By James Hicks, ombudsman attorney, Nashville
Over the past three years (has it really been that long?), I have been honored to serve as an ombudsman attorney for the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. My days are spent explaining legal concepts and court procedure to self-represented litigants. It is almost always the case that the people I work with have never had any legal training. As you might imagine, representing oneself without any legal training can be an intimidating prospect. That prospect is also far from rare, as nearly half of all workers’ compensation claims that are mediated by the Bureau and litigated in the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims involve a self-represented employee.
The Bureau provides invaluable dispute resolution and educational services to injured workers when problems arise in a workers’ compensation claim. When the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) approached us about a possible partnership, we began thinking about how we could make those services more accessible for injured workers. Our initial conversations led us to a larger collaboration with TALS, the Bureau, Lincoln Memorial University-Duncan School of Law, and LawDroid, an award-winning legal technology company. The partnership studied the impact of 2013 legislative changes to the workers’ compensation process in Tennessee and its impact on low-income workers. The study identified a major barrier to workers seeking and obtaining compensation: filling out and returning the forms required to proceed with a claim. To address this barrier, we built a new tool that we call “WC Bot.”
WC Bot is a user-friendly, interactive chatbot designed to assist injured workers with the proper completion of the Petition for Benefit Determination and Request for Expedited Hearing (along with its accompanying affidavit). Users can complete the forms by either typing or speaking into their device. Additionally, educational materials, including videos explaining different workers’ compensation concepts, are incorporated into both interviews. WC Bot is free to use and readily available to the public. It can be accessed by visiting www.HELP4TN.org.
Then click on the chatbot icon in the lower right-hand corner of the page. The chatbot looks like this.
We hope that this new tool will help make the Bureau’s dispute resolution and court services more accessible and a little less intimidating for self-represented workers going forward.
On a personal note, it is difficult to describe how much I have enjoyed working on this project, and I would like to thank everyone that has been a part of this public-private partnership. I look forward to more collaboration with each of you in the future. This project is made possible by a Tennessee Legal Initiatives Fund Grant from the Tennessee Bar Foundation.