Element 1 : Communication Between Client and Attorney
The first element of effective representation is communication. For our firm, communication begins by having the client meet with his/her attorney at the beginning of the case. This serves two purposes.
First, the attorney is able to talk to the client and develop one or more supportable “theories” of the case, ultimately increasing our client’s chance of success at the hearing level. Second, meeting with an attorney allows our client to voice questions and concerns about his/her case, which can then be directly addressed by the attorney. We believe that this process serves to enhance confidence in our ability to provide effective representation throughout the hearing process.
Moreover, communication includes our client’s ability to talk with their attorney, as necessary, during the entire appeal process, up to and including their hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). In the Oakland ODAR hearing office, it generally takes around 10 months to get a hearing. During this time our client’s circumstances often change, and being able to speak with one’s representative may be very important.
Effective communication also involves interaction with our experienced staff members, who are familiar with the appeals process, and communicate regularly with the attorneys. A client’s interaction with our staff is a necessary part of the hearing preparation. It generally includes updating and obtaining medical records, or completing forms sent to our clients by the Social Security Administration.
Lastly, after obtaining a favorable disability decision, communication means being able to assure our clients that Social Security has accurately computed the amount of past due benefits to which our client is entitled. It may be necessary to address complex post-hearing payment issues. Oftentimes the Social Security Administration will “underpay” or “overpay” a claim, requiring the attorney to appeal an Award Notice. It takes an experienced attorney and staff to effectively evaluate and ensure payment of the proper amount of past due benefits.
Eric J. Patrick, Esq. and Richard A. Gutstadt, Esq.