How Much Do Lawyers Matter, Really? The Effectiveness of Representation at Disability Benefits Hearings

By: Steven Hendryx, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

This semester in the HeLP Clinic, my partners and I have had the privilege to work on a disability benefits case that proceeded to a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ).  Representing a client at an ALJ hearing feels like a chance to do some “real lawyering,” so we were all extremely excited to be working on this case.  We spent the semester poring over medical records, sending out requests, conducting interviews, and of course, drafting the brief.  This case was on my mind all semester, as it dominated the work that we did in the clinic.  But throughout the process, I kept wondering to myself—do these clients really need us?

Several times throughout the semester, I found myself wondering if providing representation was the most efficient way for us to assist disability claimants.  I felt like a lot of this process could be solved by self-help remedies, thereby broadening our scope and helping more people at once.  Maybe if we just held classes a couple times per year teaching people how to file their applications and appeal denials themselves, we would be more efficient.  As a result of these thoughts, I decided to do some research to see if we as (soon-to-be) lawyers are truly worth our salt.

While I was unable to find any peer-reviewed study or research on the topic, I did make several interesting discoveries.  According to one law firm’s research, the effect of having attorney representation at any point during the disability benefit process (application to ALJ hearing) nearly tripled the success rate of claimants.  This blew me away—just having someone like me work on your case makes it three times more likely that you’ll succeed?  But, once I sat back to consider the sorts of things that lawyers are able to do just by the nature of their position in society, this disparity in success rates made more sense to me.

When we request records from a hospital or school on behalf of our clients, not only do we know the proper channels to go through to do so, but people listen to us.  Just the “threat” of legal representation speeds things up for our clients, and people are much more willing to work with your demands thanks to that J.D. next to your name.

Additionally, we have the benefit of understanding how to peruse the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) rules and regulations, and how to use facts from the medical records to show that SSA’s criteria are met.  These are tools that are at our disposal that our clients likely aren’t even aware of.

The results of my research surprised me.  I knew that the work that we were doing was important, but I had no idea how effective we could truly be when representing our clients.  I still believe that the populace as a whole would be well served by someone doing some self-help sessions with interested people, because sadly we are not able to represent everyone who may need assistance.  However, I gained a new perspective about what it means to represent someone, and how powerful that ability truly is.

Investor Advocacy Clinic Not Currently Accepting Cases

Though we will continue to post to this blog throughout the summer, the Investor Advocacy Clinic is not currently accepting any case inquiries or providing any legal advice and is not currently planning to be operational in the 2019-2020 school year.  If you believe you have a problem with your financial professional, we recommend that you contact another lawyer as soon as possible because the passage of time can adversely impact a legal claim.  This link provides information that may assist you in finding an attorney.

Poor Ophelia: The Human Tragedy of Childhood Mental Illness

By: Ragan Morrison, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

“Poor Ophelia
Divided from herself and her fair judgment,
Without the which we are pictures, or mere beasts…”

So remarks King Claudius in Act IV, scene 5 of Hamlet upon witnessing the horrific collapse into madness of Ophelia, Prince Hamlet’s erstwhile love interest.  While the meaning and intended significance of her character have provided for spirited debate amongst readers and audiences of Shakespeare over the years, Ophelia has become something of a romantic symbol for youth afflicted with mental illness.  Certainly, Shakespeare’s works are filled with poetic references to madness, all with an eye toward making sense of diseases of the mind.

While of course our scientific knowledge of the brain and its maladies has fundamentally improved since the early 17th century, the unfortunate truth is that we are still many years from the kind of medical understanding needed to truly remedy these disorders.  And often lost in the cold data or medical reports of a child suffering from depression, or autism, or any of these insidious illnesses is an acknowledgment of the deep human tragedy belying them—all the more so when they afflict those so young.

Our work in the HeLP Clinic often puts us directly in front of children with mental health impairments and, as we and our medical partners try to help them, it has been meaningful to discuss and reflect upon the emotional reality of our cases.  Unlike Shakespeare’s Ophelia, there is nothing romantic about the suffering caused by childhood psychological disorders.  These illnesses torment not just the child, but the whole family.  The drama and stress caused by a sick child, and the concomitant financial pressures, take a serious emotional toll on parents, siblings, and anyone close to the patient.

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Making an Impact

By G. Kevin Mathis, Spring 2019 IAC Student Intern

I returned to the Clinic because last semester I gained some valuable practical legal experience while helping harmed investors.  I hoped to continue my efforts representing investors. I also wanted the chance to assist Clinic I students learn how to assist with investor matters.  Just like last semester, my experience was not only great but it was more than I expected. Continue reading

My Clinic Story…with a Cherry on Top

By: Brook Ptacek, Spring 2019 IAC Student Intern

After a year, my clinic story is finally winding to an end—but what an end it has been. Over the course of my time with Georgia State’s Investor Advocacy Clinic, I have gotten to assist Georgia’s Secretary of State with investigations into fraudulent schemes and sales of unregistered securities. As a student clinician, I have been able to help potential clients with issues such as the mishandling of portfolio transfers and clarifying the terms of variable annuity contracts. But the cherry on top was when the Clinic got to speak in D.C. at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Continue reading

Do Students with Disabilities Have a Choice in “School Choice”?

By Emma Fennelly, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Under the current administration, “school choice” has been heavily promoted by the Department of Education and its current Secretary Betsy DeVos as an alternative to traditional public schools, giving parents more choices when deciding how to educate their children. Charter schools are privately administered schools that are publicly funded, but still have the ability to accept additional funds from grants and organizations. Traditional public schools do not qualify for such funds.

In addition to funding differences, private charter schools differ from traditional public schools in administration: families must apply to charter schools and be accepted; charter schools do not follow the same state-mandated curriculums; and charter schools are not held to the same accountability requirements as traditional public schools. However, while charter schools may be exempt from certain state or local requirements, they are still a part of the public education system and, as such, are subject to all federal laws and regulations related to students with disabilities, particularly the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under this law, a child age 3 through 21 years old who is considered to have a disability under any of IDEA’s twelve categories of eligibility is entitled to Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). An “appropriate education” is construed broadly and can include anything from assistance in a general education classroom with an occasional classroom aid, to a separate classroom for students with similar learning disabilities, to the implementation of related services such as speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, psychological counseling, or medical diagnostic services necessary for the child’s education.

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A Whirlwind of Wow

By Caitlyn Scofield, Investor Advocacy Clinic Spring 2019 Student Intern

I entered into the Investor Advocacy Clinic in the last semester of my last year of law school. I had waited for over a year to be apart of this clinic and had been looking forward to the experience. I was not disappointed and now I can’t believe it is coming to a close. Through my school journey I have had the opportunity to have a multitude of various experiences, but nothing has come close to what I was able to do in the Investors Advocacy Clinic. During my time at the clinic, I not only had the opportunity to work with amazing colleagues, but also work with clients, the Secretary of State’s Securities Division, and speak with representatives from the SEC and FINRA. The time I have spent in the Investor Advocacy Clinic has honestly been one of the best and most valuable experiences of my law school career.

When I came into the clinic I wasn’t sure what to expect. Of course, I had heard of other IAC interns working with clients on financial matters and with the FINRA arbitration process, but I had no idea of all the other opportunities and work I would get to be involved with.  From working with clients and blogging about video games to working with the Secretary of State, the things I got to do within the clinic were diverse, unique and invaluable.  Not only did I have the opportunity to advocate for investors who were wronged, but also at higher level with the Secretary of State, the SEC and FINRA. I am honestly humbled by the engaging opportunities I was presented with during my time with the clinic.

The most unique of the experiences was the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. and present to the SEC. Our time with the SEC was spent speaking to various representatives within the organization on what we saw and handled within our clinic and what we believed would be ways to improve protections for investors.  Our clinic presented on the need for investor communication and empowerment focusing on the beginning of the #NoShame movement. This a social movement to end the stigma against talking about money, which we feel will empower investors to better communicate by sharing their questions and concerns with others. That, in turn, will help them to avoid fraud and better invest their money. The opportunity to have those who make policy and regulations hear what we as students and advocates had to say was exhilarating. I personally felt like we were making a real impact on the lives of those that we are seeking to help. We were also able to interact with other Investor Advocacy Clinics from around the country and hear what their experiences were. It was a wonderful experience to engage with so many people who are interested in the same cause.

My time in the clinic was invaluable and I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my last semester at Georgia State. At every turn I was wowed by the amount of investment, work and diligence of my colleagues and those we worked with. Every experience was memorable and unique. I hope to keep in touch with my clinic colleagues for many years to come.