By Adam (A.J.) Allegro, Esq.
Many Social Security disability law firms operate throughout the United States but are forced to serve their clients from a distance. This often means representing clients without ever meeting them in person, sending a representative/attorney out for the hearing in a potentially unfamiliar hearing office, and often times, displaying a lack of familiarity with specific state rules that a local attorney would utilize to benefit a claimant.
The following are three of the most important reasons why I would strongly advise that anyone seeking an SSDI/SSI attorney makes sure to hire someone who works IN-STATE rather than a firm operating hundreds of miles away.
First: At least from my experience representing SSDI/SSI clients, I want the client to meet with me personally. Shaking your prospective attorney’s hand, looking them in the eyes, and watching their reaction to your questions, in person, is often a huge tell as to whether or not they know their stuff and meet your standards for representation.
I also find that unlike a big firm that may never have an employee see you in person until the day of your hearing, by speaking to and getting to know my clients right off the bat, I am in a position to better step into their shoes and understand the person I am fighting for. This is a huge advantage that a local SSD attorney can provide, and the ability to have your attorney speak with you personally and to prepare you for a hearing in person not only serves to make the experience of disability application and appeal more comfortable but also may be determinative to winning.
Second: I have found that building a relationship with local SSA office staff members, hearing office staff members, and judges has been a huge benefit to my clients. Often times these relationships have allowed cases to move through the process more quickly, receive hearing assignments in an expedited manner, and, most importantly, allow experience into what certain local judges want and don’t want during a hearing, particularly preferences of certain judges as to whether they like a brief written ahead of time, how they conduct their questioning, etc. A far-distance, fly-by-night representative may have absolutely no knowledge or experience with a local ODAR office judge until the day of your hearing and thus has no idea what to expect, thereby leaving you, as a claimant, at a huge disadvantage before the hearing even begins.
Third: Finally, a representative operating primarily in Connecticut not only has the ability to meet with clients in-person, to better understand and build working relationships with the local offices and their staffers and to develop increased knowledge into the “do’s and don’ts” of certain judges, but also likely has a variety of know-how into various aspects of Connecticut law that an out-of-state representative may be clueless about. For example, the fact that Connecticut has a statute in place prohibiting medical providers from charging a dime for medical records requested in support of an SSD/SSI disability case, or the fact that Connecticut has a deadline for health care facilities to provide copies of medical treatment reports following a request. I have personally heard horror stories of SSD/SSI representatives who have had clients charged for medical records in Connecticut because they did not know this, or have advised clients as to the likely costs of getting records (which is entirely incorrect).
Conclusion: Although I, admittedly, am biased in that I am a local disability attorney in Connecticut, I also have personally observed many difficulties and negative consequences of client’s formerly represented by out-of-state firms who have failed to represent their Connecticut clients appropriately, often due to the lack of communication that long-distance attorney/client relationships can create. I will refrain from mentioning any specific firms or names in this article, but if you are considering seeking a lawyer to help with your SSDI/SSI case, it is essential you start by asking the following two questions: (1) “DO YOU HAVE AN OFFICE IN CONNECTICUT; and (2) CAN I MEET WITH YOU IN PERSON.”