For those who like short stories: I am Paul McChesney, an attorney who has been emphasizing Social Security Disability, SSI, and Worker’s Compensation law for more than 34 years, which number surprises me a little. I have presented seminars to other attorneys in these areas on both the state and national level. I handle appeals of difficult Social Security cases for a number of other attorneys. I was graduated from The Citadel and from Duke University Law School and clerked with Justice Littlejohn of the South Carolina Supreme Court.
I have been Social Security Disability Board certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. What does that mean? In short it means that I must be handling a fair number of Social Security Disability cases, must know something about Social Security Disability law, and must not have had any client, lawyer, or judge make a serious complaint about me to the South Carolina Bar.
The National Board of Trial Advocacy is accredited by the American Bar Association, that is, the leading association of lawyers in the United States. Neither the Board nor the Association is an arm of, is established by, or is supported by any government agency.
In order to be board certified, I had to:
- Be a member in good standing of my state bar, that is, the association of South Carolina lawyers.
- Submit a history of professional conduct and disclose any disciplinary action to the NBTA Standards Committee, which is Chaired by Judge Paul Leary of Brookline, Massachusetts. I might add that I have had no disciplinary actions of any sort against me.
- Prove that my practice has been concentrated in the field of Social Security Disability for many years, and that I have a substantial volume of Social Security Disability cases.
- Submit a writing samples in the form of a trial briefs, prepared by me and recently submitted to courts and the Social Security Administration.
- Participate in a lot of continuing legal education in the area of Social Security Disability in the three years before my application.
- Get a letter of recommendation from three judges and three attorneys familiar with my courtroom abilities.
- Show I have been lead counsel in a number of Social Security hearings, appeals to the Appeals Council and to the Federal District Court, with preparation of a number of briefs before each body.
- Take and pass the Social Security Disability Board Examination, which means I had to spend 6 hours writing essay style answers which could have been on any part of the Social Security Disability law. The exam is written and graded by attorneys specializing in Social Security law and by law professors. The exam process is overseen by the NBTA Examination Committee and Board of Examiners, chaired by Yale Law School Professor Stephen Wizner.
I am one of the few Social Security certified lawyers in South Carolina, and, while it is true that many who are practicing in this area would not have the experience to be able to become certified, there are also many who could do so, but have not gone to the trouble and expense. Most attorneys who are certified are going to say that somewhere on their website and in their ads.
For those who like long stories: I was raised near Spartanburg, a city of about 50,000 in a county of about 250,000 in Upstate South Carolina.
When they would pave our road, Pop would move. He had me hoeing corn and carrying around cement blocks before I was otherwise legal to work; once I turned 16 I worked construction in the summers, which was a break from working for Pop, who didn’t count it as work until his overalls were as soaked as if he had jumped in the creek. I think I could still put up a metal building for you, though the roof might run a little crooked.
Pop was in the S.C. legislature when you ran county wide and had to know everybody in it to get elected, and was later a Family Court Judge. Both careers require the study of people, and he could detail the distinctions between the Bishops from Landrum, who had come out of the mountains, from the Bishops from Roebuck, who had not. When he and Mom told stories to each other, they would first stop to explain where each actor came from and who they were kin to. He and Mom taught us to respect each sort of person, to live frugally but well, to camp, to garden, and to go to church.
I went to college at The Citadel with good old boys and army kids and went to Law School at Duke with a few regular and a lot of rich kids from mostly up north. After I got out I clerked with Justice Littlejohn of the South Carolina Supreme Court for a year. He taught me a lot about how to write, and about how not to.
I went into private practice with Mike Skeen and Jim Fraley. In 1978 Mike became a judge and passed a small Social Security practice on to me. Social Security Disability appealed to me because it matters; it is about money at the level of survival.
Pop retired as a judge and practiced with us a few years, mostly for fun, retired again and passed on at 81. Jim left to became a Family Court Judge – I seem to be surrounded by them – and he will be my last partner, I think; I am probably too old and opinionated for any other lawyer to put up with me, though in a way I am partners with a few dozen lawyers scattered around the country who I help in Social Security Disability hearings, and who help me in other sorts of cases.
Spartanburg has been blessed with several lawyers who learned early how to handle Social Security cases well. In the 50’s the system was new, and many people who applied for disability were denied on the whim of the Administrative law Judge. Jim Stephen, who later became a Circuit Judge, was one of the first lawyers to work out the system of carefully documenting disability and appealing the case to the Appeals Council and then to the Federal District Court, whose judges, appointed for life, can do what they think is right.
Judge Stephen passed this tradition of aggressive appeals of Social Security cases to several lawyers who worked with him and near him; George Thomason is by consensus his best student. I think it is partially as a result of their work in patiently appealing every unfair decision that the Greenville Office of Hearings and Appeals, which handles Social Security cases in Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina, is a good place for a disabled person to file a claim.
So, I have spent my career in an area of the country where there is a concentration of good disability lawyers, and I have learned from many of them, including Mike Skeen, from whom I learned the basics, George Thomason, who continues to show by example how to run an office and care for your clients, and Don Pilzer, who shows me a new trick or two each year.
Though I do not know him personally, Ralph Wilbourne, formerly of California and now an ALJ in Georgia, who wrote a book on handling disability appeals, taught all of us a lot about how to win cases in District Court during a critical time when it was getting more difficult to do that. Eric Schnaufer is a brilliant Social Security brief writer of the Chicago area whose work I have studied, and I have worked directly with and studied the work of two fine brief writers, Sarah Bohr of Florida and Charles Martin of the Atlanta area.
I have spent the last 34 years working with some of these folks, studying the work of others of them, reading everything I can on Social Security disability, and handling Social Security Disability claims for people who live in the Greenville, South Carolina Hearing Office area; the Charlotte, North Carolina hearing office area; and for people who live in portions of the Columbia, South Carolina and Greensboro, North Carolina offices. I have been invited to speak at seminars on disability law locally and at the National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives in Washington, D.C.
I have always handled the Workers’ Compensation cases that come along with Social Security Disability, and work with several other lawyers to deal with the other claims that arise because of disability, when it is someone’s fault.
I have some wonderful employees who help me take care of folks. Becky Fisher has been my office manager for many years, though we are both very young. Millie, Farrah, Betty, and Tessa work up our cases for a hearing, and Vicky solves all other problems. Mike Freeman, a lawyer who recently retired from the Greenville Hearing Office and who has been handling Social Security cases there for 25 years, is now working part time for us.
I spend my free time with my wife, Anne, who was born to be a teacher, and my children, Will, 23, and Sarah, 27. Sarah is a graduate of Furman University in Greenville. Will is the family computer expert, whose skill is essential to this site. I created the content, and he created the structure.