I am a “Law Student Intern” and the “Disability Benefits Project Student Coordinator” here at LAB. I have two bosses and no, it is not the Office Space scenario where I am repeatedly told to put cover sheets on my TPS reports, because my supervisors have two separate job functions. Lynn works up a case, and Ana sees it through the hearing. Thus, I am fortunate in that I am exposed to the entire spectrum of a case, from a client’s first call through to a last hearing.
One of my supervisors is Lynn Barenberg, a social worker who has worked at BC LAB since the 80s. Lynn heads the Disability Benefits Project, a program that helps disabled clients appeal Social Security decisions denying Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In this type of practice, the opposing party is the Social Security Administration, an administrative agency, and not another person or entity. Different types of law call for different techniques, and Lynn has learned through experience the appropriate language and approach to use with the agency in any given situation.
Lynn’s insight into how people react to words, speech and mannerisms is incredible. I submitted an introduction letter to Lynn for review the other day, introducing myself to my client, and it was returned with the nit-pickiest corrections! But, Lynn took the time to explain them to me and all of a sudden they didn’t seem so curious. As a small example, I had introduced myself as the “new law student intern,” and Lynn had deleted “new.” Lynn explained that this word alone, especially at the very beginning of a letter, changes how people will perceive its meaning. Clients see the word “new” and panic, it is an unintentional trigger. As a budding attorney, I leaned forward and listened closer as Lynn went on to explain the other small changes.
I was so intrigued by Lynn’s explanations and am so enthralled by her knowledge of the causes and effects of people’s behavior because it is a useful skill that translates to a competitive advantage in the legal industry. How can I take a good deposition or perform an effective cross without thinking about my words and mannerisms and understanding how the other person will react to them? And, more immediately, how can I conduct a productive client meeting without knowing which corners of a story to explore and which ones to leave alone? I can’t, but with Lynn as my guide and cultivating this skill as my focus, I hope to make large strides this summer.
My other supervisor is Ana Rivera, a BC Law grad and experienced attorney. I am helping Ana with a couple Social Security disability cases (at the hearing stage) as well as a family law case. Whereas my work for Lynn is comprised of initial client interviews, SSA pleadings, brainstorming, phone calls, letters to clients and filing appeals, my work for Ana is much more project based.
Projects emerge when preparing for a hearing because there are a lot of moving parts that must be made concrete, we must be able to use them and eventually commit them to a brief. Ana and I might discover at a meeting that a client received extensive medical attention in Florida, and all of a sudden my afternoon consists of getting my hands on all of these records. Once I get these records, I need to go through each page (even the hand-written nearly impossible to read doctors’ notes) and create a chart by date listing all of the relevant information and where to find it. There is a steep learning curve to this process, as you first must learn all of the medical terminology. Another project at this stage is researching the SSA listings, requirements that must be met in order to find a person disabled. Ana and I then put our heads together to determine which listings work best for the case, basically which listings we can best argue. We may start out at either end of the spectrum, but after discussion we settle on a few, mostly Ana’s… she is usually right. 😉
Now that I’ve introduced you to my office and supervisors, it is time to give you the scoop on my client meetings … up next week!