I was recently approached by a prospective client who told me that when she appeared for a Social Security Disability hearing with her prior representative, from a firm of non-attorney representatives, it was clear that he knew nothing about her case and, worse, didn’t seem to know how what to say or do at the hearing.
I always take these kinds of stories with a grain of salt, because I actually do believe that most Social Security Disability representatives do know what to do at a hearing. However, the fact that this representative didn’t seem to have any familiarity with the case does concern me.
As an attorney, I have an ethical obligation to represent my clients vigorously and effectively at all stages of their Disability claims. At the risk of losing my license to practice law, I am required by New York State to take continuing legal education courses—which I do, attending Social Security Disability conferences once or twice a year. Among my obligations as an attorney I must also take courses in Legal Ethics, which I do both at these conferences and also through other bar organizations. Participating in these programs is crucial in order to ensure that I am attuned to changes in the law and procedures, and that I am up to speed on the latest techniques to be used at hearings.
I am pleased to report that recently the state of New Jersey also adopted new rules requiring continuing legal education for its attorneys and judges. While it won’t change my own educational obligations (since I am licensed in New York as well as New Jersey, and already bound by their stricter requirements), it’s good that all attorneys in the regions where I practice are obligated to maintain their education and to keep refreshed on the ethical rules before representing their clients. I just couldn’t say whether the non-attorney representatives are playing by the same rules.