I recently had a new client in my office. She had previously filed for benefits, and had been represented by a large law firm based out of town. Since she signed up with this office through the mail, she never had the opportunity to meet with her attorney (or any attorney) until the day of the hearing. In fact, according to her, the attorney didn't arrive until "five minutes before the hearing." Her claim was denied by the judge, and she came to see me about helping her on a new application. She chose our office because she wanted someone she could talk with "face to face."
We sat together and discussed her various conditions and the doctors who treat her for them. We discussed her past work activity, Social Security's requirements for disability, and the ways we should develop her file to present her strongest case.
And then I asked her, "Well what if I could get you a job where you didn't have to lift much, but you had to stand up most of the day?" Because of her age and her past work, her ability (or inability) to stand and walk at work would be one of the most important issues in her claim.
She responded, "Oh, no, my feet hurt way too much to stand that long."
Up to this point, she hadn't told me that anything was wrong with her feet. When she filled out an interview form in the lobby, she hadn't listed any conditions related to her feet. Her prior ALJ denial didn't mention anything about pain or problems with her feet. She then explained that not only has she has had surgery on her feet, but she is still followed by a podiatrist.
However, because in her own mind this condition wasn't the one that caused her to be "disabled," she had never mentioned it before, and no one had ever bothered to ask the right questions.
When I explained the importance of this issue to her, she said, "See? This is why I needed to meet a lawyer face to face."
Taking the time to sit with your lawyer at the beginning of representation can help to uncover issues and medical treatment that may be critical to your case. I often ask my clients questions based on my observations of them, whether they have a painful gait, a tremor in the hands, the appearance of being confused or a speech slur, all of these may be signs of a medical condition or medication side effect that is important to a disability case.
In another recent case, a new client had filed for disability based on back pain. He was denied at the initial level and came to me for help with his appeal. During our interview, his focus was on severe back pain, but I noticed as he talked that he also appeared to have some significant confusion and cognitive deficits. I filed his appeal and asked the SSA to send him for a psychological examination. Based on the results of that psychological exam, his claim was approved within just a few months. But if I had never met with him face to face, I wouldn't have known to ask for the exam.
I've been told by clients that when they contacted some regional and national disability offices, they were simply mailed out paperwork to be completed. Others report that a "case manager" conducted an interview by telephone. Some other offices that do offer face to face meetings will have a non-attorney staff member conduct the interview.
At Cutter Hall Karlock, every new client meets with an attorney at the outset of representation, unless the client insists on another arrangement. And that same attorney retains responsibility for the case until the file at our office is closed. We think this makes our clients feel more comfortable and confident, and it allows us to interact with our clients in a way that helps us to really understand the medical issues involved.
And if nothing else, every new client also gets to meet our office dog, Oliver. That's pretty cool too.