This post continues my series of tips, or things to consider, for workers with unpaid wages.
Tip #6 is this: When Finding a Wage Attorney, Think National, Ask the Important Questions Upfront, and Other Things to Consider.
Here’s an (obvious) disclosure upfront: I am a wage attorney, so it benefits me to talk to workers about the best ways to find a wage attorney.
So, while you should consider the source, so to speak, you should also consider the logic of what I’m about to say, to see if it makes sense and is worth taking into consideration.
The Search for a Wage Attorney: Think National
First, when you search for an attorney to assist with unpaid wage issues, think national. Don’t box yourself in by sticking to attorneys who are literally in your neighborhood, or who are referred to you via a limited method (e.g. on a list of pre-paid service attorneys).
The most important issue in your search for an attorney– regardless whether the attorney is local, in your State, or outside your State– is that the attorney has experience and achieves good results in the exact type of matter you are dealing with.
For example, there are several wage issues that I deal with routinely, and that I represent persons across the US for those claims. There are other occasions where I partner with other law firms– often, law firms in different States– so their areas of work and expertise can join and complement mine to provide full representation. And on other occasions, a worker will call me, I’ll hear what is going on, and I will find the particular issues can only be handled by other attorneys with practice expertise I do not have. In those instances, I give the worker recommendations as to where to find the best attorney.
The key is that you start with an attorney who you regard as knowledgeable with the wage issues you’re encountering, and who you trust. If that attorney values solving your problem over all else– then the attorney will guide you to the right hands, whether it’s the attorney’s own hands and/or the hands of other attorneys who are experienced in the matters at issue.
When it comes to wage issues, it is often the case that the attorney down the block is willing to take your wage case, but is not experienced with your type of case. A general-practice attorney– especially one who practices multiple areas outside of employment law, and who does not focus practice on individual- or plaintiff- side matters– will not have (and logistically could never have) specialized experience in employee-side wage issues.
In sum, when you look for a wage attorney, do not start with the issue of location. Start with the issues of competency and trust. If you find a wage attorney who knows what she is talking about, and who you trust, you can ask that person whether she knows of an attorney who is local, if location is a more important consideration. Chances are that that attorney can much better guide you into the best hands than could the Yellow Pages for instance.
There are certain types of wage claims where I tell a worker that they can only use an attorney licensed in that worker’s State, given the particular issue. So location can be a very important factor. However, it is not the first factor to consider. Again, start with the issues of competency and trust.
When You Initially Talk to a Wage Attorney, Ask the Important (and Tough) Questions Upfront
If you are talking to an attorney for the first time about your unpaid wages, chances are, you are very interested in knowing things like this: (1) will you work on contingency, and how much in fees can I expect to pay? (2) do you have experience with my type of matter? (3) what type of results do your wage clients usually get?
I am surprised with how few workers ask me these questions upfront. I suspect because they are tough to ask. Maybe you feel self-conscious to ask an attorney because you’re thinking of concerns like this— “Will this attorney feel like I’m questioning his honesty and competency?”
If you ask these questions (and other pointed questions on issues that are most important to you), you will get important information that you’ll need in order to feel comfortable and confident in the attorney.
If the attorney does not answer the questions squarely, and in a way you find satisfactory, then move on to an attorney who can.
Mistakes that Can Result from Failure to Find a Competent Wage Attorney
I run into many workers who contact me after something bad happened, and that wouldn’t have happened, had that person spoken to a competent wage attorney beforehand. Here are common mistakes I see when a worker does not promptly speak to a competent attorney about underpaid wage issues:
- Problems of Misevaluation/Oversight: The worker (and/or an attorney he used that was inexperienced in wage matters) overlooked legal claims that could have benefited the worker, and focused on narrow or worse legal claims, or missed all legal claims altogether.
- Missed Deadlines: All too often, a worker contacts me after the deadline(s) (statutes of limitations) for her best legal claims have passed.
- Mistake in Strategy: Sometimes, workers will come to me after they or their attorney has undertaken a strategy– e.g. contacted an employer in a different manner or made a type of complaint that a competent wage attorney would not have recommended– and they are in a worse position for having taken those strategic actions.
- Overcharged Fees: Sometimes, workers pay thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket legal fees and/or costs before they realize they are not getting results in trying to get unpaid wages. Most of my own wage cases involve contingency (pay-only-if-you-win or settle) representation. If an attorney charges out of pocket legal fees, that is perfectly permissible. But the attorney should be clear about what you can expect to pay, and what type of result is likely in return for that payment.
Problems like this can be avoided if you consider the tips and information above in your search for a wage attorney.
I hope this information is helpful if you are looking for an unpaid wage attorney.