Random Thoughts

Tips for Being a Client that Helps Your Own Case

For most people, being involved in a lawsuit, workers’ compensation claim or a Social Security Disability claim, can be confusing, frustrating, and at times, scary. The world of law is uncomplicated for us because it is what we do. However, we realize that just like doctors don’t always explain the terms they use to their patients, we may not always explain things about the process as well as we should. Whether you are a plaintiff or a defendant in a lawsuit, or a claimant seeking benefits, there are some things you can do to ease the process and make it go more smoothly and comfortably.

  1. Ask Questions. If we are using terms you do not understand, or you don’t know why things are happening, ask. We are always happy to explain things in a way that our clients can understand. It is your case, and you need to be at ease with the process. You have an absolute right to be kept informed about what is going on.
  2. Respond to Your Lawyer. Understandably, clients are not happy when lawyers don’t return their calls. Lawyers and paralegals feel the same way. When we contact you, whether it is by phone, email, or letter, it is usually because we need information to proceed with your case. Try your best to respond promptly and return any documents we need filled out or signed. Not being responsive can hurt your case.
  3. Be Patient. Litigation takes time. How long this process takes is hard to say. Often, a case will settle without going to court, but in most cases, this won’t happen before discovery (the formal exchange of information and testimony) is completed. Knowing going into the process that it likely will take many months to a few years to resolve your case can help reduce frustration. Also, if time goes by and you don’t hear from your lawyer for a while, don’t assume that he or she isn’t thinking about your case or working hard on your behalf. A lot goes on behind the scenes that doesn’t require client input. But always, if you truly want an update, feel free to reach out. Again, it is your case and you need to be ok with the process.
  4. Be Honest. A lawyer can only do a good job if he or she is provided all relevant information. Don’t hide anything even if you think it could damage your case. It is part of a lawyer’s job to come up with ways to lessen the negative impact of damaging information. Having your lawyer get blindsided with unknown information that the other side discovers makes the job that much harder and could damage your case.
  5. Seek Medical Treatment. If you feel you need medical treatment for any injuries you sustain in a personal injury accident or a workers’ compensation claim, see your doctors. And if your treating physicians recommend follow-up, attend your appointments. Without regularly treating for your injuries, it is hard to prove that you are in fact injured.
  6. Avoid the Blame Game. It is easy to blame your lawyer if your case isn’t going well. Sometimes it is a lawyer’s fault, but some problems stem from action (or non-action) by a client. Some obstacles are the fault of defense counsel, or even no one. Delays happen, deadlines are extended as professional courtesy among lawyers, and at times, lawyers are at the mercy of the courts. Also, some cases are stronger than others. If your lawyer gives you bad news about your likelihood of success or the amount of expected financial recovery, he or she is likely just trying to be honest with you so you can be prepared.

Being a good client is important, but so is being a good lawyer. Here at the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC, we advocate strongly for our clients, aim to keep you in the loop and make sure you understand what is happening, and we promise to always be honest about your case, good or bad. As stated above, it is your case. You need to feel in control and happy with the outcome. If at any stage you don’t, we want to know. We are here to help you.

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A Message to Insurance Companies, Self-Insureds and Others: Some of Your Lawyers Aren’t Always On Your Side

Imagine that one of the law firms that you hire to defend you and your insureds wants you to pay more, a lot more. It’s true.

One law firm proudly states that it defends employers, self-insureds, and [insurance] carriers in matters involving workers’ compensation, auto claims, slips and falls, and many other types of personal injury lawsuits.

But whose side are they really on? After all, this law firm wants to void and eliminate all medical fees schedules based on Medicare and other non-Pennsylvania guidelines, thus increasing the amount that its clients would have to pay for medical care, and even for future medical care in some cases.

You don’t have to imagine it. It’s true.

This Pennsylvania-based insurance defense firm is arguing in a case in the Commonwealth appeals Court that every fee schedule based on an outside formula is unconstitutional. This means that according to a law firm that exclusively represents insurance companies, employers and self-insureds, the fee schedules that they use to determine how much to:

  • Pay for medical bills
  • Pay for hospital bills
  • Pay for medical tests
  • Pay for diagnostic tests
  • Pay for medical equipment
  • Pay for pharmaceuticals, and
  • Pay for every other type of medical care

would be void (in other words – all of these fee schedules would be eliminated) if they were based on a Medicare fee schedule, the Red Book for medications/pharmaceuticals, and any other guidelines that the Pennsylvania legislature did not create.

That’s right, every doctor, every hospital, and every type of medical provider could charge and would be entitled to be paid whatever amount it asked for based on this logic. I am certain that insurance companies would be thrilled to know that their lawyers are taking a position that would cost them millions, all because they don’t like how a small group of pharmacies is compensated under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act for dispensing medication to help injured workers deal with pain without exposing them to cheap, addictive opioids.

Here is what the firm wrote in their Commonwealth Court brief:

It was unconstitutional for the legislature to delegate the law on pricing of pharmaceuticals to a private company without providing that company with any policy direction, limits, or guidance, and with the ability of that private company to change the rules at rates at its whim, in secrecy, and without legislative review.

Analogously, this also means that it is unconstitutional for the legislature to delegate the law on pricing of medications and other care to Medicare without providing any policy direction, limits, or guidance, and with the ability of Medicare to change rates at its whim, in secrecy, and without legislative review.

Our office does not and never will represent insurance companies, we represent injured workers, victims of auto accidents, slips and falls and other negligence. We also recognize that fee schedules are necessary, and that they are best when derived from reputable sources like Medicare and the Red Book. Otherwise, the cost of medical care would have no boundaries.

Imagine that.

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Hamlet & Lawyer Advertising

Ah Hamlet, the famous line, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” came to mind last in the context of lawyers, lawyer advertising, and the Rules of Ethics. As many people know, the majority of our firm’s clients are lawyers and law firms, who trust us to provide ethical guidance, as well as representation before the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. I also write and lecture about ethics for various publications legal. One of my most recent ethics columns, in The Philadelphia Lawyer, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s award-winning magazine, discussed changes to the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct relating to attorney advertising. My opinion was that because no attorney has ever been disciplined for violating the advertising rules, changing them (and making them far weaker in my opinion) would be a meaningless gesture.

Click here to read my column. You can come to your own conclusion.

One lawyer read the column and accused me of  “using a professional periodical to serve [my] own agenda. It also seems like an attempt to at best criticize our Firm/your competitors, and at worst defame them for being unethical and violating the rules of professional responsibility.”

My agenda, as I responded, is “that we should have Rules that are enforced, enforceable, and complied with.” Lots of Rules apply to lawyers; in fact everything we do involves Rules. Yet it remains my belief that the advertising Rules aren’t enforced. As my column noted, “Examination of the published disciplinary decisions on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court website confirms the absence of any public discipline for advertising rules violations.” In other words, no lawyers have ever been publicly disciplined for violating the Pennsylvania advertising Rules.

I then asked a few people if they thought my article was directed at any firm, any practice area, or any identifiable group other than lawyers whose advertisements appear to be contrary to the Rules. They thought my column was law firm neutral, and merely highlighted the opinion I have espoused for years. 

Thus, as one person noted, the lawyer doth protest too much.  

Oh, and ironically, one law firm I represent, for which I provide guidance about advertising content, including TV and radio, called for advice shortly after I heard from the other lawyer. They weren’t offended by my column.

I guess, again referring to Hamlet, it depends on whose petard is being hoisted.

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Influencers of the Law – They Aren’t All in Large Firms

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer has an entire section devoted to advertising for, oops, I meant highlighting the achievements of large law firms. Called “Influencers of the Law,” the section focuses on the accomplishments of many large law firms in the Philadelphia area. It also includes (not inexpensive) advertisements for 15 of the firms whose attorneys are featured in the section.

But there was something missing, a big something.

That something was a list of attorneys who practice in solo and small firms whose efforts on behalf of their clients are as admirable and worthy of recognition as the attorneys the Inquirer chose to feature. I could name a dozen such attorneys off the top of my head, whose omission is inexplicable. Because it’s not just the large firms who cases influence the law.

Consider our two-attorney firm. In the past year, for example, we were counsel in two landmark Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases – Protz and Bristol – both of which will have a dramatic impact on future claims for countless injured workers and persons injured in auto accidents. In addition, we are counsel in three pending Supreme Court cases – which are likely to have a similar impact. But like our counterparts in other small injured victim-focused firms, the Inquirer chose to ignore us. Click here to view a summary of some of our cases that changed the law.

Protz, for example, has been called the most important Pennsylvania workers’ compensation case since 1983. In the case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act’s impairment rating examination violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. By declaring this provision unconstitutional, the Supreme Court invalidated the arbitrary 500-week limit on wage losses that reduced the rights of the overwhelming majority of injured workers.

In Bristol, the Pennsylvania Supreme extended the deadline (statute of limitations) for filing claims by underinsured motorists. Before this decision, the deadline for filing these claims was dramatically and arbitrarily limited. This is a game-changing case and one where lawyers have commented how Attorney Dan Siegel’s oral argument made a difference.  Click here to view Dan Siegel’s oral argument before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

So when you need an attorney, remember that small firms are just as impactful as large firms, but we typically have lower fees, are client-focused (after all, some large firms are paying newly-minted lawyers fresh out of law school $190,000 a year, when they have never handled a case as a licensed attorney – who do you think pays for these lawyers’ on-the-job education?), and our lawyers have been there and done that.

I remember years ago learning about one now-retired lawyer, Steve Feldman, who was a solo his entire career. What did I discover? That Steven was involved in virtually every major case that addressed the rights of injured persons – and he was a solo. Lawyers practice as solos and in small firms for many reasons, just as do lawyers in massive corporate firms. It’s not the size of the firm that matters, it’s the lawyer handling the case. In that vien, the Inquirer’s “Influencers of the Law” missed the mark.

 

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Underdogs – The Philadelphia Eagles Theme Resonates for This Lawyer

By now, everyone has heard about the Philadelphia Eagles and their rise to football supremacy as underdogs – the team that no one respected. On Sunday, we’ll see if the Eagles prove just how underrated and disrespected they were by winning the ultimate NFL prize, the Super Bowl.

Many people have expressed disbelief that being an underdog, or being disrespected, can be a motivator. I can attest that it can be and is a tremendous motivator. I know from experience, and have used that experience to motivate me even more to assure the best results for every client.

 In law school, I had no interest in joining a large firm, and never seriously attempted to be on law review. As a result, classmates (and some law firms) didn’t take my legal skills seriously.

As a lawyer, I have always practiced in small firms. Invariably, when involved in cases with attorneys from large firms, I could sense their assumption that I was not as capable as they were because they were on law review, or came from a more prestigious school than Temple, from which I graduated, ignoring the fact that many of our region’s finest lawyers attended this hometown law school.

When I ventured out as a solo, the stigmas became more obvious, and sometimes lawyers did not hide their derision. Then they would read one of my briefs, or hear my oral argument, and their perspective changed, dramatically. Just last year I was hired as appellate counsel in a complex personal injury matter that the trial court had dismissed. I called opposing counsel to request an extension of time to file our brief. Our conversation was laden with condescension.

Then my opponent, a graduate of an Ivy League university and a “top 20” law school (compared with Temple’s ranking at number 50), and a partner at a large firm, received my brief, and heard the argument in the appellate court. His attitude became far less superior, and it changed even more when the court ruled in my client’s favor and reversed his victory. Even worse, his client hired another lawyer to handle the case.

I have always had confidence in my skills, and know that there is a reason judges regularly comment about the quality of my firm’s work. One Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice recently approached me out of the blue, and began to tell me (in front of numerous other attorneys) how “exceptional” and “extraordinary” my brief was in a case that had been argued earlier that day.

Each of us measures our success differently, and each of us uses different tools to motivate ourselves. For me, the fact that some lawyers believe they are superior because of where they went to law school motivates me not only to win but also to demonstrate that my decision to live at home and attend one of the finest law schools in the country, albeit not one in the “top 20,” does not mean that my skills are better, or worse, than an attorney who graduated from another school.

When I consider the number of precedential cases in which I have served as counsel, I understand fully why the Philadelphia Eagles wear their underdog status as a badge of honor, and use it to help drive them toward a championship. Each of us must earn respect from our colleagues, and often the only way to do so is to defeat a supposedly “superior” opponent. Underdogs understand how hard they have to work to gain respect – and win. Let’s go Eagles!

 

 

 

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Please vote for the Havertown Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC in the Delco’s Best Lawyers poll.

Please vote for the Havertown Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC in the Delco’s Best Lawyers poll in our major practice areas: Appellate; Personal Injury; Workers’ Compensation. To do so, go to http://pa.journalregister.com/delcotimes/toplawyers/. Here’s why we believe we have earned your support.

Our office is proud of our reputation for providing high quality legal services in an affordable client-focused manner. We are also proud that we have been recognized by our peers in Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America. One of the differences that we do not often discuss is that the majority of our clients are lawyers, who hire us to handle their complex appeals, provide guidance on ethical issues, and prepare them for trial. As part of these lawyer-focused services, nearly 2,000 attorneys and judges read our monthly newsletter highlighting recent Pennsylvania appeals court decisions.

February 2017 highlighted these successes:

  • We represented a local church in defense of a claim that it did not maintain its property safely. The Philadelphia jury returned a verdict in favor of our client/the church in 40 minutes.
  • We settled the medical benefits portion of a workers’ compensation claim for $685,134.40, for a client with a serious back injury. The total settlements for this client have exceeded $800,000.00.
  • We were hired as appeals counsel in a case in which the trial court dismissed claims by two student athletes who were injured in a football practice drill. In the case, the Superior Court refused to enforce a release that would have insulated a college and others from liability. The Court agreed that a jury should decide whether the college’s failure to have qualified athletic trainers at the practice, and its use of a dangerous tackling drill, constituted gross negligence or recklessness.

For these reasons, we ask our clients and friends to vote in the poll for Delco’s Best Lawyers. Just go to http://pa.journalregister.com/delcotimes/toplawyers/.

THANK YOU FOR NEARLY 12 YEARS OF REPRESENTING OUR FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS & COLLEAGUES THROUGHOUT DELAWARE COUNTY AND THE PHILADELPHIA AREA!

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Commonwealth Court Imposes its Own Interpretation Over an Arbitrator’s Interpretation

One of the first things they teach you in an arbitration class is that the Court may not overturn an arbitration award merely because it disagrees with the arbitrator’s reasoning. But, the Court did just that in School District of Philadelphia v. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Local 3. On July 14th, 2014 the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania remanded a case to the arbitrator because the Court disagreed with the arbitrator’s interpretation of a provision in a collective bargaining agreement.

The case revolves around the interpretation of a provision in the collective bargaining agreement between the school district and the PFT. Both parties submitted to arbitration and an arbitration award was awarded in favor of the PFT.

When reviewing an arbitrator’s interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement, a court must apply the deferential “essence” test.  The essence test requires a court to determine: (1) if the issue is within the terms of the collective bargaining agreement; and (2) if the arbitrator’s determination can be rationally derived from the collective bargaining agreement.  Therefore, an arbitration award should only be vacated if there is no possibility that the award could logically flow from the collective bargaining agreement.

On appeal from the trial court, the Commonwealth Court determined that the arbitrators’ decision could not “rationally be derived” from the collective bargaining agreement. However, both the arbitrator and the Court articulated rational interpretations of the same provision. Instead of acknowledging that the provision could be interpreted in multiple ways and deferring to the arbitrator’s interpretation, the Court claimed that the arbitrator’s interpretation was irrational and imposed its own interpretation on the agreement.

Senior Judge Rochelle Friedman filed a dissenting opinion disagreeing with the majority’s determination. Instead, she argued that both interpretations were rational. Judge Rochelle stated that “in essence, the majority believes that its interpretation is more rational than the arbitrator’s, but that is irrelevant.”

Instead of imposing its interpretation on the agreement, the Court should have followed the deferential standard of review given to arbitration awards and affirmed the arbitrator’s award in this case.

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A Stand on Principal, Or on Business?

As a member of numerous bar associations, I know full well that they won’t always take actions, or take positions, with which I agree. That’s natural. For example, I was not a “fan” of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s decision to change its name, or the efforts by the Pennsylvania Bar Association to create a commission to consider revisions to the Pennsylvania state Constitution. And I have certainly disagreed (vocally) with some leaders of the Philadelphia Bar Association. But as a member (paying my dues myself), I accepted those decisions and still supported the organizations. I never believed that my disagreement on one issue or with one person was fatal to my desire to support the organized bar and its efforts.

Recently, one Pennsylvania firm chose to discontinue the membership of all 70 attorneys from the Pennsylvania Bar Association because they disagreed with the PBA’s opposition to the Fair Share Act, a proposed law that would dramatically revise the law of joint and several liability in Pennsylvania. Interestingly, the firm’s decision seems more calculated to seek more clients than it does to oppose the PBA’s efforts. Otherwise, instead of just issuing a statement, why did the firm include a press release from House Majority Leader Turzai, which the firm notes “praises [the] firm’s bold decision,” and one from the National Federal of Independent Business (with a link to the NFIB.org website) in support of the firm. And the fact that Majority Leader Turzai’s press release was dated the same date as the firm’s resignation letter further heightens the perception that this was a coordinated political effort.

Certainly, the firm can and should advocate its views, and has every right to try to assure its clients that it does not agree with PBA’s position on this controversial issue. I have no objection to any firm doing so, and believe firms should do so. It is a shame, however, that the PBA loses 70 members who have contributed and would have contributed for many years. Who loses as a result? The 70 attorneys do, and they lose their opportunity to try to convince PBA in the future when it might again take a position with which the firm disagrees. It’s like voting. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. Now, when the PBA, the voice of Pennsylvania lawyers speaks, the public will assume its voice includes the majority of lawyers, even some who no longer are members.

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The “Best Lawyer in America”

While advertising can be filled with hype, lawyers are supposed to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct, which limit the content of their advertisements to statements that are quantifiable. In other words, an attorney can ethically say that he has had 14 verdicts of one million dollars, or that she limits her practice to a particular area. But lawyers in Pennsylvania cannot state, for example, that they are speciailists (unless they have been certified as a specialist by a Board approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court) or make statements that can’t be quantified (tested). Yet they do so, and apparently with impunity.

The most recent example I have confronted is a lawyer who advertises on sports talk radio in Philadelphia and on the front page of the Legal Intelligencer, the daily newspaper for lawyers in Philadelphia. In the radio ad, this lawyer was described as not only an excellent lawyers, but the “best lawyer in America.” Right! And I have a bridge to sell you. That same lawyer advertises for referrals on the front page of the Legal, encouraging other attorneys to refer to the firm because they are the “best.” My point is not that this attorney is not a good attorney, it is that such advertising blatantly violates the Rules, and no one seems to care.

This is only one example, and this lawyer/law firm is not alone, although the hype as the “best in America” is grander than any ads I can recall. The ads are everywhere. They are on TV and radio, for lawyers who claim to have written “the book,” as though the practice of law began and ends with them. Or, the many other lawyers who claim superiority based upon their egos and no quantifiable data. For lawyers who try to comply with the Rules, however, these ads are discouraging. So are the many that don’t comply with Rule 7.2, which governs the content of advertisements, a Rule that seems to be breached as much as it is complied with.

I believe in free speech as much as anyone, but isn ‘t it time for the Rules to either be enforced (or tested if the “best lawyer in America” believes the Rule violates his Constitutional rights) or eliminated. Otherwise, why have Rules? Or why should other lawyers even try to comply with them?

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Leadership

I’m no expert, but to me a leader is someone who leads by example – and who builds support by demonstrating to others the value of his or her actions. A leader builds by creating a coalition, and by embracing others. Sadly, many of today’s leaders believe that they only can lead by having friends as supporters. Or just as bad, they view their role and make decisions based upon other factors. One local “leader,” for example, declined to attend a meeting because his “attendance really depend[ed] on the agenda and who else is there. ” He said he was “not likely going to make it if there are only 3-4 others in attendance.”  This same “leader” also believes that those people who aren’t friends will not support his leadership goals and has generally excluded those people from his plans as an association leader. It’s a shame because, in my experience, leaders need to broaden their reach – not put up artificial barriers.

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