read any blog posts about.

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A Good “Case” Is Like a Stool: It Has These Three Legs

Workers often contact me, wanting to know if they have a good employment-law “case”.  Every situation is different, and this blog post can’t say if you have a good potential case.  However, there are some general factors that are usually present with good employment cases.

A very good attorney I know, Avi Berk, told me a good analogy for what makes a good case.

A good case, Avi said, is like a stool.  A stool has to have three legs. If even one of the legs is missing, the stool falls over and there is no case (regardless how strong the other two legs may be).

Here are the three stool-legs that support good employment law claims.

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You Seek an Employment-Law Answer: But Are You Asking the Wrong Question?

If you lost your job or were presented with a severance agreement, your mind may be riddled with employment-law related questions.

An example of a very common question: How do I request my personnel file?

What if I told you that most of the time workers ask themselves this question, it is the wrong question to be asking? That is,workers seeking an answer to this question– or seeking an employee file– are often taking the wrong steps and more often than not won’t help themselves.

There are several factors that often make requesting a personnel file a bad or unhelpful endeavor.

First, a personnel file is usually not useful for any personal or career purpose after a job has ended.

The file may be helpful if the employee later pursues a dispute or legal claim. But employers know this as well.  So employers often interpret a personnel file request as a signal the requesting employees want to sue the employers. Is this a message that you want to send? That you want to send now? If you just lost your job and have yet to receive unemployment benefits, you may not want to rile up the employer when they are in a position to contest unemployment. And if you are in fact planning legal action, you may not want to signal that to the employer at an early stage. An attorney may advise you to wait and request personnel documents later, perhaps during litigation, so the employer is not tipped off.

These issues and others rarely occur to fired workers seeking answers about personnel file requests.  But such issues are, in fact, usually more important than the common question about how to request a personnel file. (Incidentally, the answer is here).

The personnel-file request question is just one of many common questions workers ask that are often wrong questions to ask.

Before you get dead-set on pursuing a particular legal question or course of action, consider the possibility you may be asking the wrong question or going down the wrong path. Consider researching more legal information or speaking with an attorney if the issue is important or valuable enough to ensure you’re on the right path.

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Severance Negotiations? Consider the Value of an Attorney’s Letterhead

Have you been presented with a severance offer? If so, you may be planning to try to negotiate a better severance. And you may be wondering if you should mention, as leverage, potential legal rights.  After all, perhaps you found some strong potential legal claims via Google searches, via reviewing government websites, etc.

The question: So why not mention those legal rights to the employer, and use them to negotiate?

One answer: Because most legal rights that “look” correct to a given employee are in fact incorrect. (Most employees, especially smart ones, badly misdiagnose their own potential legal rights).

Another answer: Unless you have an attorney, the employer is unlikely to take your legal posturing seriously.

You are probably not experienced with lawsuits or litigation. Employers are often experienced litigants. For those that are not, they usually communicate with someone who is, i.e. a corporate employment attorney, before they present a severance offer.  So, chances are, your employer is legally- prepared. Informed.

And when an employer in that position hears an employee talking about legal rights (especially misdiagnosed legal rights), they figure the employee is blowing smoke. If the employee is serious about doing something about their rights, then he or she would have hired an attorney.

If you plan to negotiate a severance agreement, consider the value of an attorney’s letterhead.  That letterhead alone signifies you are approaching the negotiation professionally, and seriously.  When an employer sees an attorney’s letterhead and name, they take matters more seriously. Most will quickly do internet research of the attorney and his or her website.  In my case, a employer reviewing my website would see example cases I have handled in court and other legal forums, and would see I have enforced the legal rights I am talking about during severance negotiations. It’s not just theory. It’s not blowing smoke.

We lawyers obviously have more going for us than our letterhead and websites. But those things reflect some real qualities that an employee (negotiating alone) simply does not have. Legal experience. Knowledge. Credibility.

So if you plan to negotiate your severance based on perceived legal leverage, consider getting an attorney.
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Think a Lawyer Can’t Help You? How Do You Know?

Most people who in reality need legal help don’t realize they need legal help, according to an American Bar Association attorney in this video.

Only 8% of persons with a viable potential legal problem seek an attorney’s help. This means 92% of people who can use legal help don’t seek it. Wow.

In this blog, I try to inform workers of many employment-law issues and practical issues they have not otherwise considered.  But a blog can only do so much. A legal blog can address general matters, but not your matter. Only by talking with an attorney can people get reliable legal evaluations and advice for their particular matters.

Far more often than not, when someone actually takes the step of contacting me and discussing their legal issues, they learn that important assumptions they made were wrong.

Many people had a good potential legal case and had assumed they didn’t before talking it through with me. Vice versa is true for some others, who wrongly overestimated their legal rights and sometimes made harmful job decisions based on those wrong assumptions.  People who talked to me before acting on their assumptions were usually grateful they did so.

If you lost a job or income– or if it looks likely you could — that’s an important and valuable issue.  It’s worth enough to step outside your own assumptions and to consider options. Don’t assume an attorney can’t help you before you actually talk to an attorney. Especially if the attorney is affordable or gives free evaluations, which many of us do.

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Mean and Median Settlement Values of Employment Discrimination Cases

According to a study of employment discrimination settlements that occurred in 1,170 cases settled by federal magistrate judges in Chicago over a six-year period ending in 2005, “The mean settlement amount is $54,651 … and the median is $30,000.”  These numbers applied for single-employee litigants, as opposed to class-action figures, which are higher.

Perhaps the numbers above differ from your assumptions.  What should these values mean to you, if you are an employee who is considering, or has taken, legal action against an employer?   One thing they do not mean is that the numbers provide a value for your matter.  Before assuming the value of your case, you should consider many factors.  Such as:

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