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What’s a day in the life of a SSA Attorney Advisor look like?

I know with many people accepting, contemplating, etc. these cratercity07/15/18
The first few years are quota HEAVY. The person I know to do snowday7507/15/18
There are other, previous threads on here that likely includ toph92507/15/18
Great post and I would say this is accurate. I am in a hear downwardslope07/15/18
It is not too intellectually challenging in my opinion. It i lawst07/15/18
Absolutely correct!!!!!!!!!!!!!! newkid50409/09/18
I am hearing that the backlog is going down at SSA. What ha legaleagle22307/15/18
I'm not an AA, so I don't have an insider's view of conditio catwoman33309/05/18
As someone with an insider's view of conditions, I generally john0909/05/18
In addition, falling unemployment doesn't necessarily correl onehell09/13/18
@John09, interesting observation (that AAs at VA are applyin catwoman33309/07/18
If you're an SSA Attorney without a medical background, how specv31309/13/18
Attorneys at SSA rely on medical opinions to evaluate a clai john0909/13/18
cratercity (Jul 15, 2018 - 11:29 am)

I know with many people accepting, contemplating, etc. these jobs and start dates looming if not passed, certainly others besides myself are wondering what the day in the life is a SSA Attorney Advisor is like once training is over and you’re in the flow.

I understand it’s a lot of repetitive copy and paste type of work, but what else is going on? Are people happy doing it?

I’m still on the fence on a couple of offers and would appreciate any guidance at all. Thanks in advance!

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snowday75 (Jul 15, 2018 - 3:32 pm)

The first few years are quota HEAVY. The person I know to do this was on LR with me at our trash school. She got hired almost immediately after law school through USAJobs. She worked days at an SSI/SSDI firm for 6 years before and all through LS.

The quotas are probably not bad if you gunned LR and took grinder classes... but for me? Im dulled out on craplaw. She said that some washout but its not like 50% attrition.

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toph925 (Jul 15, 2018 - 4:18 pm)

There are other, previous threads on here that likely include some insight as to what a typical day is. You might find those helpful and from someone with a different perspective.

A lot will depend on what office you end up at. Hearing office and National Case Assistance Center (NCAC) AAs have much different tasks compared to National Hearing Center counterparts. And Appeals Council duties would be even more of a change. In a HO, you would be part of a group or pool with other attorneys and write decisions for the ALJs in your office. This decision drafting would be your job the majority of the time. Your interaction with the ALJs would be limited but may vary depending on size of the office. Sometimes non-attorneys will be your immediate supervisor. The instructions from the ALJs will vary and you will write for several different judges in a week.

NCAC attorneys are in similar position but draft decisions for ALJs throughout the country, meaning even less interaction with ALJs. Also potentially supervised by non-attorneys.

NHC attorneys are assigned to a specific ALJ-team within their office, which comprises of two AAs and the ALJ. The ALJ is then your supervisor. NHC AAs typically review cases before the hearing and give summaries, recommendations or advise the ALJ on other issues that arise. Then you draft the decision following hearing. You would likely have much more interaction with the judge and be in more of a clerk-type role.

I cannot speak to the Appeals Council duties.

All offices involve telework, some more days than others. All positions involve drafting decisions and reviewing lots of medical records. It is not a position for everyone (given the repetitious nature, lack of in-court time, etc.) but those that can do it generally find it a great work life balance with federal benefits that make up for lack of high pay. As others have said before, there are performance metrics and some offices/ALJs prefer quantity to quality and vice versa. The agency certainly seems to be more worried about the quantity at the moment.

Hope this helps.

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downwardslope (Jul 15, 2018 - 4:49 pm)

Great post and I would say this is accurate. I am in a hearing office and there it’s typically a senior attorney or a paralegal/case analyst who does the pre-hearing reviews when they are needed. My understanding is that the case analyst is still a pilot position and I am not sure if it is in every office or just in some offices. In my office, she handles most of the pre-hearing stuff for the non-disability cases, dismissals, and fee agreement issues, among other things. Occasionally we may have another AA do pre-hearing reviews if they are busy because we are short staffed in that area, but for the most part the hearing offices will have those tasks handled by the case analyst or senior because they don’t count toward your quota and we don’t get “down time” in a hearing office like they have in the NHC.

FWIW I have only been in the job about 15 months and I think the quota is manageable. The cases in my office aren’t super easy. While my supervisor is a non-attorney, the supervisor who assigns the cases is an attorney so she does try to assign them equitably so it’s generally fair. Unfortunately there are some months where most of the cases are over 1000 pages and there may be others where there won’t be as many that are long. The length of cases depends partially on the judge and how much development they want and the location in terms of access to medical care. In areas where access is just not available, the cases will generally be shorter and the job is easier.

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lawst (Jul 15, 2018 - 6:31 pm)

It is not too intellectually challenging in my opinion. It is very fact-driven, rather than legal. i.e., you're not doing a lot of legal analysis. You have a template that tells you where to put in certain information. The bulk of the work is spent analyzing medical records. You basically just pull out facts from those records that support whatever the judge decided.

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newkid504 (Sep 9, 2018 - 8:05 pm)

Absolutely correct!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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legaleagle223 (Jul 15, 2018 - 8:22 pm)

I am hearing that the backlog is going down at SSA. What happens if the backlog goes away? Do the AAs get laid off? Are the folks at SSA afraid of getting laid off with the decreased backlog?

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catwoman333 (Sep 5, 2018 - 9:16 pm)

I'm not an AA, so I don't have an insider's view of conditions. I can say that I have heard the same complaints ("not enough staff to manage the work, high caseloads" etc.) FOR YEARS at SSA and other fed. agencies despite budget increases and new hires...Also, I notice the same AA jobs posted en masse every year or so, all of them classified as low paying temp gigs (NTE 2 years or 4 years with no promotion beyond GS 12)--esp. in the national offices in Falls Church VA. Given this, and reading between the lines, I can only guess that there is a high amount of burnout/turnover.

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john09 (Sep 5, 2018 - 9:34 pm)

As someone with an insider's view of conditions, I generally agree with catwoman333. The likelihood that SSA will layoff AAs is low because the turnover rate is high - i.e., there is no need to layoff attorneys due to voluntary attrition.

With that said, there is one caveat to my viewpoint. In the past, most AAs who leave SSA go to the Board of Veterans Appeals for the higher salary. However, the tide appears to be turning - some of the recent hires at SSA came from the Board. I also sense that attrition rates are less than previous years because a lot of AAs at SSA now realize that the grass is not necessarily greener at the Board. All of these factors may mean that SSA may have to layoff AAs to adjust for reduced voluntary attrition and increased retention. Of course, no one knows what SSA will do in the future.

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onehell (Sep 13, 2018 - 12:20 pm)

In addition, falling unemployment doesn't necessarily correlate with falling disability caseloads. The SSA "grids" explicitly make the determination contingent on whether jobs you can do exist in significant numbers, That's economic, not medical, but we nonetheless pretend that being found disabled means you "can't" work, as opposed to the harsher reality that the economy simply has no use for you. Since you "can't" work, you are of course not "unemployed" even though the only real reason you're on disability is that some factory in your rural town shut down.

We just don't have any use for a 55 year old lifetime factory worker who is a relic of the post WWII boom times. They're not disabled; they're obsolete. But we hide them from the official unemployment numbers by putting them on the disability rolls. Long as we keep doing that, there should be plenty of work at SSA to avoid needing to do layoffs.

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catwoman333 (Sep 7, 2018 - 12:20 am)

@John09, interesting observation (that AAs at VA are applying for SSA gigs). I have heard horror stories about VA and can only imagine they are true if they would compel someone to take a pay cut to work at another agency (e.g., SSA). I also fear if trump is reelected and/or GOP has a big night in Nov. 2018 (unlikely, but I tossed out my Crystal Ball A LONG TIME AGO in this current political climate!), ALL AGENCIES will take a BIG hit and suffer massive layoffs across the board. It is well-known that Trump, the GOP are gunning for unions in those agencies, trying to reclassify employees to
"At Will" status to allow easy layoffs. Time to rethink the Private Practice Plans.

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specv313 (Sep 13, 2018 - 12:30 pm)

If you're an SSA Attorney without a medical background, how do you learn to read and assign weight to these medical records? Is it just learning by osmosis -- i.e. you get better at it with time?

I've worked on some med mal cases and, IMO, working through medical records is the worst part of it, especially when the records are for significant time periods and number in the thousands. I can't imagine enjoying a job where the lawyer's role is not heavy on legal analysis and more focused on sifting through utterly boring medical records.

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john09 (Sep 13, 2018 - 1:07 pm)

Attorneys at SSA rely on medical opinions to evaluate a claimant's impairments and residual functional capacity.

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