What will I do as a volunteer?
Volunteer attorneys represent clients at the reconsideration stage of appeal after they have applied for and been denied Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. This is the first appeal after initial denial; this appeal stage involves a paper review of the client’s file by an adjudicator.
Volunteers interview the client to learn more about his or her conditions and impairments; build the appeal record by gathering additional medical records and talking to the client’s medical providers as necessary; and draft and submit a letter to the Social Security adjudicator explaining why the client meets the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability.
Why is this project important?
The process of applying for and being approved for SSD or SSI benefits can be complicated and lengthy. Claimants who are denied on their initial application for benefits often have to go through several stages of appeal, and most private attorneys won’t consider getting involved in a case until the second stage of appeal, the administrative hearing. It is not uncommon for Prairie State’s clients to wait 2-3 years between applying for benefits and ultimately being approved. This can be an incredible hardship for a person who is disabled and unable to work, and has no source of income.
This project is designed to involve volunteers at the first stage of appeal. By gathering proper evidence and building the strongest possible case early in the appeal process, we hope to decrease the wait between application and approval for benefits and help people with disabilities get the income they need to meet their basic human needs.
What is the time commitment?
While the time commitment varies from case to case, you can expect to spend about 25 hours on a case over the course of 3-4 months. Most of the work can be done at your convenience, and does not have to be done during regular business hours. You are likely to spend more time on your first case, and then find that the work goes more quickly if you take on additional clients.
All of the work can be done remotely from your home or office. Volunteers are matched with clients from throughout Prairie State’s 36 county service area in northern and central Illinois. While you are welcome to meet with your client in person, most of our volunteers conduct all of their communications with their clients via phone or email. Likewise, communication with the Social Security Administration and the client’s medical providers is done via phone.
Do I need Social Security experience?
No! We welcome volunteers without Social Security experience. We know that learning a new area of law can be intimidating, but we are here to help! The project homepage contains a wealth of training materials designed to prepare you to volunteer for this project and support you during your case; all of the relevant laws, regulations, and Social Security materials are easily accessed through the internet. Prairie State staff are also available to help you throughout your case.
Remember that even without any prior Social Security experience, your legal training gives you a significant advantage over an unrepresented claimant.
What about malpractice insurance?
All cases handled through Prairie State’s pro bono program are covered by Prairie State’s malpractice insurance.
Can I volunteer if I am a retired, inactive, out-of-state, or corporate attorney?
Yes! Illinois Supreme Court Rule 756(k) allows retired, inactive, and out-of-state attorneys to perform pro bono services through a sponsoring entity like Prairie State. Please be sure to let us know that you are a retired, inactive, or out-of-state attorney so that we can help you submit the proper paperwork to the ARDC.
Corporate attorneys licensed pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 716 may perform pro bono services without any additional ARDC registration or reporting requirement.
Do I have to be an attorney to volunteer with this project?
At this time, we are only accepting attorneys and recent law school graduates not yet admitted to the bar to represent clients through this project.
However, we have volunteer opportunities for non-attorneys available through this project during regular business hours in Prairie State’s office in St. Charles. Contact project coordinator Anne Bardo at email@example.com for more information about non-attorney volunteer opportunities.
What can I expect when I accept a case?
Prairie State will send you the client’s contact information, a summary of the facts of the client’s case, and a CD containing the client’s Social Security file. As you work on the case, Prairie State staff are available to discuss your case with you, provide you with sample arguments, and to review drafts of your work. For more information see the Checklist: Steps to Successfully Represent Your Client at Social Security Reconsideration on the Volunteer Instructions and Project Forms page [link].
At the end of the case, we will ask you to send us a copy of the Social Security adjudicator’s decision and to let us know how much time you spent on the case.
How do I get started?
Please contact project coordinator Anne Bardo at firstname.lastname@example.org.