If you are a Wisconsin worker seeking unemployment benefits, you may be considering the idea of getting an attorney versus not getting an attorney.
I am not writing this point to convince you to get an attorney like me- despite my self-interest in having people retain me, I understand that’s a decision for only you to make.
However, I will say that the timing of when you make that decision (if you’re going to make it) is important.
Sometimes, workers will call me and tell me they are interested in retaining me, but they are at such an advanced point in unemployment proceedings and/or have had preventable problems occur that I tell them I can no longer give them my most beneficial advice and I should not be retained.
If you are considering whether or not to retain an unemployment attorney, please consider these points in time when it can be particularly helpful to get advice from an attorney:
- Before you apply for benefits.
Most workers can apply for WI unemployment benefits and get the ball rolling without assistance from an attorney.
The State’s unemployment division has good, straight-forward website information here about filing an unemployment application.
However, on occasion a worker has discomfort or has issues (e.g. unusual circumstances and unemployment eligibility issue) that an attorney could be of assistance with.
- Before you fill out written documentation that describes your job termination (e.g. a letter or discharge questionnaire where you describe your view of the facts about termination) and submit it to the unemployment office.
Employees often make mistakes on written formwork- e.g. write about irrelevant issues, cast blame or judgments about the employer- that contribute to a denial of benefits and make me cringe as an attorney when I read it later.
An attorney could often help with such formwork, although a worker’s errors in completing the forms are usually not fatal, and there are certainly later points the worker could win unemployment benefits and an attorney could be effective.
- Before you have a phone interview with an unemployment representative.
The phone interview is common occasion where an employee often makes mistakes, and can benefit from legal advice. With that said, many workers do not seek out legal advice at this pre-interview stage, although some will read articles on the State’s unemployment website or on this blog.
Here are some articles I’ve written that are pertinent to preparing for a phone interview: Three Rules for an Unemployment Interview or Hearing , Unemployment: The Legal Decision-Maker Isn’t Your Friend (Or Enemy), and Employee Tip: Filing for Unemployment in WI; Preparing for Appeal and Hearing.
Also, there is a blog page here that lists links to all my unemployment-related blog articles.
These articles talk about factors to consider before a phone interview, but they do not provide legal advice (for which you’d need to talk to an attorney about your specific circumstances). If you spoke to an attorney before your unemployment phone interview about your specific circumstances, an attorney could provide legal advice about which facts and issues are most important, and advice about how you should prepare for your particular phone interview.
- Before your unemployment hearing.
If you are going to talk to an unemployment attorney, then the time to do it is definitely before you have a hearing.
Once an unemployment hearing has occurred, that event has locked into place the case’s “record”- the recording of all the testimony and documents/exhibits for the matter. Once this record is established at the hearing, the parties are stuck with it. If a party loses and appeals, they must base the appeal on the record, and cannot introduce new evidence.
An attorney can be far more effective in helping a worker before the hearing, and before the record is created. The attorney can help prepare for the hearing, and its anticipated witnesses, testimony and exhibits. An attorney can help a worker be sure that the hearing, and the record, contains the facts and evidence that are supportive of you.
It is common for me to get a call from a worker who has lost their hearing, did not like that result, and decides at that point an attorney could be of help with appealing the hearing result. But at that point, the attorney is stuck with the record and with whatever problems occurred leading up to it.
Of all the stages above, the unemployment hearing is a critical juncture. If you are going to talk to an attorney, best to do so before the hearing.
With that said, a worker can always contact an attorney at any time (never say never), and workers can and have won appeals of hearings that were lost. But the more time that passes, and the more events above that come and go, the less assistance there is that an attorney could potentially offer.