I will be the first to say that I am not a fan the “national” social security claimant representative firms. I think claimants are often not well served by such firms, and many claimants do not realize that the “advocates” they hire are not necessarily attorneys.
I have written about these topics before. See Home Field Advantage and A “national” firm representing Social Security disability claimants has a lot of problems.
My reservations about the national firms are based mostly upon the client experience. In most cases, these clients do not meet their representative in person until just before the hearing. I have been at the hearing office when such clients were waiting for their hearing and waiting to meet their advocate for the first time. Here is what Charles Hall says about the importance of meeting face to face with the client:
I am of the strong opinion that eliminating face to face contact before the hearing reduces the effectiveness of representation. There are some things that cannot be done well over the telephone. As an example, gauging the severity of mental illness and persuading a mentally ill individual to get under psychiatric care are much less difficult to do in person. However, I must admit that there are plenty of attorneys who are not trying to operate nationally who meet with their Social Security clients for the first time on the day of the hearing. I think this is wrong on many levels.
I certainly agree that meeting the client for the first time just before the hearing is not an ideal practice, to say the least. But hold on. Now Binder & Binder has sued the Social Security Administration in federal court to force the SSA to allow Binder to conduct three way video hearings. A 3-way hearing means that the judge is in one place, the client is in a second place, and the claimant’s representative would be in a third place. Under this scenario, the advocate will never need to meet the client at all! You can see a copy of the Binder & Binder complaint on the Social Security Perspectives blog.
Not only would three way video reduce travel costs, but it would also reduce the number of representatives needed to handle a given case load (thus further reducing costs). It pretty much takes all day for a representative to fly to Portland, Maine, conduct a hearing, and return home. But with three way video, that representative could conduct several hearings a day from the office.
In my opinion, three way video would be a poor substitute for in person representation. I have seen commentary about this proposal, and some have said that a national firm is entitled to maximize its profit. Perhaps. But our clients are disabled, and they have been out of work, in many cases, for two or more years waiting for a hearing. They deserve better than a three way video hearing to determine entitlement to Social Security disability benefits.