I don’t know about you, but there have been many times when I have found myself in over my head. In some instances, I was there before I even knew it.
I suspect the same is true for many of us, and the law is no exception. I have always thought that, unlike, say, medicine or rocket science, most of us think we can figure out the law, with or without the need of a law degree.
After all, it’s just arguing about common sense isn’t it? And who doesn’t argue every day in their own life? And who doesn’t have common sense?
The older I get, the more I come to realize that “common” sense isn’t so common. This season’s presidential politics prove nothing if not that, what many people see as undeniable fact, others just as vehemently deny.
Workers’ compensation is no different. Workers’ compensation started out as social reform legislation early in the last century, crossing the Atlantic from Germany and sweeping the country state by state as an effort to make work-related injury cases faster, easier and simpler to solve (and, not incidentally, to cut lawyers out of the process, another “undeniable fact” according to some).
It was based on principles of what was thought to be common sense at the time: give the injured worker the treatment and wage replacement income he needed, and the permanent disability compensation s/he deserved, based on what all the stakeholders in the system had predetermined was fair.
By the time I began researching and writing my book in 1993, it became clear to me that what was one person’s common sense was another person’s loophole. 476 pages later, and every year since has only reinforced this belief.
Who is an employee? Who is an employer? What does it mean to be “at work” or “working”? These are maybe the four easiest, but also the most important examples of questions that attorneys have fought over for nearly a century in Missouri.
And this is true, I think, in all the areas of the law, from Adoption to Zoning (see what I did there – “A” to “Z”). Workers’ Compensation is almost, but not all, of what I do, and whether it’s wills and estate planning, business formation and contracts, traffic tickets or what I like to call “kids doing stupid stuff”, I often see people who think that they can do it themselves, whether it’s talking to the prosecutor about their ticket or the insurance company about their personal injury claim, downloading a form from an internet website, or applying for social security disability on their own. In my experience, more often than not, it winds up biting them in their butt.
So, do yourself a favor. When you’re in a legal situation, pause, step back, and look around. Are you in over your head? Don’t be “penny wise and pound foolish”. Before you “throw good money after bad”, call the lawyer sooner, rather than later, and save yourself some time, trouble and, perhaps, money.