April, 2011: The Benefit of Having a Diligent Lawyer
Pamela's case (out of the Portland, Maine Office of Disability Adjudication and Review) is a reminder that not every attorney is as diligent as the next. What has become clear to me over time is that some attorneys see their role as an advocate for their client differently than others. In Pamela's case, she contacted her initial lawyer following an initial denial. He appealed her case for her, but he did not discuss with her whether she had taken advantage of treatment options for her condition given the extent of her continuing problems (nor did he discuss with her the importance of ongoing treatment, both personally and in terms of her claim). Had I spoken with her at that time, I would have informed her of a number of different treatment options that could have been attempted to assist her with her condition. The Social Security regulations require one to prove that they remain disabled despite prescribed treatment for a year or longer. This means that every effort needs to be made to get better, and then if one cannot get better enough to return to some form of gainful employment and it has been or is likely to be a year or longer, then benefits are appropriate. In this case, not only did the attorney fail to advise her concerning what was less than significant treatment, they failed to seek out any supportive evidence from her doctors so as to establish a record that she was disabled at that time. When Pamela called me to discuss my potential involvement, it was after she had been denied a second time and she was having no contact from her attorney at all (with no work to her knowledge being undertaken at all). Instead of agreeing to involvement immediately, I asked her to contact the lawyer and see what he had been undertaken on her case over the course of the last 9 months: the response was that there was nothing that needed to be done and that they would begin getting the file together for the Social Security Administration a couple of months ahead of the hearing date and time. Unfortunately, this was horrible advice for Pamela as she needed their office to be working with her to get evidence from her doctors supportive of her contention that she was disabled from working; likewise, they needed to inform her of other treatment options she should be looking into so as to see if in fact she would in fact remain disabled despite prescribed treatment. Upon our office's involvement, Pamela started getting some better answers regarding her condition (as we were able to provide her some guidance as to different treatment options that might assist her) and we were likewise able in a few months' time to get substantial evidence that was supportive of her claim (given the treatment that was now transpiring and the answers the doctors were giving her). I am happy to say that Pamela received a fully favorable decision after a longer than two year claims process. I learned during this time, however, that this attorney has adversely impacted others by the manner in which he is handling his cases. Soon after my initial involvement with Pamela, I was contacted by another individual who did not have the same fortune of discontinuing representation with this attorney prior to hearing. Not only was this individual in no treatment at the time they went to hearing, the attorney provided absolutely no advice during the entire year plus that he had been representing him of how important treatment was for both his claim and for him personally. Apparently, the attorney did not speak with him about his claim in any meaningful manner until the morning of the hearing, which was shocking for me to hear. Preparation for the hearing consisted of meeting ½ hour before the actual hearing (at the hearing office) to discuss the hearing process. Needless to say, this gentleman lost his claim and came to me after his denial letter from the judge, wondering what I might be able to do for him at that point. I was able to advise him of future treatment options, however it was also necessary for me to advise him that it wasn't clear to me that he would remain disabled despite prescribed treatment as he wasn't in aggressive treatment at the time: I advised him that this was something his attorney should have shared with him more than a year prior to hearing when he first got involved in his case. In my opinion, care and attention to an individual's disability claim needs to start on day one (not two months before the hearing, or for that matter the day of the hearing).