Bet Tzedek Legal Services
Los Angeles, Calif.
Bet Tzedek provides free legal advice and representation to low-income residents of Los Angeles County. Hannah will be working on all aspects of government benefit cases.
June 18, 2013
Bet Tzedek advocates help qualified individuals and families with a variety of state and federal public benefits programs. I have been learning a lot about the administration of civil legal aid services in Los Angeles and about all the great services and projects that Bet Tzedek provides for the community.
I have been working on several Social Security disability (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cases, and I had the opportunity to observe a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge. Some of the cases that I am working on are slated for hearings in the next several months. My work for these cases includes compiling and reviewing medical records, drafting briefs for the ALJs, and preparing for direct and cross examinations at the hearings.
In addition to writing memos, conducting client interviews, and doing legal research, I have also had the chance to work on different legislative advocacy projects with which Bet Tzedek is involved.
It has been a great learning experience to not just work on the day-to-day aspects of the cases, but to also participate in Bet Tzedek's work to bring about systemic change by advocating for an increase in the resource limit for SSI recipients, an amount that has not changed since the late 1980s. SSI recipients are allowed to have a certain amount of resources, such as money in a bank account, and still be eligible to receive financial assistance. However, this resource limit has not been adjusted to take into account inflation or increases in the cost of living. This is a project I will be working on throughout the summer and hope to have an update to include in my next journal entry.
Another interesting part of my job and something that I will be working on throughout the summer is helping to create a self-help manual for attorneys and advocates working on Social Security disability cases. I hope to work in this area of administrative law so it has been helpful to work on this project and develop my own skills.
It has also been really great and helpful getting to know all of the attorneys at Bet Tzedek and to hear about their own career development as civil legal aid attorneys.
Aug. 15, 2013
My summer internship at Bet Tzedek has come to an end. Working at Bet Tzedek this summer really reignited my passion for public interest work and solidified my desire to work as a public interest attorney after graduation. I was able to do very substantive work on a variety of cases, as well as participate in legislative advocacy work and compile a self-help manual for pro bono attorneys.
A summer goal of mine was to represent a client at an administrative hearing. I had observed hearings and trials before and I was really hoping to have the chance to bring a case to hearing myself. I was very fortunate to have the chance to do just that this summer and I won my first administrative hearing. I represented a 55-year-old man who suffered from severe depression and an anxiety disorder in front of a Social Security administrative law judge.
It can take several months for a Social Security administrative hearing to be scheduled, but this client came to Bet Tzedek with a hearing date already set. I worked with the client from the initial intake to the actual hearing. I learned a lot about the brief writing process and the amount of research and investigative work it takes to write a compelling and persuasive brief. I also drafted questions to ask the client at the hearing that would highlight the most persuasive elements of his case. This hearing also included a vocational expert and I prepared questions for cross-examination of this expert. At the hearing, the judge issued a fully favorable bench decision. The client was extremely grateful for the assistance and the financial security that these benefits will provide.
I have also always been interested in legislative advocacy and I had the chance this summer to work on draft legislation for a proposed law that would exempt relocation assistance payments as resources under Social Security Regulations. Many rental units in LA County are rent-controlled and landlords are required to provide tenants relocation assistance payments if they issue no-fault evictions. These relocation assistance payments are helpful to tenants when moving but can negatively impact a tenant's benefits by counting as additional financial resources. I researched potential supporters of the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives and reached out to different congressmen and women's offices to discuss the bill and send out our proposal. This was a very exciting project to work on.
I am very appreciative to PILF for the grant that allowed me to do this public interest work this summer. Working at Bet Tzedek was a great experience. I gained valuable work experience, insight into the workings of the LA legal aid community, and I was able to make a positive impact on my clients' lives.