Disability Lawyer Success Rate - Do Lawyers Improve The Chances of Winning Social Security Disability or SSI?

Social Security allows disability applicants to obtain the services of a disability lawyer or representative at any time during the disability process (i.e. initial disability claim, reconsideration appeal, request for administrative law judge hearing, appeals council review request, and federal court), however claimants do not have to have a disability lawyer or representative during any of these disability claim levels. So why should a disability applicant consider a disability lawyer or Social Security Disability representative?

Most individuals who file for disability may not need the help of a disability lawyer or non-attorney disability representative during their initial disability claim, or even during their reconsideration appeal, because these levels of the claims system mostly involve paperwork completion or attending any medical examinations that Social Security deems necessary for their disability decision.

If an individual does not have any physical or mental problems that might prevent them from responding to requests for information, or attending consultative examinations, they may simply not need a disability lawyer's services. Frankly, in many instances, the only way a disability lawyer or representative helps an individual at these levels is by making make sure that the claimant files their appeal paperwork timely, respond to requests for information, and helps to make sure that their client remembers to attend consultative medical examinations.

Other than these reasons, disability lawyers or representatives often do not really improve an individual's chances of winning disability benefits. However, having said this, it should be pointed out that some representatives do an extraordinarily good job of winning their client's cases at the initial claim (disability application) or reconsideration appeal levels.

Such representatives tend to be fairly aggressive when it comes to gathering the necessary evidence for establishing (in the medical record) the severity of the claimant's condition needed to rule out their ability to engage what the social security administration refers to as substantial and gainful work activity. Of course, not everyone representative will be this aggressive in their approach, or as effective in their efforts.

How does a disability lawyer improve an individual's chance of winning Social Security Disability or SSI if they are not able to prove the legitimacy of the case at the initial claim or reconsideration appeal levels?

The level of the system at which most disability lawyers or Social Security representatives improve their client's chances of winning disability is the administrative law judge disability hearing. Disability claimants who have representation are as much as fifty percent more likely than those who do not have representation to win disability benefits at an ALJ disability hearing.

There are reasons why disability lawyers and Social Security representatives have a higher approval rate than disability applicants at their disability hearing. For example, not many average disability applicants know anything about disability impairment listing criteria, vocational guidelines, or past work, or how social security decides that a claimant has the ability to perform other types of work.

Additionally, a disability lawyer or representative knows what updated medical information is needed for the hearing and is able to get the needed information.

Analysis of the case, however, is often the primary benefit of being represented at a disability hearing. By obtaining a copy of the social security file and reviewing the prior decisions that were made at the disability application level and reconsideration appeal levels, a disability attorney can A) identify discrepancies and inadequacies in the development of the case and B) ascertain the strength of the medical record that was available to the disability examiners who previously handled the case.

Finding errors in prior decisions can sometimes lead a representative to requesting an on-the-record decision from an administrative law judge. On-the-record bench decisions may be granted in cases where it is fairly obvious to the judge that the claim should be approved and benefits awarded, making the time-consuming process of scheduling and holding a hearing unnecessary (which can shave many months of time from a case).

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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