The expertise of lawyers practicing in the area of workers' compensation has been a concern for many years, according to John Bagnato, the chair of the certification committee of the Pennsylvania Bar Association workers' compensation law section.
"I was approached by one of the senior labor leaders in this state, asking if there was some way to restrict the practice of workers' compensation law," Mr. Bagnato said.
Now, with the state Supreme Court's approval, the workers' compensation law section will now be providing a form of quality control as a certifying organization.
The certification is meaningful for three groups, Mr. Bagnato said: injured claimants who want meaningful representation; the workers' compensation defense community, including third-party claimants and insurance companies; and the bench of workers' compensation administrative law judges.
Workers' compensation law requires specialized knowledge, including time limits on cases, as well as knowledge of medicine because there are almost always physician witnesses on both sides addressing the causal relationship between a claimant's injury and his or her workplace activity, Mr. Bagnato said.
Certified lawyers will be able to assert to the public that they are "certified as a specialist in the practice of workers' compensation law by the Pennsylvania Bar Association's section on workers' compensation law as authorized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court."
According to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, no other entity certifies workers' compensation lawyers in the state and the association has never before had the authority to issue certification in a particular subject area of law.
The ability for the bar association to take on the role of certifying attorneys in the area of workers' compensation came because of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1990 decision in Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois, Mr. Bagnato said.
While there are several national-based organizations approved by the Supreme Court to provide certifications in other areas of law, he said, the practice of workers' compensation is very localized to each state. "There would not be a legitimate national organization that could put together a certification program for Pennsylvania lawyers."
Testing will be four hours in length and involve two essay questions and 100 multiple-choice questions, Mr. Bagnato said.
Applicants also must establish that they are admitted to practice in Pennsylvania, have practiced law for at least five years and devote 50 percent of their practice to workers' compensation law.
The application process is expected to go into effect in the late fall.
Workers' compensation attorney Mary G. March, a member of Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti's workers' compensation, risk management and construction practice groups, said getting the certification will be attractive to attorneys as a way to distinguish themselves in the marketplace.
"You'll probably see a third of the lawyers right off the bat take the test and start marketing themselves as specialists," Ms. March said.
Having the certification out there might be good for their clients to know that an attorney does workers' compensation all the time and is not just dabbling in this area of law, she said.
A lawyer who successfully completes the process will be certified for five years. The committee anticipates setting an application fee of up to $1,000 depending upon costs, Mr. Bagnato said. For more content like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com.
By Amaris Elliott-Engel, The Legal Intelligencer, firstname.lastname@example.org, 215-557-2354
Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette