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Workers comp lawyers to be certified in Pennsylvania


HARRISBURG, Pa.—The Pennsylvania Bar Assn. says a certification program for workers compensation attorneys in the state will assist injured workers and insurers in finding qualified representation for comp cases.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an order earlier this month that allows the state bar association's Workers' Compensation Law Section to act as a certifying organization through January 2017.

John Bagnato, chairman of the association's certification committee, said the certification will be the first offered by the state bar in any law specialty, and that the association believes the designation will help workers comp law specialists to stand out in their field.

“It would benefit attorneys by having something that's rock solid upon which to represent their competence,” said Mr. Bagnato, who is an occupational disease defense attorney with the Spence Custer Attorneys at Law firm in Johnstown, Pa. “Right now, there isn't anything.”

In turn, he said the certification will provide a compass for clients seeking workers comp attorneys.

“If they're certified in it, that will mean to the public that they can rely on that person,” Mr. Bagnato said. “And that's not true just of claimants, but that's also true of the self-insureds and the insurance companies that are seeking counsel in one of these cases.”

Dina Brilliant, a partner with Brilliant & Neiman L.L.C. in Trevose, Pa., said she plans to seek the certification. She has practiced workers comp law since 1993 and said the certification could help differentiate her and other attorneys from lawyers who “dabble” occasionally in comp cases.

“With advertising today, I'm not sure if the general public can tell that we're experienced with it,” Ms. Brilliant said.

According to a statement from the Pennsylvania Bar Assn., a 12-member committee will oversee the certification process. Application fees could reach up to $1,000 for a five-year certification, though Mr. Bagnato said the association is still working on determining costs.

Certification is optional for workers comp attorneys, and it will be available only to lawyers who dedicate at least 50% of their practices to workers comp. Applications are expected to become available in late fall, with the first annual certification exam taking place in spring 2013, Mr. Bagnato said.

Several state bar associations offer certifications for workers comp, including those in California, Florida and North Carolina, said Dennis Rendleman, Chicago-based ethics counsel for the Center for Professional Responsibility at the American Bar Assn.

Certification can help lawyers strengthen their practices, because it requires them to demonstrate up-to-date knowledge in their law specialty, Mr. Rendleman said.

“Your skills are being affirmed by the fact that you have to regularly renew your certification,” said Mr. Rendleman, who said the ABA provides advice and support for state certification programs.

The process for certification in Pennsylvania won't be easy, said Matthew Wilson, a partner and workers comp attorney with the Martin Banks law firm in Philadelphia.

Mr. Wilson, who was part of the subcommittee that drafted the certification test, said the four-hour exam—which includes multiple-choice and essay questions—will be rigorous for even the most experienced workers comp attorneys.

He believes certified Pennsylvania attorneys could see more business coming through their doors, particularly from insurance industry clients.

“I think some carriers are going to insist upon having certified counsel,” said Mr. Wilson, who believes the Pennsylvania bar could consider certifications for other law specialties in the future.