We recently sat down with Joel M. Nomberg, founding member and now Of Counsel to the Nomberg Law Firm, to discuss some of his philosophies of representing injured workers. Joel reflected on some of those topics most important to him during his stellar 45 year career representing the good folks of Dothan and throughout the Wiregrass area in southeast Alabama.
NLF: What led you to representing injured employees?
Joel: Growing up in south Alabama, my family worked in the retail business. Most of the customers to the family’s stores were everyday hardworking people. These folks were salt of the earth types who worked very hard to provide for their families. I always admired them and thought they were impressive in the way they spoke and carried on with others. This always stuck with me when I began in private practice.
NLF: What were some of your primary goals in helping injured employees?
Joel: When a person is injured on the job, it can be a very stressful time in their life. Their health has been affected by the injury so their ability to provide for their family may be compromised. After I was convinced my client was truly injured and that it occurred on the job, I always thought it was my job to insure that the client understood how the workers’ compensation laws work to help protect his/her needs. At the same time, I felt it was important to point out the limitations in the law as well. Managing the client’s expectations and protecting their rights were very important as well as being an advocate for my client.
NLF: Discuss your philosophy in representing injured employees.
Joel: It is important to obtain a very detailed history of the client’s life, specifically their education, previous employment, medical history as well as previous claims. I always learned what the client’s job duties were and how the accident at work was related to their duties. Always stay in constant contact with the client to remain updated on their medical care and status. Prepare the client for their deposition, mediation and/or trial so they can be comfortable with the process. Hiring a credible vocational expert is important.
NLF: Did you prefer taking your client’s case to a trial or to settling the claims through a voluntary mediation?
Joel: While a trial and mediation are two separate means to resolving a client’s workers‘ compensation case, they can be useful to achieve the client’s goals. It really depends on what the client wants from the case and what is the best avenue to take. If the client has a disputed case that the insurance company has denied benefits, then a trial might be the way to proceed. This way a judge can listen and see all the evidence to make an informed decision. However, if the client does not like confrontation and wants to resolve the claim as soon as possible, then a mediation might be a better (and sometimes the only) way to go. Also, some cases might be heading for a trial, but end up in mediation. It really depends on the specifics of each case to determine what’s best for the client.
NLF: How has the practice of workers’ compensation cases changed over the years?
Joel: When I first began representing injured workers the relationship between the company and the injured worker was not nearly as adversarial as it became later on in my career. As the costs of doing business have risen each decade, companies have focused much more on their bottom line. In turn, the hostility that occurs has taken a sharp increase, especially when large companies solely focus on the bottom line. Now most cases end up in litigation regardless of how minor the issue might be. It seems that everything is a fight at the courthouse.
NLF: What’s it like to practice law with two of your sons?
Joel: First of all, I am very proud of them both. Bernard and David are compassionate about their work and their clients. It brings me great joy to share in their successes. I am always glad to lend them my advice when asked, but they seem to rarely need it most days. They are doing great.
NLF: Any advice for lawyers just starting out in their careers?
Joel: Find something in the law that excites you and become good at it. The practice of law is not just about making money. Granted that is a large part of it, but only part of the total equation. If you are not happy about the work you do it will affect other parts of your life. Be happy in your work and strive to be the best at it.
NLF: How do you spend your time away from the office?
Joel: I enjoy reading, more specifically reading biographies and about history. I also travel, fish and paint. College sports and spending quality time with family near my home in Gulf Shores are also very important to me. I truly enjoy spending time with my children and grandchildren.