Unfortunately, there are times when some attorneys or representatives really aren’t doing anything. A common complaint that I hear from claimants that come to me with a denial from a Judge is that they never even spoke to an attorney until the day/week before the hearing. It is all too common for attorneys to take on cases that they are not in a position to actually prepare for hearing. These cases tend to get handed to legal assistants who are not trained adequately to develop the case. The attorney then doesn’t think about the case again until it is set for a hearing. Needless to say, attorneys and representatives that try cases this way tend to get poor results for their clients. With this in mind, here are some things that should concern you as a client:
a) Attorney Won’t Meet With You
Most problems with a case can be resolved with a simple conversation between an attorney and a client. However, if you have requested a meeting with an attorney and the attorney will not make time to discuss the case, you have a problem. That is a pretty clear sign that the attorney/representative is not taking your concerns seriously.
b) The Attorney Wants You To Do Everything
The standard practice for Social Security representatives is to assist the claimant in getting records and reports from their providers. Occasionally, there is something that only the claimant can get, but the vast majority of evidence gathering should be done by the attorney. If a claimant finds herself picking up 4-5 sets of medical records, it is reasonable to ask what the attorney’s office is doing.
Similarly, there is no ethical requirement that the attorney pay for record requests, but this is the standard practice for most attorneys that practice in this area. (Note: The costs of these records then become an expense to be paid on termination of the case). If the attorney/representative is having their unemployed, disabled client come up with the costs for these records, this is a bad sign.
c) A Legal Assistant Has Taken The Role Of The Attorney
Virtually all attorneys depend on support staff to take care of cases. However, there are some that depend on them too much. These assistants are invaluable in helping to relay information to and from the client and to assist in obtaining and submitting evidence. However, they cannot analysis the medical records or various doctors’ reports. They are not able to apply the law to the medical evidence. No legal assistant has ever appeared before a Judge and so no assistant will ever be able to tell as well as an attorney how to convince a Judge to pay a case.
In our practice, clients will speak regularly with a legal assistant assigned to their case about mundane matters (e.g. they have changed addresses, informing us that there is a new medical provider, etc). However, every two to three months we try to set a client up to speak with an attorney. Other firms can successfully arrange their practices differently than our practice. That said, if you have been a client of a firms for a year and never met an attorney this is a bad sign for your case.
d) You Hired An Out-of-state Firm That Has No Idea How To Help You Where You Live
The internet has allowed for numerous firms attempting representation of claimants living many hundreds of miles from their closest office. In theory, this shouldn’t be an issue. Social Security has federal regulations that are the same in Tennessee or Massachusetts. However, part of the value that an attorney provides is helping you to get the evidence that you need to meet the Social Security Administrations standards. Depending on your specific condition, this may mean helping you obtain objective testing (x-rays, MRIs, EMG, etc.) or in getting your doctor to write a letter detailing your work restrictions.
For instance, I had a client who was represented by a Utah firm that lost the case at hearing. She had no health insurance, and the legal assistant assigned to her case informed her that she needed to get x-rays on her back to prove the severity of her condition. However, without insurance her primary care doctor would no longer see her. The legal assistant had no idea what to tell her other than that she needed this evidence. At the hearing, the Judge predictably denied the case based upon a lack of evidence to substantiate her claim. What the Utah firm did not know was that this woman’s county had a program through a regional hospital that could have her seen by a specialist (including an orthopedist) and have x-rays and MRIs taken. This could be done without health insurance and at a low cost. It was also information that all of the local Social Security Attorneys could have given her had she gone to one of them instead of someone on the other side of the country.