One full week into her new job as an Administrative Appeals Judge at the Social Security Administration, Milande Louima, JD '99, is swamped with cases. Since her appointment on February 27, 2011, she has been reviewing the appeals made by applicants who have been denied social security disability benefits by an administrative law judge.
"There's a backlog of cases," said Judge Louima from her office in Falls Church, VA. Being a new judge in the Capital area doesn't come with a honeymoon period she says.
The former North Miami resident is not complaining. She is precisely where she belongs. Not too long ago, Judge Louima's life mirrored the stories of the somber cases that surround her.
Judge Louima's father was denied disability benefits twice. A student at Miami Beach High School at the time, she recalls her father being in constant pain due to kidney failure and a rigorous dialysis schedule. He was not able to work.
"It was a feeling of disappointment when he was denied," said Judge Louima who had helped her father fill out the forms. "And you're thinking, what do you mean he's not disabled?"
Her father was later granted disability benefits and was on disability for 10 years before passing away in 2002. The income from his Social Security disability benefits was crucial for her family.
"That's part of the rewarding thing about my job now," said Judge Louima. She has already reviewed cases that do not seem right. So, she sent them back to an administrative law judge for another hearing to adjudicate the disability claim more thoroughly. "People fall through the cracks, and I can pick up the case and do the right thing."
It would be ideal to say that Judge Louima chose to enter law school to fight for people like her father, but that's not the case. She admits her entrance into law school was largely because she just was not ready to leave the University of Miami and enter the real world.
Once at Miami Law, she didn't know where to focus her studies, until she earned a public interest fellowship from the law school and the Florida Bar and became a legal intern at the Children and Youth Law Clinic. Becoming a legal intern changed everything for the budding lawyer.
"It made me want to work in the public sector helping the poor," she said.
While at Miami Law, Judge Louima was also involved with the Business Law Review; the Bar & Gavel Honor Society; Phi Delta Phi International Legal Fraternity; Alpha Epsilon Lambda Graduate Honor Society; Spellman American Inn of Court; Amicus Curiae Yearbook (3L Section editor), and the Hearsay Weekly Newsletter (co-editor). She also served as a Student Ambassador and Special Olympics Volunteer and received the Golden Star Award.
After graduation, Judge Louima passed the New York Bar. She took a job as a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society of New York City. In October 2006, she began working as a Federal Reviewing Official for the Social Security Administration. Later, she became an appeals officer, where she primarily reviewed denial notices for the Appeals Council. "Now as a judge on the Council, I can sign everything," she said with a smile.
Despite the new-found responsibility, Judge Louima is still getting used to the small things. "I'm still not used to people calling me 'judge,'" she said. "When I'm in a meeting, people will ask for my opinion." When this happens she admits there's usually an ever-so-brief pause as she surveys the room for the judge they're addressing. "That's still a new thing. It's still feels foreign," said Judge Louima.