Through the Clinic, students represent disabled clients in a variety of case types, chiefly administrative appeals before the Social Security Administration, but also appeals before other state and federal agencies. In all of our case work, we strive to help disabled individuals and their families attain the maximum degree of stability and financial well being.
Enrollment is through the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic and Clinical Seminar.
Through the Clinic, students have numerous lawyering opportunities, including client and witness interviewing, legal research and writing, client counseling, negotiation, motion practice, evidentiary hearings involving opening statements, witness examination, and closing arguments, and appellate oral argument.
Specifically in the Social Security disability appeals, students represent clients contesting denial of Social Security benefits. In preparing cases for hearing, students interview and counsel clients, compile the evidentiary record, collaborate with medical providers, and prepare a hearing brief. Students appear with their clients at the hearing, conduct both direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and present oral argument. Under the supervision of experienced instructors, law students have a high success rate in these hearings with the rare denials offering opportunity for appellate practice including complaints, motions and appellate briefs to Federal District Court and presenting oral argument before a federal judge.
All of the clients we represent have serious health issues. Some clients are older and in failing physical health, others are younger and have mental health or intellectual disorders. Students in the Clinic have frequent opportunities to interact with medical providers and medical experts and to work on cases at the intersection of mental health and the law.
The Clinic plays a vital community role. Social Security estimates that well over 70% of applicants are un-represented and documents that those clients without representation are denied benefits over 75% of the time. Without legal representation many truly disabled individuals cannot show their eligibility for the very benefits intended to assist them in their direst need. In contrast, 70% of represented individuals nation-wide win benefits. Helping this population addresses an enormous unmet legal need and provides students a powerful opportunity to advocate for those least able to advocate for themselves. Winning a case for a client means winning not just ongoing monthly income, but also substantial retroactive payments which can be used for improved housing, education, and treatment, and also guarantees access to comprehensive lowcost health insurance. This economic boost stabilizes not just the individual and their families, preventing a deeper slide into poverty, but also acts as an economic stimulus to the communities in which they live.
For information about the Disability Litigation & Benefits Advocacy Clinic, please contact Julie McCormack at 617-390-2522, or by email at jmccormack[at]law.harvard.edu