From Paper to Paperless

Posted Wednesday, April 19 by Gilbert B. Laden

When I first started practicing law, I was surrounded by paper. I had paper files. I worked amidst shelves and stacks of books with paper. And, of course, I wrote on legal pads using . . . paper.

If I wanted a copy of a client’s paper file at the Social Security hearing office, I had to reserve time at the copy machine there and bring – you guessed it! – my own paper. On the day of my client’s disability hearing, I had to bring extra copies of records that I had already submitted, because sometimes those records were buried in stacks of paper on someone’s desk at the hearing office. They had not made their way into the paper hearing file despite the best efforts of my staff to submit them timely and follow up with the hearing office staff.

Fast forward to the present. We have witnessed a technology boom. The world, including Social Security, is in a different place. I have far fewer books, because I do research on my computer, whether on my desktop, my tablet, or even my smart phone. I do word processing, research, e-mail, and a host of electronic tasks via all of my devices. Even my telephone is linked to my computer. My clients’ files are also electronic, and I can access all my notes, information and records on each client via computer.

Fortunately, the hearing office is in a better place, too. As part of its Appointed Representative Services (ARS), Social Security offers lawyers some wonderful tools through its Electronic Records Express (ERE). Now I can access my clients’ disability files immediately and as often as I like. When I first take a case at the hearing level, my staff and I spend time looking at the file, as it gives us a wealth of information that helps us refine our strategy in developing the case. We want to give our clients the best chance of winning. We have to hit the ground running.

One of the best features is the Status Report. It allows me to pull up a report of all my cases any time I want and see where they are in the system. It gives me a “real time” view. I use it virtually every day. It is a valuable tool to follow the progress of each case. I can even see when a decision has been issued, access and read it, and contact my client with (hopefully) good news before the paper decision has even been mailed.

I can electronically submit evidence to my clients’ Social Security files (something I do throughout each case, rather than waiting until the “last minute” – which judges, understandably, do not like) and then check online to make sure the evidence has been exhibited in the file that will be used at the hearing. So, when the judge asks me at the hearing if the file is complete, or up-to-date, I can reply with certainty that it is.

There is so much that being able to see the electronic file can provide me in representing my clients. I must confess, though, that I still use a legal pad as part of my work.

I am also old-fashioned in that I like to meet with my clients face-to-face, especially in preparing them in advance for one of the most important days in their lives: the day of the hearing. Technology helps me do that.

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The information on this web site is made available by Gilbert B. Laden, P.C., for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

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He has been certified as a specialist in Social Security Disability Law by the National Board of Social Security Disability Advocacy, as acknowledged by the Alabama State Bar.