HeLP Clinic Students Win SSI for Client

The HeLP Legal Services Clinic at Georgia State Law allows students the opportunity to develop their lawyering skills while representing real clients. This spring, Carly Morrison (J.D. ’19) and Peter Nielsen (J.D. ’19) discovered how rewarding this experience can be and their work can be life-changing for HeLP’s clients.

“Not only does the HeLP Legal Services Clinic give students the opportunity to ‘be a lawyer’ for the first time, it also empowers them to provide legal assistance to many individuals who otherwise likely would not be able to retain an attorney, ”said Jimmy Mitchell, Supervising Clinical Attorney, HeLP Legal Services Clinic.

Morrison and Nielsen represented the three-year old boy who was denied Supplemental Security Income. The child has Sturge-Weber Syndrome, a rare neurological disease. “This child has suffered from daily seizures since he was five months old causing developmental delays and speech regression so that he can no longer form words,” said Nielsen. “The unpredictability of his condition requires that he receive constant medical attention and round the clock care. The need for SSI was urgent.”

To better understand the child’s complicated diagnosis, the law students consulted with Morehouse and Emory medical students, who serve in the clinic as part of rotations, and pored over the more than 4,000 pages of the boy’s medical records. They requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, challenging the denial.

“While awaiting the hearing, we requested a decision on the record. If granted by the Social Security Administration, the ALJ can then make a decision based only on the medical records and a letter brief we submit summarizing the case,” Morrison said. “If the request for a decision on the record is denied, the case proceeds on the normal route, so there is nothing to lose.”

In their letter brief, the students argued that the child qualified for SSI because he met the medical requirements for both epilepsy and vascular insult, as well as the debilitating effects of his disease. After only two days, the ALJ returned a written decision on the record, stating the child met the requirement for epilepsy and was therefore eligible for benefits without having to rule on the other arguments the students raised.

“The wait for a hearing could have been as long as a year. This decision on the record allowed our client to avoid the delay and an emotionally difficult hearing. More importantly, it allowed the child to receive critical benefits sooner,” Nielsen said.

“Working in the clinic enabled me to build a level of personal connection with my clients that is necessary to understand their health issues, legal issues, and the critical intersection between these areas where I can make a difference,” he said.