Working Hard for the Hardworking People of Connecticut

The Journal: Advice Given to Me as a Young Workers' Comp Lawyer


by Francis “Bud” Drapeau, Workers’ Compensation Section Chairman

In my first hearings as a new lawyer, opposing counsel would cite cases I couldn’t find on Westlaw, reference medical terms I couldn’t find in Stedman's Medical Dictionary, and use Latin phrases I couldn’t find in Black's Law Dictionary.  I quickly surmised that these were "fake cases," "fake medicine," and "fake Latin," all designed by opposing counsel to intimidate, derail, or discredit a new lawyer.  So when an experienced attorney would approach me with some unsolicited advice, I naturally assumed that it was "fake advice."


After a series of regrettable events, I finally recognized that the unsolicited advice I had received was not “fake advice” and that it was born out of kindness and generosity.  And yet, I think we all can agree that this advice was probably more pointed and didactic than it needed to be:


Don't be a jerk, if you can avoid it, even though being a jerk can be an effective tool of advocacy.  Leave that tool in the shed for now unless you're the type who enjoys using a chainsaw to prune a rose bush.  In that case, contact the CBA for information about the Family Law section.

Don't worry too much about being right.  You'll be amazed at how disinterested we are in whether you're right.  Sound judgment is equally important, and the need to be right can cloud that judgment. It's a form of blindness, like cataracts.  The best known cure is marriage.

Master our rules of evidence.  (We don't have any.)  Here's nearly everything you need to know about evidence at a formal hearing:

Illustration A                     

            "Objection.  Relevance."         

            "I'll tie it in later."                    

            "I'll allow it."                           


Illustration B

             “Objection.  Hearsay.”

             “It goes to the weight.”

             “I’ll allow it.”


Understand our heritage.  Franz Kafka was a lawyer working for the Workers' Accident Insurance Institute.  An abrasive claimant or recalcitrant claims handler surely inspired "The Metamorphosis," a story about Gregor Samsa, a man who suddenly transforms into a giant cockroach.  Who among us has not looked across the table at a hearing and had this same fantasy?

Know the math.  For claimant's counsel, even if you can't make change, you should be able to calculate instantly twenty-percent of any six-digit number, down to the second decimal.  For respondents' counsel, it's a bit more complicated.  You'll need a working knowledge of Einstein's field equations to show that in curved Spacetime sixty minutes equals 1.3 hours.

Learn the language.  For example, “Blowing the 43” means:


a.       Smoking medical marijuana.

b.      A disclaimer was not timely filed.

c.       The 43 needed to be blown.

d.      A fifteen-minute call can save you 15% on your car insurance.


Be mindful that we have those among us who belong in Tort World. They have learned the language but not the culture.  We can occasionally identify them by a Kool-Aid stain on the shirt or blouse: cherry, orange, or grape.   We keep their names in a genuine European bonded leather journal, 5-1/4" x 8", hand-stitched binding, silk ribbon marker, chestnut brown.  We keep the journal behind the counter at Nardelli's.  Someday someone very important will ask us for the journal.  Make sure your name isn't in it.


Editors’ note:  Francis X. Drapeau is a partner with the law firm of Leighton, Katz & Drapeau in Rockville, CT.  He is also a Board-Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialist.