Helping hand: SSA attorney enjoys role as public servant

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Engrossed in the O.J. Simpson trials at the age of 10, Erin Jacobs Rich knew she had found her calling.

“I found the rhetoric in a courtroom to be one of the most fascinating things I’d ever seen,” she says. “My mind was set at 10 that I would be lawyer and I’m very stubborn.”

She earned her undergrad degree from Loyola University Chicago, in political science and criminal justice. She felt the latter would be extremely interesting and possibly relevant to her future endeavors in law; and the former had been a passion since high school.

“I found not only the study of our political history interesting, but also loved engaging in conversation about current affairs and developing a deeper understanding of what was going on in the United States and the world at large,” she says.

She earned her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law where she was a recipient of Ferd & Lottie Chmielnicki and Dean’s Scholarships; served as secretary/treasurer and then as executive board president of the Student Bar Association; served as committee chair for the UDM Law Race for Justice 5K; was a member of the Dean’s Honor Society; and American Inns of Court XI.

Rich worked as a research assistant at the law school, and also spent four months clerking for 27th District Court Judge Randy Kalmbach.

“I learned so much and he was such an amazing person to clerk for,” she says. “This was my first internship, so of course, I was a little lost, but he was very patient and I was able to utilize the writing and analytical skills I’d learned in my first year and put them to practice by writing motions for summary disposition, working on a dog bite case, and more.”

She even helped get a district court judge elected by serving as campaign coordinator for Carrie Lynn Fuca’s successful 2010 bid for the 41B District Court in Macomb County.

“This was a great transition and stepping stone into my legal career,” Rich notes.  “I was able to assist in the election of a district court judge and network. It was a lot of fun and hard work.”

Rich spent two years in the law school’s Veterans Law Clinic and two semesters in law firm programs.

“Detroit Mercy really wanted their students to be able to get out there and practice when done with law school, and I was ready,” she says. “I think that training was invaluable.”

Her internship at the Veterans Law Clinic was her first experience aiding those in need – and piqued her interest in this specialty. She represented disabled veterans before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) in disability compensation appellate cases; conducted client interviews and represented clients involving pension and disability compensation claims with Veterans Affairs; traveled state-wide and nationally providing free legal services to veterans in order to facilitate claims; and conducted legal research and drafted briefs and memoranda on behalf of clients.

“I was so impressed with the difference this clinic was making not only with veterans seeking disability and non-service connected pension benefits in the metro-Detroit area, but throughout the entire country,” she explains.

“I knew I’d have to be working in a field where I would be serving and helping others and utilizing my law degree in that capacity.”

After law school, Rich worked for Disability Attorneys of Michigan/Stu Johnson & Associates PC in Warren.

“Disability Attorneys fostered my legal career and I’m grateful for my time there,” she says. “It’s an amazing firm that helps represent individuals seeking social security disability benefits, but also veterans disability and non-service connected pension benefits.  In conjunction with our legal service, we did a lot of community outreach and service. It was a great place to work, wonderful, compassionate attorneys and staff.”

In October 2014, Rich took a position at the Social Security Administration Office in Detroit; and currently works at the SSA Office of Appellate Operations in Baltimore.

“Transitioning into the government after nearly four years in private practice was interesting, but I’m very fortunate I’ve had the opportunity to make this change,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to be a public servant. The Social Security Administration has an enormous backlog of cases – over a million. While I’m no longer representing claimants, I believe my background and knowledge base has been extremely beneficial in ensuring that I’m effectively analyzing the law and aiding judges in their determinations.

“It’s so important to remember that every case I work on is an individual, who deserves compassion, fairness, and timeliness. If you don’t get lost in the sheer numbers and remember those guidelines, it’s very rewarding.”

The Wyandotte native now lives in Baltimore with her new husband, Cristian, who is also an attorney for the SSA. The couple has two dogs, and a baby daughter, Caroline, born in May.

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