April 02, 2019

Social Security Disability Practice

Erin Schmidt

Person on crutchesA long-time client walks into your office and hands you a letter he received from Social Security about his disability claim. Your client does not understand why he was turned down—it is obvious he can no longer perform the job he previously held. You want to help. You have been considering moving into a Social Security disability practice for some time now, but you do not know where to start.

One thing to keep in mind: Filing for and receiving Social Security disability is a long process, made more so by the fact that your client has medical problems and is not working. Although some cases are approved at the initial level, many claims end up at hearing, and the time from the initial application to hearing can extend over two years.

Moreover, this area of the law is probably like no other you have worked in. Social Security disability is an informal, nonadversarial system. There is no representative on the other side to negotiate with or argue against, although some may hold that decision makers at the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) fulfill this role, and the formal rules of evidence do not apply. At hearings, the administrative law judge (ALJ) is both inquisitor and adjudicator. And proceedings are private. You cannot drop by an Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) to watch a hearing in progress. Thus, gaining practical experience requires learning the law, finding a mentor, and jumping in headfirst.

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