Be Careful What You Ask For; You Just Might Get It

By: Whitney Woodward, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

The pinnacle moment in the HeLP Legal Services Clinic at Georgia State University College of Law is the opportunity to actually represent a client at a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). As one might imagine, the probability of a hearing being scheduled during the one or two semesters students participate in the Clinic is fairly low. Not all Clinic cases are ripe for hearing work since the Supplemental Security Income process through the Social Security Administration (SSA) often takes years to materialize into an appeal that warrants a hearing. Additionally, some Clinic clients never make it past the research and investigation phase with their HeLP legal interns due to a lack of evidence or effective legal arguments in their cases. Therefore, when, as a legal intern, one is given the opportunity to represent a client at an upcoming hearing, most students jump at the chance. While the experience is second to none, students must be ready for the work and responsibility that immediately lands in their laps and be willing to exhibit flexibility as they work with ALJs running their courtrooms in their own unique ways.

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Tips on How to Tell Your Client “No”

HeLP - Juliana Mesa

By: Juliana Mesa, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Prior to coming to law school, I worked at a nonprofit where I worked with clients ranging from some of the largest corporations in Atlanta, to small nonprofits which specialized on narrow issues in our community. All of my clients were very good at what they did, but all came to us because they were looking for experts in a different area they needed help with. For some of our corporate partners, this often came in questions on how to make a bigger impact in our community and how to get their employees more engaged through volunteer opportunities.

Just as in many other client-facing careers, clients come to us at the HeLP clinic because of our expertise and ability to help in a specific area, and often come with a specific goal in mind. For example, in the HeLP Clinic we might have clients that know they want help in receiving SSA disability benefits or want to get out of their lease with their landlord.

In both settings, I have had to encounter situations in which I have had to tell a client “no.” This is often an uncomfortable situation because, although we want to make our clients happy and give them the answers they want, as the experts in the field we have a duty to give them honest and correct advice, even if it is not exactly what the client envisioned.

A seemingly small example, but one which surprisingly brought up how difficult it can be to tell a client “no,” was when corporate clients wanted to put together a volunteer event for their employees by creating hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the hungry across Atlanta.

At face value, this sounds like a great idea. This is a project where volunteers can work together in a fun environment, which often serves as a team builder, while at the same time feeding people who don’t have access to food.

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Home is Where the Start Is: Observations from a Client Home Visit

HeLP - Michael Costello

By: Michael Costello, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

The most significant part of an attorney’s work on a case is to investigate the facts.  The facts will influence the claim to be asserted, allow you to calculate the likelihood of success, and help determine the most persuasive legal theories to advance to advocate for the client.  Importantly, facts may sometimes change over time, or become slightly different when looked at objectively.

Recently, while working on a childhood disability Supplemental Security Income case, my partner and I conducted a visit to a client’s home, which revealed a change to the facts in a case that already has been pending in the HeLP Legal Services Clinic for two years.  A comfortable interview environment for both the parent and child revealed new information that was beneficial to the case.  Also, the opportunity to visually observe how life is for the child in their everyday environment provided new facts that will allow for more persuasive advocacy.  The new facts learned during the home visit will enable us to formulate new arguments to use that will help this client get her child’s benefits reinstated.

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The Future of Mental Health Institutions

Peter Nielsen photoThe Future of Mental Health Institutions

By: Peter Nielsen, Spring 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Student Intern

The most recent round of school shootings once again has the topic of mental health featured in headlines across the country. Although both state and federal governments provide a variety of mental health programs, there is one end of the spectrum of mental health treatment that has been almost completely abandoned in America. The largely forgotten and most intensive area of mental health care is inpatient hospitals. Continue reading

What to Be Aware Of When the Social Security Administration Awards Your Client Back Pay

Scott Robertson photo

By: Scott Robertson, Spring 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Student Intern

Social Security disability claims can take a long time to process.  Thus, in a lot of cases where a client is awarded Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits based upon disability, the Administrative Law Judge will award past due disability benefits back to the date when the initial application was filed.  Unfortunately for the client, back payment funds may only be used for certain expenses and the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that a benefits payee substantiate each purchase made with the funds.  This restrictive policy, along with other quirks in the process of obtaining and using the back pay can be frustrating, confusing, and generally troublesome for clients. Continue reading

Lawyers as “Connectors”

Sutton Freedman photoLawyers 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.

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