FEBRUARY 28, 2013
ATLANTA – During the Fall 2012 semester, Georgia State University College of Law students Brett Seamon, JD ’13, Fayaz Habib, JD ’13, and Joel Ezoory, JD ’13, prepared for and argued their client’s social security disability hearing, achieving a fully favorable decision, as part of their work with the HeLP Legal Services Clinic, a part of the Health Law Partnership (HeLP), which is a community collaboration that provides legal services to low-income children and families.
“The clinic offers law students the opportunity to develop practical lawyering skills,” said Lisa Bliss, associate clinical professor and co- director of the clinic. “Under guidance of a supervising attorney, students in the clinic are assigned their own clients for the semester and work collaboratively to yield the best possible outcomes for them.”
“This was one of our most valuable experiences in law school. Not only did we learn the law itself, but through application we gained a newfound appreciation for the role of lawyers as advocates in society,” said Ezoory.
The client in this case was a four-year-old girl who suffered from numerous impairments including autism spectrum disorder, sensory integration disorder, scoliosis, and failure to thrive. The client’s mother had applied to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits on behalf of her daughter in 2010 and was denied. She applied for reconsideration and was denied again in 2011. Seamon, Habib, and Ezoory were assigned to the case a few months before the scheduled hearing.
The group argued before an administrative law judge that their client’s impairments severely limited her overall functioning and development enough to qualify as disabled. “Proving the existence of disability to the SSA is instrumental in improving the health of sick and impoverished children,” said Bliss. “SSI benefits come with Medicaid insurance, which covers needed treatment and therapy that would otherwise be unaffordable.”
As a medical-legal partnership, the HeLP Clinic is able to facilitate cooperation between lawyers and physicians. “One thing that I thought was essential to our success in this case was working closely with our client’s treating physician, an expert in children’s autism, to develop an affidavit testifying to our client’s impairments,” said Seamon.
The students worked diligently to build their file by gathering all of the existing medical records from disparate sources. These records were used to build a persuasive letter brief. “These cases are often won or lost based on the strength of the file and preparation of the letter brief, so we made sure that these were as persuasive and thorough as they could be,” continued Seamon.
For additional preparation, the students were able to practice their opening statement, direct examination, closing statement, and answers to difficult questions posed by a former special administrative law judge Steve Caley in a mock hearing. The students performed the mock hearing in front of the HeLP Clinic class, receiving valuable feedback from their peers and instructors.
Their practice proved to be invaluable as the actual hearing time came. The students carried out the opening statement, direct examination of the child’s mother, and closing statement. “We left feeling cautiously optimistic,” said Habib.
The decision was returned several weeks later with the judge rendering a fully favorable decision for the young girl and her family. Benefits were granted retroactively to the date of original filing.
The students acknowledged that their clients were not the only ones with a win that day – they also benefited from the experience. “The atmosphere here feels like a true law firm, and the practical experience the students receive dealing with their own clients on a daily basis is wonderful preparation for real world practice,” said Habib. “The best part is that we get to impact lives and help less fortunate people, all in the process of growing as young professionals.”
Stacie P. Kershner, JD
Associate Director, Center for Law, Health & Society