Lawyers as “Connectors”
By: Sutton Freedman, Spring 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Student Intern
Working in the HeLP clinic, even for just a few weeks that I have, has given me a new perspective on what lawyering can mean. My partners and I have been working on preparing an appeal for Social Security disability benefits—something I knew nothing about before beginning my work in the clinic—for a child that suffers from several health problems. Despite the seriousness of the child’s conditions, the Social Security Administration denied the family’s initial application as well as their second bite at the apple, the ‘request for reconsideration.’ The next phase of appeal involves requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge, a process that requires us to gather evidence from a variety of sources. This includes both general and special education records from the child’s school, as well as medical records from the child’s doctors, counselors, and specialists over the last several years. In order to prove that the child is entitled to disability benefits, we need all of those records, as well as all of the documentation from the client’s local Social Security office.
I started gathering all those records, only to find out that the matter has actually been juggled between two different Social Security offices, meaning that someone has to get those offices talking to one another in order to fill in the gaps in the timeline and make sure everything is done according to the procedure. Now you can understand why I spent almost the entirety of last week running between the phone, the fax machine, and my computer. All the difficulties I encountered in trying to obtain records, confirm the receipt of records, and re-confirm the receipt of records has given me a new understanding of the phrase: “the right-hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.” Of course, government inefficiencies are nothing new—neither is the fact that schools and medical offices have more urgent things to take care of when a law student comes calling for some obscure record from several years ago. All this back-and-forth has gotten me thinking about the role of the lawyer as a connector, as someone responsible for helping to make sure that the right hand, in fact, does know what the left is doing. If you stop and think about it, all of those institutions I’ve named are expected to come together to do one thing, to ensure that a disabled child has a shot to do any and everything that an able-bodied child can do. And if it’s the attorney’s job to ensure that those three institutions are connected, communicating, and working towards a solution that benefits a child, that sounds like a pretty exciting job.