Money Talk is Polite Conversation

By G. Kevin Mathis, Investor Advocacy Intern, Spring 2019

The rattlesnake king, Clark Stanley, created the narrative of the snake oil salesman.  Stanley peddled his snake oil liniment to consumers at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. To gain credibility for his product he performed a show-stopping act for fairgoers. He snatched a rattlesnake out of a bag sliced the snake open and squeezed out what he claimed to be healing snake oil extracts. The fairgoers bit and bought Stanley’s snake oil liniment. Thankfully, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), then known as the Division of Chemistry, also purchased some of the liniment. The FDA tested the liniment and found out that it was not snake oil, but a mixture of dangerous chemicals that could potentially injure consumers.

Beyond being the story that created the tale of the snake oil salesperson, Stanley’s story is the story of someone defrauding buyers.  These stories have several common elements that consumers can use to protect themselves. The aspect most prominent in Stanley’s snake oil scheme is that fraudsters tend to create a product that emulates a real product so that their claims about their product has some basis in truth. Real snake oil made from the oil of the Chinese water snake, which is rich in the omega-3 acids that help reduce inflammation, was quite useful. Stanley’s snake oil was a fake version of Chinese water snake oil that he claimed was real. He also inflated the benefits of his product compared to the real one. Understanding and identifying these commonalities can help protect consumers when the next rattlesnake king comes rolling into town.

How does knowing what Stanley’s story help investors? Investors are consumers that buy securities. Knowing stories of products with incredible claims can help investors build some healthy skepticism when it comes to the claims of financial professionals. That skepticism can cause investors to pause and question a financial professional. When their claims about a product exceed what is typical of that product or do not line up with the product that they claim it is investors should alert others. When investors communicate about bad investment products investment advisors hoping to defraud unwitting investors have little or no unsuspecting investors available to defraud.

I am discussing some other schemes and their essential elements so that consumers can build up some knowledge of what to look for when it comes to spotting bad investments. As investors learn these elements, they should remember that communicating with other investors is the most important thing investors can do to protect themselves. When it comes to bad investments is to talk about their investment experience the good, the bad, and the ugly. Continue reading

Attorneys: Great Orators, Better Listeners

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

While working in the HeLP Clinic this past semester, the skills that one traditionally associates with “lawyering” have been honed.  I, along with my amazing team and supervisor, had the opportunity to prepare for a disability benefits hearing.  This included interviewing, building up a case file, drafting a brief in support of our case, and preparing to advocate at the hearing for our client.  This was a truly rewarding experience, and one that I am very thankful that I had the chance to be a part of.

However, toward the end of the semester, I had an encounter that put all of that to shame, and reminded me that there are more important skills to being a lawyer and advocate.  While participating in the Behind the Scenes at Hughes Spalding program, I and another clinic student met with a potential client.  The resident that referred us to her warned us that she was very quiet, but that she may have a potential legal issue with her landlord—a very run of the mill case for clinic students.  What we did not know was that this woman’s problems ran much deeper than that.  Domestic abuse, stalking . . . the information came pouring out of her, along with her tears, without any prying on our part.  She needed to talk.

She continued, explaining that we were the first people who actually seemed like they wanted to help her.  On prior occasions, both doctors and judges had doubted her story.  This woman had exhausted all of the remedies at her disposal, everything that she knew how to do, and no one wanted to help.  That’s where we came in.

This encounter, as brief as it was, was one of the most impactful moments I’ve ever experienced.  It was a stunning reminder that while the stuff we learn in law school is all very important—writing, oral advocacy, courtroom skills—in this case (and I’m sure many other cases), the most important skill that we had was to sit back and listen.  Clients come to us for help—while our brains are always evaluating and analyzing, the clients are just getting things off of their chests, things that are impacting their lives daily.  This experience refocused my attention on client-centered lawyering, and is something that I’ll remember about the HeLP Clinic for the rest of my life.

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.

Continue reading

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