A group of injured workers has petitioned the Court of Appeal to determine whether the Workers Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB or Board) may legally grant itself indefinite extensions of time to issue final decisions regarding appeals from trial-level court rulings.
A party to a workers’ compensation case may appeal a trial-level ruling by filing a Petition for Reconsideration with the Board which is currently staffed by 6 Commissioners. The Labor Code requires that these appeals be decided by the WCAB within 60 days. However, in many cases the Board, following an unwritten, self-adopted policy and procedure, issues so-called “grant and study” orders which extend that time period indefinitely. In response to a recent public records act request, the WCAB provided data demonstrating that it has issued such “grant and study” orders in over 500 cases within a 3-year period alone, many of which remain undecided for years at time. While these cases remain in the WCAB’s “administrative limbo”, the injured workers involved in those cases are prevented from receiving the full range of workers’ compensation remedies and benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled. Employers and insurance companies are also prejudiced by the lack of finality.
On Friday, March 4, 2022, a petition for a writ of mandate was filed in the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District. The petition requests that Court of Appeal find that the “grant and study” procedure is unconstitutional and unlawful, revoke all of the “grant and study” orders issued by the WCAB, and order the WCAB to provide a timetable within which it will render final decisions in all cases where such “grant and study” orders have been issued. This case is entitled Michele Earley, et al. v. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board of the State of California, et al., Case No. B318842, and has been assigned to Division of 8 of the Second District Court of Appeal.
Tom Martin, one of the co-signers of the petition in the Earley case said: “The California Constitution requires that the workers’ compensation system function in an “expeditious” manner, and the legislature passed laws to assure that. The system works best when injured workers and employers can get their disputes resolved as quickly as possible”.
Charles Rondeau, a co-signer of the petition explained: “As the data produced by the WCAB itself proves, the Board faces the daunting task of deciding a large number of petitions for reconsideration. Anecdotal information clearly suggests that the WCAB’s continued utilization of the “grant and study” procedure is that the Board lacks adequate resources to render final decisions regarding these petitions within the time limit established by law. While the workers’ compensation community can certainly empathize with the WCAB’s plight, the appropriate manner for the Board to address the situation is not to continue employing an ad hoc “workaround” which is impermissible under California statutes and which is inconsistent with the California Constitution that explicitly requires that the WCAB decide disputes “expeditiously, inexpensively and without incumbrance of any kind”. The “grant and study” procedure has been utilized by the Board for decades without a single decision by an appellate court directly addressing and definitively validating its constitutionality and lawfulness. The time has come for such a determination to be made and for the WCAB to seek sustainable, long-term solutions to the challenges which it is facing in rendering timely final decisions. This Petition provides an opportunity for the WCAB to explore and then implement such solutions.”
A copy of the petition filed in the Earley case can be found here:
For further information regarding the petition, please contact Mr. Martin or Mr. Rondeau.
Most injured workers take the time to carefully research the qualifications of a workers compensation attorney before they hire them. However, things can be hectic after a work injury, and sometimes the Orange County workers compensation lawyer that you hired may not the best fit for you.
Obviously, you don’t know how well the attorney you hired is going to perform until the case progresses. You may then realize that the attorney is not returning calls, not giving you regular status on your case, and does not have an adequate plan for your case.
In other words, injured workers sometimes choose the first workers’ comp lawyer they find through a Google search, and that can turn out to be a disappointment. If an Orange County workers’ compensation lawyer isn’t meeting your expectations, consider the following:
- Before You Hire Another Attorney, Try To Repair The Relationship
If you are calling your attorney and he or she is not returning your calls, that can be frustrating, but not necessarily a reason to fire your lawyer. It may be that the attorney IS working on your case, but not communicating the work is being done. In these situations, you may want to send the lawyer a letter requesting specific information regarding the status of your case.
In the event that the lawyer ignores your letter requesting status, or provides an unsatisfactory answer, then you may want to consider further options, as discussed below.
- Interview other lawyers BEFORE dismissing your current lawyer
While it is your right to represent yourself, the workers’ compensation system is complex, which is why you probably hired a lawyer in the first place. Consider interviewing qualified lawyers BEFORE you decide to dismiss your current attorney. You don’t want to end up navigating legal proceedings on your own while searching for a new lawyer.
- If You Find Another Lawyer To Represent You Let Them Handle The Paperwork
In the event that you find another lawyer to take over your case, they will know what paperwork to file so they can take over your case.
- If Your Decide To Represent Yourself, Consider Having A State Of California Specialist Assist You
The State of California provides free assistance to dismiss your attorney and answer your questions about processing your workers’ compensation claim. You can find help here:
It’s not easy to find a great work injury lawyer in Orange County. If you don’t have any friends or family members to ask for recommendations, then finding a good lawyer can be like looking for a needle in a haystack (also known as the internet).
Despite your best efforts to find a good lawyer, sometimes you end up with an attorney that isn’t working out for you, despite the fancy website, TV ads, or billboards.
Fortunately, you have the right to replace your current work injury lawyer in Orange County with one that can handle your case to your satisfaction.
- Does Your Lawyer Return Your Calls?
You deserve to know the status of your case and the major developments that occur.
If a lawyer isn’t returning your calls, and won’t even respond to your letters and emails, consider interviewing another lawyer to take over your case.
- Is Your Lawyer Familiar With Your Case?
Many lawyers use paralegals to manage your case. Some firms even have non-lawyers make appearances in court. Your lawyer may not even know who you are.
You are entitled to speak with the lawyer you hired.
If you have never even spoken to your attorney, and you are forced to deal with non-lawyer assistants, you may want to consider contacting a new work injury lawyer in Orange County. After all, you hired a lawyer to handle your case, not non-lawyer assistants.
- Does Your Lawyer Practice More Than One Area Of Law?
The Workers Compensation system in California is complex and the laws are changing constantly.
Would you hire an electrician that also claims they can tune up your car and prepare your taxes? No.
Yet many people hire a lawyer that claim they can handle many areas of law. If you have a lawyer that claim they are the “best” at workers’ compensation, but also handle auto accidents, trip and fall, personal injury, products liability and dog bite cases, ask some questions. Do they appear in court on your case? Are they recognized by other lawyers as competent to handle workers’ compensation cases? Are they rated by Martindale Hubbell as AV “Preeminent”?
If you are not satisfied that your current lawyer really knows workers’ compensation law, consider interviewing another work injury lawyer in Orange County.
4. Does Your Lawyer Engage In Unethical Behavior?
DANGER. An attorney should never pressure you to lie about your injuries, accident, or medical treatment. If an attorney asks you to twist the truth, or outright lie, you’ve got the wrong lawyer.
If you believe that your lawyer has issues in any of the above areas, consider reaching out to Thomas F. Martin, PLC for legal representation in your Orange County Workers Compensation case. Mr. Martin is rated by Martindale Hubbell as AV “Preeminent”, the highest rating given.
In November of 2021, over 400 sanitation workers employed by Republic Services at facilities in Anaheim and Huntington Beach voted to authorize a strike against the company. The workers’ contract expired in late September and was followed by multiple contract bargaining sessions.
Workers were concerned about excessive working hours and alleged persistent harassment in the workplace. Members of Teamsters Local 396 called attention to the large pay gap between the CEO and the company’s worker. In 2020, the CEO’s total compensation was over $12 million and 154 times the pay of an average worker. That same year, Republic Services grossed over $10 billion with $1.2 billion in net profit. In addition, the company spent more than $736 million buying back its stock.
Republic Services is the second-largest trash collection, disposal, and landfill company in America, with facilities in over 40 states. More than 7,000 Republic workers nationwide are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Ron Herrera, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 396, said, “Teamsters working at Republic Services across Orange County are sending a strong message that they are ready to do whatever it takes to secure a fair contract. Republic Services needs to take negotiations seriously to ensure that these essential heroes who work hard to keep our cities clean and protect our environment get a fair contract.”
The Orange County strike had five members traveling to Republic’s hauling yard in New Orleans and putting up a picket there, while other workers extended the picket line to Republic’s recycling facility in Anaheim.
In December of 2021, more than 450 sanitation workers at Republic Services’ waste hauling yards in Anaheim and Huntington Beach ratified new collective bargaining agreements after a seven-day strike protesting the company’s unilateral changes without bargaining and threatening to retaliate against employees participating in union activity.
According to a press release, the new contracts include significant wage increases and other improvements.
Soon after the new contracts were ratified, more than 250 workers at Republic Services in San Diego went on strike demanding a fair contract.
Chuck Stiles, Director of the Teamsters Solid Waste & Recycling Division, said, “The strike in Los Angeles may be over, but Teamster members across America are fed up and will continue to take action until the company stops breaking the law and is willing to bargain fair contracts for these essential workers.”
In these increasingly frequent situations, I am reminded of the Warren Gunnels quote:
“You’re not a failure in life if you work for starvation wages with no benefits. You’re a failure in life if you are a business owner who depends on the exploitation of a poverty-wage workforce, no matter how many yachts and mansions you own. It’s time to redefine success in America”.
If you’ve recently suffered a work injury or condition, finding a work injury attorney in Santa Ana, CA can be challenging. There are hundreds of attorneys claiming they can help you. The bottom line is an experienced attorney can take the burden of navigating the workers’ compensation system and let you focus on getting better.
To be prepared for your meeting with a workers’ comp lawyer, having the information and paperwork gathered in advance of your meeting will make the process smoother for you – and the attorney.
Information to Bring When Meeting a Work Injury Attorney in Santa Ana, CA
During the consultation, the attorney will need answers to questions like:
- Where the injury took place
- What you were doing when the injury occurred
- Witnesses to the injury
- What your injuries are
- A list of doctors you saw and their phone numbers
- Proof of your wages at the time of the injury
A work injury attorney in Santa Ana, CA will also need to know the details about your job history. This information can help determine the amount of benefits you’re eligible to receive.
If there was an accident report written at the time of the accident, bring a copy of it when you attend the appointment with the lawyer.
If you haven’t received a copy of the report, the attorney can issue a subpoena for it.
Bring pay stubs, your employee ID number, hire date, job title, and a list of daily duties to the consultation. Your workers’ compensation benefits are usually based on to how much you were making at the time of the accident. Your work injury attorney in Santa Ana, CA will need detailed employment records to calculate your average earnings and make sure you obtain the compensation that you deserve.
Paperwork And Documents From Your Employer
After making a workers’ compensation claim, you may receive paperwork in the mail from the workers’ compensation administrator, such as letters about the workers’ compensation system, information about physician networks, and documents describing the workers’ compensation process, the benefits available to you, and your legal rights. Make sure you have these letters handy for your meeting with a workers’ compensation attorney.
Initial and Follow Up Medical Treatment Records
Bring records of any medical treatment you received immediately after the accident, in addition to any medical paperwork suggesting a treatment plan and recommendations for follow-up care. This information will help verify the link between the accident and your injuries and establish the extent of your injuries and your inability to work in the aftermath of the accident.
You should also consider bringing information related to any other expenses associated with your injury, such as purchasing equipment related to treatment and traveling to doctor’s offices for medical appointments. Medical bills, whether you’ve paid them or not, are another important part of your case, so be sure to bring any medical bills with you to the consultation.
Other Records to Bring
Also bring photos (and videos, if you have them) of your injuries to show the extent of your injuries. If you have photos of the accident scene, this could be valuable evidence, especially if the insurance company has denied your claim.
Records of phone and email correspondence with your employer and insurance company is also important to document the interactions.
An experienced work injury attorney in Santa Ana, CA will need the information noted above to assist in promptly securing the benefits you make be entitled to.
California wildfires are now a yearly event.
Nearly four million people work outdoors in California. Industries like agriculture, construction, landscaping, and utilities rely on employees to work outdoors, even during wildfire season.
Though employers are required to take steps to protect outdoor workers from breathing in harmful levels of smoke, such as providing N95 masks, California’s Division of Occupational Health and Safety (known as Cal/OSHA), cited employers just 11 times between July 2019 and October 5, 2021. Only two agricultural employers were fined by CAL/OSHA for failing to provide enough respirators or effective training to employees exposed to wildfire smoke, according to agency data.
Excessive exposure to wildfire smoke can cause eye and throat irritation, persistent coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing and even certain types of cancers. Exposure to just 2.5 parts per million can even lead to reduced lung function, heart failure, and even early death.
An investigation by The California Newsroom linked the rise of wildfire smoke to sharp increases in hospitalizations for heart and lung conditions in California. The investigation also revealed a dramatic rise in prescriptions for the asthma medication albuterol as the number of “smoke days” increase. There is simply no denying the correlation.
Nayamin Martinez, executive director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network said, “I always find it very ironic when the agencies brag, ‘Oh, we have more stringent rules [than] the entire nation.’ Well, those rules are out there. But if you don’t enforce them, then there’s nothing good out of them.”
A recent survey of more than 300 agricultural workers in the San Joaquin Valley conducted by Central California Environmental Justice Network found that nearly 60% of farmworkers weren’t provided N95 masks nor did they know what “N95s” even were. About 45% said they didn’t know what protections they had from California wildfire smoke.
The fact that so many at-risk workers are not even aware of the type of masks that would provide enhanced protection is proof that employers are not stepping up to their responsibility when it comes to educating and protecting their workers.
CAL/OSHA is taking steps in the right direction. The agency has begun posting videos and other training materials on its website in both Spanish and English with the goal of protecting workers, and providing safety information that employers are not.
When searching for an award-winning Orange County, California Work Comp Lawyer, it’s not always easy to identify the lawyers that have been routinely recognized for their skill and ethics.
How to Find an Award-Winning Orange County California Work Comp Lawyer
If you do a Google search for “award-winning Orange County California Work Comp Lawyer”, you’ll likely see ads for top lawyers in the area. But well-worded ads, flashy commercials, and big promises don’t always mean the attorneys have the experience, depth of knowledge, attention to detail, and ethics you deserve to have.
Look For Awards That Really Matter
There are many awards an attorney can receive, but Martindale-Hubbell has been the premier rating service for attorneys for over a century.
“For more than 130 years, Martindale-Hubbell has been evaluating attorneys for their strong legal ability and high ethical standards through a Peer Review Rating system. Prior to the 1887 edition of Martindale’s American Law Directory, which was the first publication to provide such ratings to attorneys, there was no way of truly knowing if the lawyer you were considering to do business with was trustworthy, ethical, or skilled in the legal field.
Today – Martindale-Hubbell continues to provide verified ratings for attorneys based not only on their legal ability and ethical standards as judged by their peers, but also based on reviews from their clients. While the criteria and format of the Peer Review Rating system have evolved since the 1800’s – the goal of Martindale-Hubbell ratings remains the same: to help keep the public informed when making the decision to do business with an attorney or law firm.”
Martindale Hubbell explains its rating system this way:
“Historically the Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Ratings™ system utilized an “A – B – C” scale to estimate the legal ability and ethical standards of an attorney. To qualify for an “A” rating an attorney had to be reported as “Very High” in their legal ability and had been practicing for at least 10 years, a “B” rating meant an attorney was rated “High” and had to be practicing for at least 5 years, and a “C” rating meant that the attorney was rated “fair” with no limitations on how long they were practicing. A second rating was also given to go along with the “A – B – C” rating and that was a “V,” meaning that the attorney’s peers stated they had “Very High” ethical standards. Over the years this transitioned to “AV”, “BV”, and “CV” ratings – with an “AV” rating meaning that the attorney had reached the highest of professional excellence and is recognized for the highest levels of skill and integrity.
Today, Martindale-Hubbell conducts a thorough review of attorneys who wish to receive a Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Ratings™, through a secure online peer-review survey where a lawyer’s ethical standards and legal ability in a specific area of practice is assessed by their peers. Once the review process is completed an attorney may receive 1 of the following Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Ratings™:
AV Preeminent®: The highest peer rating standard. This is given to attorneys who are ranked at the highest level of professional excellence for their legal expertise, communication skills, and ethical standards by their peers.
Distinguished: An excellent rating for an attorney who has some experience and is widely respected by their peers for their professional achievement and ethical standards.
Notable: A rating is given to a lawyer who has been recognized by a large number of their peers for their strong ethical standards”
Of all the awards and recognitions he is privileged to receive, Thomas F Martin is proud to advise he has been once again given the AV Preeminent® rating from Martindale Hubble for 2022.
Thomas F. Martin, PLC has won other industry awards for his contributions to the workers’ comp system, and decades of recognition as a thought leader in the practice of workers compensation law as evidenced by his invitations to lecture to various attorney groups for decades.
Other recognitions include The Orange County Register, The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Orange Coast Magazine, and many other professional organizations. He has been rated a top workers’ comp attorney by “Best Attorneys” and continues to be known for his relentless pursuit of appropriate benefits for the clients he has chosen to represent.
Thomas F. Martin has been a speaker at various industry events, lecturing to thousands of workers’ compensation attorneys and professionals about the latest changes and methods in the workers’ comp legal system.
He has also served as a Judge Pro Tem for the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.
If you have been seriously injured on the job, Thomas F. Martin is available to personally discuss your potential case.
Billboards, TV and radio commercials, bus benches.
Lawyer ads seem to be everywhere claiming to be the “best” if you get injured. But does a hefty advertising budget mean that a lawyer knows what they are doing in court?
If you are injured on the job beware of lawyers claiming to be the “best in town”. Here are four things worth considering when you are deciding on an Orange County lawyer to represent you for your work injury:
- Look For Actual Experience
It seems obvious, but having a lawyer who discusses your case with you personally, works on your case personally, and makes court appearances on your case personally makes a big difference in the outcome of your workers’ compensation case.
With over 30 years of experience handling workers’ compensation cases in Orange County and decades of awards and recognition by his fellow lawyers as a highly-skilled and ethical lawyer, Tom Martin doesn’t rely on nicknames, songs, or billboards everywhere you look. Instead, he limits his practice to only representing injured workers and getting the results each of his clients deserves and lets his work speak for itself – the vast majority of his clients come from “word of mouth”, the best advertising a lawyer can have.
- Do Past “Wins” Matter?
Yes. Like other lawyers, Mr. Martin has recovered tens of millions of dollars for his clients over the years, and that speaks to his skill going against the biggest employers and insurance companies in California.
But does his past successes on behalf of his clients mean that’s the only reason to retain him? No.
What really matters is what his strategy is to recover what you deserve in your case – because every case is different, and you and your injuries are unlike any other case.
Visit www.ThomasFMartin.com to see why Tom Martin’s personal attention to your case matters.
- Fees Based On Performance
Many lawyers charge by the hour no matter what the outcome of the case is. That’s not how Tom Martin gets paid for his work on your case.
His fee is 15% of the amount of the recovery for his client. This fee structure protects the injured worker because if there is no recovery there is no fee. With this fee structure, Mr. Martin is in the “same boat” as you – the goal is to secure the Award you are entitled to – no less.
- Do you get to talk with a lawyer, or just a ‘legal assistant”?
Mr. Martin personally appears in court for his clients every week. He’s busy representing his clients, securing the financial benefits and the medical treatment they are entitled to. The best work injury lawyers in Orange County aren’t shooting TV and radio ads, or coming up with catchy songs and nicknames – they are in the courtroom fighting for their clients.
Many workers’ compensation attorneys use paralegals to process cases, and non-lawyers to appear in court. Before you retain an attorney, find out who is actually going to work on your case. It matters. After all, if you’re going to hire a law firm, you deserve to have the lawyer handling your case!
Regarded by his peers as one of the best workers ’comp attorneys in Orange County, consider calling Thomas F. Martin, PLC at 714-547-5025.
Types Of Workers Compensation Settlements Negotiated By An Orange County Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
As a top Orange County workers’ compensation lawyer, Thomas F. Martin, PLC explains the main types of settlement formats options in workers’ comp law:
- Stipulated Findings and Award
This type of settlement is an option when an injured worker and the employer (or its insurance company) agree on the permanent disability rating and need for future medical treatment. The stipulation is the parties’ agreement about the findings of the case. These findings include the disability rating percentage, the fact that a work injury caused the disability, and the need for future medical care.
When the settlement paperwork is presented to a workers’ compensation judge, the agreement will have the same force and effect as if the Judge made the findings after a trial. In most cases, after obtaining the medical reporting and other evidence, the parties are often able to agree on what the Award should be.
A Stipulated Findings and Award settlement will require the insurance company to make a payment to the injured worker every two weeks for a specified period of time depending on the percentage of permanent disability. Sometimes, if the insurance company has not paid the permanent disability owed, a lump sum payment be paid to the injured worker to catch up on the payments owed according to the agreement.
This settlement is common in cases when an injured worker continues to work for the same employer.
- Compromise and Release
An Orange County workers’ compensation lawyer may negotiate a Compromise and Release if the injured worker wants to close out all rights in the case, including the right to request future medical treatment. In these cases, the injured worker accepts a lump sum of money to settle the worker’s compensation claim and close the case forever.
The workers’ compensation judge must still review approve the Compromise and Release to ensure it’s fair. Most Compromise and Release settlement agreements are approved if the worker has an experienced Orange County workers’ compensation lawyer representing them.
One advantage of this type of settlement is the immediacy of payment. Workers don’t need to wait for installments payments but receive the full payment. In many cases, clients receive a more favorable financial payment since insurance companies prefer not to be under any future obligation.
- Hybrid settlement
An experienced Orange County workers’ compensation lawyer may be able to negotiate a Compromise and Release ( closing out all rights for a lump sum) AND have future medical care left open in certain cases.
Not all lawyers are made equal. Some actually routinely go to court, and others spend their time promoting their catchy nicknames on billboards, radio and TV. Some even have songs that tell you absolutely nothing about their skill as an attorney.
When people suffer a work injury, it’s serious business. You deserve information about the lawyer that tells you what makes them qualified to help you navigate the California workers’ compensation system.
What qualities does a truly exceptional workers’ comp attorney have in Orange County?
- Communication With A Lawyer – Not A Paralegal
Clients have a right to know where their case stands at every point of the legal process. Having access to the attorney that is representing you shows they are personally involved in your case.
Some law firms have dozens of non-lawyers processing your claim. Why hire a law firm if you hardly ever get to talk to a lawyer? Does the lawyer even now about what is going on in your case? Or is he or she just relying on their staff to deal with the issues of your case?
Cases, like people, are dynamic – things can change rapidly. Is the lawyer available for unexpected developments? Is the lawyer ready to get a court date to deal with the problem, or are you going to just get talk from the non-lawyers at the firm? These are questions to ask BEFORE you hire a workers’ compensation attorney.
A workers’ comp lawyer should do what he or she says they are going to do. Ask the attorneys you are considering to help you what the game plan is on your case, and how they plan to give you feedback on your case.
If, for example, benefit checks suddenly stop coming without explanation, clients should be able to contact their lawyer immediately. There could’ve been a technical mistake or the insurance company could’ve decided benefits are no longer necessary, despite doctor’s orders. Can you rely on your lawyer to have a game plan? Or are you going to get the run around by the firms non-lawyers? Ask how such things will be handled BEFORE you decide on a lawyer to hire.
When interviewing lawyers to hire, are you sensing that the lawyer is paying attention to the unique aspects of your case, or are they just running through their “script”? If you aren’t straight answers to your questions, that may be a sign that you will be treated the same way as a client
An attentive lawyer will HEAR what you are saying, and do his or her best to answer your questions. know the details of every settlement offer — even if it’s unacceptably low — and share that information with their client before rejecting the offer.
- Strong Negotiation Skills
Insurance companies know who the prepared attorneys are. Making certain that your case is fully documented is hard work, and it puts your lawyer in a strong position to negotiate the result you deserve. If the insurance company is dealing with an attorney that is routinely unprepared or relying on non-attorneys to handle your case, your case is not going to be taken as seriously. Ask the lawyer you are interviewing how they process cases and what their reputation is for being prepared BEFORE hiring them.
The successful outcome of a case depends on the lawyer’s commitment to preparing the case for trial. Ask the lawyer if he or she is PERSONALLY preparing the case for the Judge, and PERSONALLY appears before the Judge BEFORE you hire them. If all the lawyer is relying on non-lawyers to do the critical work and appearances on the case, you deserve to know that ahead of time
- Knowledge About The Workers Compensation System
Does the lawyer you are interviewing doing a lot of different types of law, or ONLY workers compensation? Are they recognized by a past client and other lawyers as a skilled and ethical lawyer? An experienced workers’ comp attorney in Orange County is known and respected for their knowledge and skills.
Making The Decision
Look for these qualities in a workers’ comp lawyer before retaining a workers’ compensation attorney. It can make a big difference in the outcome of your case and your life.