Did you know that there is an active trade in law firms seeking out representatives to go to their Social Security disability hearings? It’s a little thing called coverage.
Coverage means getting someone (often as the last minute) to “cover” a hearing for you. Now, covering a legal proceeding is nothing new. Lawyers get sick, they get double booked. Often they need someone to cover for them at a small matter.
There are 3 differences in how coverages works in Social Security disability cases:
- It’s the Social Security HEARING. It’s not an interview, it’s not a deposition, it’s not a preliminary hearing. For the client, it’s the FRIGGING SUPER BOWL! Everything is coming down to what happens in front of the ALJ at this hearing. So, yeah, it’s kinda important.
- It’s not an accidental “oops! I can’t be there, so please help!” It is the BUSINESS PLAN. Now, this is just my opinion. However, the frequency of the requests by the same people over and over again suggest, just maybe, this is intentional. Of course, I could be mistaken. But, you can decide for yourself in a moment.
- As far as I know, it is being kept from you, the client. I have never heard a single instance of a client being told that their representation is being farmed out to an outside lawyer. Don’t you think it might affect your choice of representation if you were told, “we charge the same as everyone else, BUT we might send your file to new person at the last minute. Please sign here.”?
Welcome to the “just in time” workforce applied to legal representation.
How coverage works?
Company A posts a request on a listserv asking for coverage at a particular hearing office on a particular day. Here’s an example.
This is the same person, asking for coverage at three different sites across the country, three times in as many months. The mention of becoming part of network of representatives also suggests that is not an “oopsie, I can’t make it.” This is (apparently) how this company works.
When I have talked to people who have done this kind of contract work (typically younger lawyers just starting out), they have told me that the company often wants a warm body (with a JD, that is, a lawyer) to cover a hearing on a particular day. And the hiring company will pay either a flat amount (sometimes as low as $250) or, 25% of the 25% the company will get if they win.
The problem with Coverage
Now, I think, just my opinion again, that there are a couple of issues with this:
- Just how informed do you think that lawyer is when he or she is getting the file about a week before the hearing?
- And, just how motivated do you think the lawyer will be to get up to speed on your case when they get $250 no matter what they do? Or don’t do, like review the file or, um, oh yeah, SPEAK DURING THE HEARING!
These are real complaints clients have had when they contacted my office after getting denied with a representative they met for the first time at the hearing.
Avoiding Coverage in your Social Security disability case
So, I guess this means you can add two more question to your list when hiring a representative on your Social Security case:
- Are all of your representatives who go to hearings full time employees?
- If I find out you farmed out my case to someone at the last minute, do I get to punch you in the nose?