The Social Security Administration will publish proposed Revisions to Rules of Conduct and Standards of Responsibility for Appointed Representatives in the Federal Register tomorrow. The summary provided by Social Security includes a sentence that seems to encapsulate their approach:
The changes to our rules are not meant to suggest that any specific conduct is permissible under our existing rules; instead, we seek to ensure that our rules of conduct and standards of responsibility are clearer as a whole and directly address a broader range of inappropriate conduct
Social Security thinks it's important to point out that there's no representative conduct that they find permissible but plenty they want to forbid because they believe it's inappropriate? That certainly suggests as attitude.
Here's a couple of excerpts from the proposal:
A representative should not withdraw after a hearing is scheduled unless the representative can show that a withdrawal is necessary due to extraordinary circumstances , as we determine on a case-by-case basis. ...
Disclose in writing, at the time a medical or vocational opinion is submitted to us or as soon as the representative is aware of the submission to us, if: ...
(ii) The representative referred or suggested that the claimant seek an examination from, treatment by, or the assistance of the individual providing opinion evidence.
As to the withdrawal provision, the agency insists on recognizing only individual lawyers as representing claimants, not law firms. Prohibiting the substitution of one attorney for another after a hearing is scheduled makes it difficult for a law firm to properly allocate its resources and makes it easy for individual attorneys employed by a firm to pick up and leave their firm with the files of their clients after the firm has spent large sums of money on the cases over the many months or years that the firm has represented the claimants. I don't know what the point of this is other than to harass law firms. Let me anticipate the response from a government employee. "Law firms don't spend much money on Social Security cases -- only a few dollars obtaining medical records -- so that's no big deal." Anyone who thinks this has never run a law firm. Law firms spend almost all of their money on salaries and other overhead. The problem is that a law firm may spend thousands of dollars on the office overhead associated with a case only to see an attorney waltz away at the last minute pocketing the entire fee. Is it unreasonable for a law firm to try to make this difficult? What exactly is the problem with a law firm substituting one attorney for another after a hearing is scheduled? It doesn't delay anything.
As to the requirement that attorneys notify Social Security if they suggest medical treatment, if I tell my client that he or she ought to get in psychiatric treatment, I'm supposed to disclose this to Social Security if the psychiatrist later offers an opinion? What if I tell my client to get back to the doctor he or she used to see? Am I supposed to carefully track the advice I give clients about medical treatment?
This is just overkill. I'm not Eric Conn or Charlie Binder. Don't treat me like them. I don't deserve it.
This is merely a proposal. The public can comment upon it. Social Security is supposed to consider those comments. A new administration and a new Commissioner will be in office before anything is adopted, if it ever is.