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In any industry in which there is more than one company performing the same task, companies distinguish themselves from the competition by what they do differently.  Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme perform essentially the same function, yet Krispy Kreme is known for their light-up sign alerting people to fresh donuts available, and Dunkin Donuts separated themselves from the competition years ago with their coffee.

So I thought as part of our re-launching of our blog, I’d start by talking about how we handle unemployment appeal hearings and what we do differently that makes us distinct in how we provide representation in unemployment appeal hearings.

1. It starts with the advertising.  We do send letters to people that have unemployment appeal hearings coming up.  Before we send out our letters, we filter the list and remove people whom we know would not benefit from our services.  There are over 100 issues that can be decided at an unemployment appeal hearing, and not all of them require the assistance of an attorney.  We do not want to waste people’s time or money on an issue where we would be of no or little added benefit.  Additionally, we include a business card in each of our letters.  Often people do not think they need an attorney for these hearings.  Most of the unemployment hearings held in North Carolina are done by telephone.  This is a bit misleading in that it gives the impression that is fairly informal in nature.  It actually mirrors a court trial in many ways.  However, at some point they may have a motion or a subpoena served on them, or they may get a large packet in the mail from the employer with all the evidence they plan to present at the hearing, or they may go through with the hearing without counsel and realize it was a mistake to do this alone.  At some point along the process, a person may need to talk to an attorney, and they will have our card handy if that happens.  Finally, we send the actual hearing notice that the unemployment office produces to the client.  Sometimes, the unemployment office’s copy is lost in the mail or it takes an unusual amount of time to arrive.  People seem to appreciate the fact that we send them the actual hearing notice letting them know the date and time of their hearing.

2. We provide a thorough consultation. While most of the firms who represent claimants in unemployment hearings offer free consultations, we go into a lot of depth during ours.  We go through a preliminary set of questions to figure out where your case is at procedurally.  Then, you speak with a licensed attorney about the facts of the case.  We provide feedback and advice about the case.  Then, we walk through with you what to expect at the hearing.  All of this is at no charge.  We have an attorney dedicated to handling all the incoming calls so that you speak with an attorney as quickly as possible about your case.  We emphasize being thorough at this stage because, while we do have a few “regulars,” the vast majority of our clients have never gone through this experience before.

3. We charge fair fees for the service we provide and provide flexible payment options. If you decide you need an attorney’s help with your unemployment appeal hearing, we typically charge flat fees for our services and set up payment plans based on client needs.  One of the last things we expect is for a claimant that has been unemployed for six months to be able to pay completely up front for legal services.  One caveat — we are not the cheapest option out there.  There are certainly folks out there who represent claimants for less than we charge.  However, we provide a premium quality service, which is explained more below.  We treat each case as if it was the trial of the century and your life was at stake — because often times, it is.

4. We take into account parallel proceedings.  Sometimes claimants have other claims against their former employer for various things connected with their separation from employment (e.g. breach of contract claims, discrimination claims, wrongful discharge, etc.).  If we hear something that resonates as being a potential claim, we will alert you to that.  Additionally, we will discuss with you how other ongoing claims may impact your unemployment hearing. Sometimes employers have parallel claims against claimants (e.g. criminal charges for alleged wrongdoing or fraud).  We will work in conjunction with other attorneys you may have employed to deal with other issues.

5. We limit the amount of footwork you have to do. Because there are not that many attorneys who practice this area of law, it is actually more common for our client to not be local to our office.  We are set up to work remotely.  We have electronic fax, so that clients can fax us documents anytime of the day or night, or on weekends.  We also hold most of our meetings by telephone.  Additionally, we can often save a client on travel costs for an in person hearing by filing a motion to participate by telephone.  However, we always offer the option of using our conference rooms for meetings and the hearing.  Finally, our practice management software is cloud-based and allows us to provide a login for each client.  This allows the client to see documents, tasks, and invoices, allows them to make payments online easily, and gives them 24/7 access to the status of their case.

6. We are streamlined. While we endeavor to treat each client like they are our only client, we have a very streamlined process for handling every stage of an unemployment appeal hearing, from the intake to communicating the decision.  This allows our clients to have their cases handled efficiently.  When someone decides to hire us, we go through a 10 minute set up process on the phone where we can take all the information we need to represent them, schedule all the meetings with the attorney handling the case, set up a payment plan and take the initial payment by telephone or online.  We then handle any motions, subpoenas, necessary communications with the opposing party or the appeals referee, etc. shortly after the set up process is complete.  The phone meetings with the attorney are very organized.  The first meeting is typically what we call the “strategy meeting.”  That is where we talk in depth about the case, how we plan to approach the case, and what evidence we need and plan to use.  The second meeting is all about the claimant’s testimony.  We will practice with them and discuss with them in detail what questions they are likely to be asked at a hearing.  During the hearing, we handle all the “attorney” aspects of the proceedings, such as questioning of witnesses, closing arguments, objections, presentation of evidence, etc.  After the hearing, we generally communicate our initial thoughts about how the hearing went with the client and then wait for the decision.  When the decision comes in, we immediately process it and communicate with our client the same day about the decision and what to do from that point.

7. We are equipped.  We have multiple attorneys available to take new cases as they come in.  This limits our need to request continuances substantially due to conflicting hearings, allowing us to have your hearing sooner and getting a decision more quickly.  The primary practice area of each of our attorneys is NC Unemployment law.  We each stay abreast of developments in the law, changes within the agency, and routinely attend continuing education on the subject.

8. We never go in cold.  We take a strict stance against “winging it” or going in cold to an unemployment hearing.  We often get calls from people who have hearings scheduled the same day or the next day.  We do not handle hearings that we cannot adequately prepare for, and while we will discuss the case with those people, we will usually recommend a continuance if it is appropriate so that the person can have time to retain a prepared attorney.

9. We actually care.  The attorneys that work here do not merely earn a living.  There are far more lucrative areas of law that one could practice with the same law license.  We each chose this area of law because it is what we love doing.  We love the gratitude we receive when we help someone get through a difficult time.  We recognize that many people identify themselves by their career, and losing one’s job affects people on many levels (financially, mentally, etc.).  We hold our client’s hand through this process.

10. We handle all levels of appeal.  We routinely handle appeals to the Board of Review as well as Requests for Post-Decision Relief.  When all the administrative remedies have been exhausted, we also routinely appeal cases to Superior Court.  We evaluate the likelihood of success and provide free consultations for each level of appeal.