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Social Security Disability decisions are coming much more quickly now. My last two cases (before new Administrative Law Judges) have been decided within a couple of weeks. Before, it could take 3-4 months. I don’t know why, but I like it!
The hits just keep rolling! I got a big win in another Social Security Disability Case. It was especially big because my client was already receiving Supplemental Security Income and he risked loosing that in the attempt to get SSDI. Hearings before Administrative Law Judges are difficult to handle. Although they are not adversarial, you don't get to hear the expert testimony until they testify so you have to be quick on your feet. This case had a medical expert. The medical expert testified and was not really solid in his testimony. I considered questioning him about the crucial question in the case, but decided not to because I didn't know what he was going to say and I thought I could get to the heart of the matter by a different avenue.
The case also had a Vocation Expert. The VE is a person who is versed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, a gathering of every job the government can think of, a description of the job and codes indicating the amount of education, mathematical ability, reading ability and physical ability each job requires. Administrative Law Judge first questions the VE by posing a hypothetical claimant with certain limitations and asking the VE if there are jobs available for that person. Sometimes the ALJ will pose two or three hypotheticals. In this case, he did only one. The VE came up with three jobs in a hurry and said there were more. Then came my opportunity to question the VE. My mission is to change the hypothetical plausibly so that the VE says there are no jobs. In this case, I asked about likely rates of absenteeism and being off task. The VE said that in the hypothetical I posed, there would be no jobs for the claimant. The judge agreed and we received another "Fully Favorable" decision two weeks later!
So, I had an operation on my foot on December 1 and have kind of out of commission. Several days ago, I got back to the desk and back to writing. Today, I got word that I have won yet another Social Security Disability case based on a letter to the judge. It's always better to get the benefits sooner and without the stress of a trial!
Folks, there is no reason not to get a lawyer in a Social Security Disability case! I got another of these calls today. It's so frustrating! A person called me who filed for Social Security Disability and had been denied. Then she asked for and had a hearing before an administrative law judge. She says the ALJ got it all wrong and called to get an attorney to appeal to the Federal District Court. I don't feel comfortable taking such a case if I haven't been on the case from the beginning to help create the evidence.
People avoid getting a lawyer because they are afraid of the expense. In Social Security Disability cases, the lawyer doesn't get paid unless benefits are awarded. Then the Social Security Administration withholds the fees and pays the lawyer directly. The lawyer is paid 25% of the back benefits or $6,000 whichever is LEAST. The client never sees the money.
Please call me before you have lost. Paying the lawyer is cheaper than losing.
So I'm feeling pretty good about a very complicated case. A client came in with a tragic disability. He wasn't working, he'd been denied Social Security Disability and a foreclosure of his home mortgage had been scheduled. He had a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge scheduled in his Social Security Disability case and he needed a lawyer. First thing I did was postpone his Social Security hearing and send him to a doctor to get the correct questions answered and ordered updates on his medical records. Next we filed a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy to stop the foreclosure. As soon as I got the medical reports came back, I analyzed them, drafted and submitted a request for an On the Record decision (essentially a letter to the judge walking him through the evidence and the law and asking for a decision without waiting for a hearing). By this time, the Chapter 13 plan was up for confirmation so I continued that because the Social Security matter hadn't been decided yet. We got a Fully Favorable decision on Friday. Now all I need is the specific amount of the payment and I can re-evaluate the Chapter 13 plan and file an amendment if necessary. I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch, but I think it's going to be alright.
Another victory on a Social Security Disability Case! This time with a client whose primary language wasn't English. A big thank-you to her case worker from the local agency!
Summer is a crazy time. A lot of emergencies and quick turnover matters. Fortunately, I don't have to travel back in forth to the office. I go into the other room for dinner and come back to the desk without loosing travel time! And I get to see my family even if it is over the top of the computer monitor...
Remember my last post? I thought I pulled a rabbit out of the hat? I got the notice of decision today. We received a "Fully Favorable" decision! A complete victory ... and a very happy client!
I may have pulled a rabbit out of the hat today. I thought it was a weak case, but I studied the evidence carefully, came up with a strong theory of the case, worked hard preparing the witness and the witness testified well in the hearing. From the judge's comments, I think we won. Can't wait to see the decision.
So, an awkward thing happened the other day. As you know, I work out of my home. I was on the telephone discussing a legal matter with a woman when my wife was leaving to go to the grocery store. She gave me a kiss and I said: "I love you." The woman on the other end of the phone got really quiet. It took me a while to get myself out of that one.
More on managing fees. Often people say to me: “I don’t have enough money to even go bankrupt.” But oftentimes, bankruptcy is the least expensive, most effective way of dealing with a problem. People would often like to fight about a debt which would be charged hourly, could take a year or more to get a decision and has no guaranty of success. In Bankruptcy, a lawyer may only charge fees that are allowed by the court. Generally, I charge a flat fee for bankruptcies. The amount of the fee depends on what chapter you are filing under. Chapter 7 liquidations (more on that in another post) are the least expensive and your fresh start begins with your discharge about three months after you file. Chapter 7 fees must be paid before you file your bankruptcy petition, but since there is no benefit to you in paying any creditor who will be discharged in your bankruptcy, you may accumulate the attorney fee and the fling fee by ceasing payments to those creditors. The more complicated Chapter 13 reorganizations are commensurately more expensive, but fees can be paid over time through the re-organization plan. Many times in the last 30 years, I have had folks come to me and tell me, “Lawyer X represented me in this problem and we lost. What do we do now.” Lawyer X didn’t offer bankruptcy as a solution and they ended up there anyway. Give me a call and make sure you have all of the options explained to you.
When I was a law student, I had a clerkship in a law firm in Dover, NH. Law students are allowed to try minor cases under the supervision of an attorney. I was in the Dover Municipal Court one day waiting to be heard. On the bench was an “Assistant Judge”. Assistant Judges were non-lawyers. Prominent citizens in the community empowered to hear traffic violations and other low level violations. The Assistant Judge that day was a farmer from Rollinsford named Ovid Viel. The case before mine was a local personality who lived off the land around Dover. Each fall, he would get into a fistfight thus insuring a warm place to stay through the winter. Not wanting to encourage this behavior Assistant Judge Viel dismissed the case. As he sauntered down the center aisle toward the door, the defendant stopped and turn to face the bench. “You can shove that gavel up your a**” he shouted. Without missing a beat, Assistant Judge Viel replied, “That, sir, is beyond the jurisdiction of this court!”
Let's talk about fees for Social Security Disability Cases. I do all Social Security Disability Cases on contingency. That means I don't get a fee unless we are successful in obtaining Social Security Benefits (which may include SSI). By law, my fees are limited to 1/4 of your back benefits (the benefits accrued but unpaid at the time of the favorable decision) with a cap of $6,000. The Social Security Administration pays me directly out of your back benefits. If you have been denied Social Security Disability benefits, there is no fee for a consultation. Give me a call to make an appointment at (603) 465-8557.
A juror approached the bench asking to be excused. "My wife is about to become pregnant," he said. The prosecutor interjected, "I think he means his wife is about to have a baby."
Said the judge: "Either way, he ought to be there. You’re excused.
A lot of people hesitate to go to a lawyer because they are afraid of the expense. Granted, I this is how I pay my bills so I have to charge. But the earlier you come to me the more options you have. Maybe I can save you from making a mistake and save you a lot of money. What you do, what the other side does and sometimes the mere passage of time limit your options. I’ll talk about how to manage fees more in a future post.
A lawyer was in court defending a man accused of killing his wife. The body was never found. In closing argument, the lawyer said to the jury, “There’s no body. For all we know, she could come walking through that door in the next minute.” All of the jury turned to look at the door. “If you looked, you must have reasonable doubt; therefore, you must return a not guilty verdict.” Then the prosecutor closed mumbling on about the evidence. The jury retired to consider their verdict and returned in a half hour. The lawyer thought for sure it would be not guilty, but when the jury was polled, the defendant was found guilty.
After the defendant was taken away, the lawyer went to his local watering hole. There he recognized juror number 7. The lawyer approached him and said, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” The juror said, “Go ahead.” “You looked at the door. Everyone in the courtroom looked at the door. How did you find him guilty?”, the lawyer asked. The juror replied, “Everyone looked but the defendant.”
Social Security Disability claims are notoriously slow. Although Social Security Disability is a federal program, when you first apply, you are referred to a state agency that collects some of your medical records and may send you to a doctor for a physical or mental evaluation. Sometimes both. The state agency chooses the doctors, so you are playing in their ballpark with their umpires. If you get denied at this level, you may ask to have your case decided by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). If you make such a request, your case is passed back to the federal government. The ALJs are doing video hearings which has sped the process up, but it can still take 12-18 months before you get a hearing. The hearings are stressful and nobody wants to do them. I’ve been handling Social Security Disability cases since 2004. I’ve learned that asking your doctors the right questions and using that information to craft a well written letter can often get my clients their benefits without waiting for a hearing. I’ve never had a client who was not happy about getting their benefits sooner without the stress of a hearing before a judge.
As important as good writing is, working closely with the client is probably the most important thing a lawyer can do. The other day, I was researching and trying to write a trial memorandum. The more I researched, the more I became convinced it was a bad case and the client should get out of it. So I calmed myself down, I gave the client a call and we discussed the case from the beginning. That discussion allowed me to redirect my thinking to make a credible legal argument for the client. I don’t know how it turned out yet, but what I thought was a sure-fire loss has taken the judge more than two weeks to decide. I expected an order two days after the hearing. A lawyer working in concert with his client is a powerful thing.
Tying in to my earlier post about good writing, it’s important to remember that most courts are understaffed. Here in a Cheshire County, we have a probate court judge one day a week. The Superior Courts are short several judges. Because of the shortage of judges, cases are being tried under greater and greater time pressure. Often the judge doesn’t even ask for an opening statement or a closing argument. A good trial memorandum may be the only chance you have to clearly and completely explain your case to the judge. As a client, you should expect your lawyer to do the research and spend the time to prepare written pleadings. It may be more expensive, but it’s cheaper than losing.
Good writing is good lawyering. Before you hire a lawyer, ask him to see something he's written. If you can't understand it, chances are that the judge couldn't either. Good legal writing is in plain English. Writing a case memo helps the lawyer to order his thoughts, determine what evidence he needs to produce at trial and explain the strong and week points of the case to the client. You should expect nothing less from you lawyer and you get
that from me.
Well ... I'm off to court on a very difficult case. I'm hoping that my usual formula of listening closely to the client and thorough investigation and research will carry the day.
I'm seeing a new phenomenon in my practice. Recently divorced people who "went through a mediator" to get divorced. Now they have a problem that could have been avoided if they had had an attorney which is going to cost even more if it can be fixed at all. Please folks, give me a call. I help folks who are mediating divorces all the time. Being thorough and accurate will save money in the long run.
It's a New Year! Tax cuts are on the way. The Stock Market is going crazy! How do you position yourself to take advantage of the expanding economy when you are waist deep in debt? Get a fresh start in the New Year. Give me a call. (603) 465-8557.
Up in the dark. Court at 8:30 in Nashua.
Just got back from a week with the Vermont National Guard where I am First Sergeant of the 40th Army Band. Time to dig through my emails and return all jy phone messages!
Bankruptcies seem to be picking up, which, believe it or not is a good sign for the economy. It means that people are wanting to get a fresh start so they can move on with their lives. When people start taking risks and borrowing money, the economy will grow. If you're one of those people who want to get your life going again, please give me a call.
Had another disappointing conversation with someone where I couldn't take the case. He had been representing himself and had lost his case on procedural issues. It was a good case. The sooner you seek the assistance of a lawyer, the better he can help you.
It's a really good day! Social Security Disability appeals are difficult cases. Although, you get a new hearing, the person has already been told "no" once. They are also suffering from an impairment which has stopped them from working and that often leads to depression and anxiety. It usually takes about a year to get a hearing and no one wants to go through the stress of a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge.
By carefully examining the medical evidence and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, and with thorough knowledge of the Social Security regulations, I am often able to write a letter, called an "On the Record Request," to the judge which results in a "Fully Favorable decision for the disabled person. In other words, I can get them the benefits they're entitled to without having to go to a hearing.
I spent a couple of days last week putting together an On the Record Request and today I got word from the Social Security Disability Administration that my client will get his benefits without waiting for, or going through the stress of, a hearing before the ALJ!
Got all geared up for a hearing today, but it was cancelled because of the snow. *Sigh*
Just finished a letter to an opposing party. It may seem selfish of me, but I'm knocking off for the weekend. I wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS! (Don't worry, I'll be back at my desk fighting to make the legal world a better place on Monday.)
Another big Social Security Disability win! The second in the last month. It was a difficult case, but my client's Christmas just got a little bit merrier!
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