By Jodi Feldman and Neesa Sethi
Earlier this year, David Young, an antitrust associate at Ropes & Gray, received the Klepper Prize for Volunteer Excellence from the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Over the past six years, David has been one of Legal Aid’s most active pro bono volunteers: He’s regularly taken on Social Security Disability Insurance/Supplement Security Income (SSDI/SSI) cases and other public benefits matters referred from Legal Aid and other legal-services organizations.
David started his legal career as a law-firm fellow working in house with Legal Aid’s Public Benefits Unit for a full year before starting at Ropes & Gray in the fall of 2011. While at Legal Aid, David helped many clients secure and maintain critical benefits, such as SSDI/SSI, Medicaid, Medicare Part D, SNAP benefits (Food Stamps), unemployment insurance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. He was a vital member of Legal Aid’s public benefits team and never shied away from the most challenging cases.
Even after leaving Legal Aid to start at Ropes & Gray, David stayed committed to Legal Aid and its clients. He has continued to take some of Legal Aid’s most difficult public-benefits cases—cases that are legally and procedurally complex and involve clients with severe mental-health impairments. In addition to representing clients directly, David has recruited his colleagues to get involved, sharing his experiences and offering to mentor and supervise a variety of cases.
David recently represented a breast-cancer survivor in her early 60s who had multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, resulting in significant physical limitations that have prevented her from returning to work. After being denied the Social Security disability benefits that she desperately needed, the client came to Legal Aid two weeks before her administrative hearing. David jumped right in: he first got the hearing continued, and then ultimately obtained a fully favorable decision awarding the client her benefits. And in the process, he helped put the client at ease: “He always says something to me that makes me feel like I’m going to be okay,” she said.
David also has served scores of senior and disabled District residents through Legal Aid’s Annual Medicare Part D Initiative, which helps Medicare beneficiaries navigate the prescription-drug benefit program. His work has helped participants save money and maintain access to their often life-saving prescription medicines. In one case that David handled while at Legal Aid, he and a colleague represented a developmentally disabled adult whose benefits had been terminated. David and his colleague worked with the client and his mother to get their benefits reinstated. David still advises that client and his mother on their Medicare Part D plans every year.
David’s experience and expertise, along with his natural ability to connect with clients under the most challenging circumstances, has made him a remarkable advocate in an area that is often overlooked in the pro bono world. His work has real impact, as his cases affect his clients’ lives directly and fundamentally. As he explains, “Public benefits cases are not the kind of pro bono cases that grab headlines, but in terms of impact, helping clients obtain financial benefits to which they are entitled often has a life-changing effect . . . someone who can no longer work due to a disability can finally pay their rent when they receive SSDI/SSI; a family can afford to put food on the table thanks to food stamps; [and] Medicaid coverage means those with serious health conditions no longer have to skip their medications because of cost.”
One of David’s first public benefits clients from several years ago described him as “a wonderful, marvelous person . . . with compassion and caring for his clients.” We could not have said it better. David is a remarkable pro bono partner, helping make justice real for his clients and our community as a whole.
Jodi Feldman is Managing Attorney for Legal Operations and Neesa Sethi is Staff Attorney for the Pro Bono Program at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia.