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A First-Year Associate's Perspective on Workers' Compensation in California

By Joseph Yrulegui


It's official. The day has come and gone. I am no longer a first-year associate. No longer do I have the stigma and aura of a newbie attorney in the big, bad workers' compensation microcosm of the legal profession. Being more experienced than words can describe, with one whole year under my belt, I felt it was time to write an article! That's one WHOLE year people! 12 months. 365 days of rabid, unbridled workers' compensation experience.


But wait! What do I write about? The possibilities are endless! A whole year of substantive thought to digest in one page!? Do I attack Ogilvie? How about psyche claims? I will slice and dice these topics into a clear, coherent, and articulate article which will be read for centuries to come! After all, I've been practicing for a YEAR!


Two weeks go by......


Okay. So maybe, perhaps, quite possibly I don't know as much as I think I do. Who knew Ogilvie was so complicated? I am not going to write a substantive article this time around. But, what I can do is share some preliminary "thoughts" about the workers' compensation system in California. All useless, but "thoughts" nonetheless. So here goes.


1. Workers' compensation law is complicated. And I thought the Rule Against Perpetuities was difficult! Now, I'm not saying civil litigation is easy, because it certainly is not. But, workers' comp is not the simple, "only for those attorneys who can't do civil," area of law some people might think it is. At least civil law is fairly constant. We have to deal with an uppity legislature who decides to completely revamp the system every 5 years. Thanks Arnold.


2. Doctors are not the all-knowing, beyond reproach professionals I once thought they were. This aspect is perhaps the most shocking part of workers' compensation. Going into this practice, I held the view that doctors were practically saints, only smarter. Boy was I wrong. For some of these guys, the Hippocratic Oath has waived BYE-BYE! It has been truly appalling to discover just how shady some doctors can be. I've already seen everything from over-prescribing opiates to the point of addiction, to frivolous treatment that would make a hypochondriac say "Enough doc, I'm good!" This realization has been not only horrifying, but also a revelation.


3. My last thought might be a little mundane, or even laughable, but it is something that has somewhat changed how I perceive medical treatment. Practicing in workers' comp has led me to believe in the effectiveness of acupuncture! Now, I must follow that up with a disclaimer. Trust me. I am not someone who easily buys into the "alternative/holistic/spiritual" medicine. I am one of those people that say, "if it hurts, take a pill." Notwithstanding thought # 3, I always believed modern medicine was the only credible solution to an injury or disease. Not anymore. I have spoken with several applicants, and I have consistently discovered acupuncture was often the only treatment that worked. So, by all means, stick those needles in your body. I believe!


So, there you have it. Three thoughts that I could put down on paper and not have to worry about being sued for defamation.


All in all, I have immensely enjoyed my time serving in the workers' compensation system. I am making arguments before a judge almost every week, I've deposed over a dozen applicants, and I've built some great relationships with our clients. Granted, I have a lot to learn, but indeed I look forward to trying my best to make the lives of applicant's attorneys a living hell. Cheers!


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