All attorneys, regardless of their level of experience, should realize the importance of cultivating and fostering relationships with other attorneys. This holds especially true when it comes to referral relationships. Learning to understand the hidden potential that exists in your own inventory is one key to developing a flourishing network of long-term referrals.

Regardless of your area of specialty, your existing inventory may contain potential workers' compensation and Social Security disability cases. Developing the ability to identify a workers' compensation or SSD case is an easy and effective way to ensure that you are growing your business through referral work.

Obviously, learning about and keeping abreast of all of the nuances that would qualify your client for workers' compensation benefits or disability would be a drain on both your time and resources. What is the easiest solution? Learn to carve out those cases from your existing inventory and get them immediately to a referral attorney who specializes in that area. Doing so will allow you to reap the most benefit out of a referral relationship, while keeping your clients' best interests in mind.

But how do you maximize on the referral relationship? Any attorney can spot an easy workers' compensation or SSD case. The key is learning to look beyond the more obvious cases to ensure that you are uncovering the full potential of your existing inventory.

A simple review of your existing inventory may uncover more potential workers' compensation referrals than you may think.

For example, look for clients who have developed injuries gradually over time as a result of their job duties. Such individuals may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits for their injuries. The Workers' Compensation Act recognizes not only new injuries but also aggravations of any pre-existing conditions, which are made worse as a result of the employee's job duties.

A client may also be a good candidate for a workers' compensation referral if he or she was injured while participating in an employer-sponsored charitable event. The Workers' Compensation Act recognizes that employees injured while furthering their employers' business, whether on or off the employers' property, may be entitled to benefits. While the charitable event may take the employee outside the traditional four walls of his or her regular office building, the employee is still engaged in an activity that not only boosts morale between employees but also generates goodwill for the employer.

A client who suffers from psychological issues as a result of something that happened at work may also be a viable workers' compensation referral. The Workers' Compensation Act recognizes three categories of psychological injuries. First, the act recognizes psychological injuries that result from the functional limitations and changes in lifestyle caused by a work-related physical injury. Second, the act recognizes physical events, such as a heart attack or stroke caused by excessive work-related stress, as being work-related. Third, although the burden is difficult to meet, the act also recognizes that psychological problems can be caused by abnormal working conditions.

The opportunity to identify disability cases within your existing inventory may be even easier. Unlike workers' compensation, where you are constrained by the course and scope of employment, an individual can receive SSD benefits for a host of physical and mental impairments, which can keep him or her out of work, regardless of the cause.

A common misconception is that a person must be wheelchair-bound or bedridden to qualify for SSD. Quite simply, this is not the case. In fact, some common medical conditions, which affect millions of people every year, may be found disabling, including back and neck pain, diabetes, migraine headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, ADHD, heart disease and arthritis.

When looking at your own inventory, age matters. If your client is over 50, he or she may be a prime candidate for an SSD referral, even if his or her medical condition does not appear to be disabling at first glance. This is because the rules of disability are relaxed for those who are 50 and older. Specifically, an individual who is over 50, and whose past work history was physical in nature, can be found disabled if he or she is simply limited to performing only light or sedentary tasks. For example: a 53-year-old male carpenter with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and a bad back may not sound disabling; however, he would qualify for disability benefits because he is unable to perform his duties as a carpenter and would be limited to a job that does not require a lot of heavy lifting, standing and walking. Such an individual would make a good candidate for an SSD referral.

In order to qualify for SSD, individuals under the age of 50 must demonstrate that their medical conditions not only keep them out of the work that they have done in the past but also any jobs that exist in the national or local economy. While this may seem like a difficult burden to meet, clients who frequently miss work three or four days a month because of migraine headaches may qualify for disability. Other examples of potential SSD referrals are clients who are forced to take too many unscheduled breaks in a typical work day because of IBS; clients who cannot concentrate or focus during a five-day work week on a consistent basis because of severe lower back or nerve damage; and clients who find it difficult to be in public or to concentrate on job assignments.

For new attorneys, the ability to identify and send cases to other attorneys is an excellent way to build referral relationships with the goal of receiving referrals in return. Not only will your clients benefit from this scenario but your ability to bring in cases through referral sources is an excellent way to distinguish yourself in a law firm or to grow your own solo practice.

For more experienced attorneys, increasing the number of cases you refer out is an easy way to solidify existing relationships with current referral sources.

Referral relationships thrive on reciprocity. What easier way to grow a network of referral sources than to carve out potential workers' compensation or SSD cases hidden within your own existing inventory? •

Thomas J. Giordano is a partner at Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano. As head of the Social Security disability department, he focuses his practice exclusively on obtaining SSD benefits for disabled individuals. He has been invited by labor groups, disability organizations and physicians throughout the tri-state area to lecture on Social Security disability law.

Melissa R. Chandy is a senior associate at the firm. She focuses her practice exclusively on workers' compensation and serves as manager of the firm's brief writing department.