Should you talk to an Attorney before you file a Disability Claim with Social Security?

This is a common question that gets a fairly common response; however, I was asked this question by someone whose situation is a classic example of when it may make perfect sense to talk to an attorney who handles disability cases, or a non-attorney disability representative.

Before addressing the individual's specific situation, what is the standard answer to the question, "Should you think of getting a lawyer before you have been denied for disability, or before you have even filed a disability claim?". The answer for many people will be: "No, wait until your claim has been denied at least once before getting a lawyer".

The rationale behind this answer is that when a person gets a lawyer and files the paperwork for representation--which includes a fee agreement and signing an SSA-1696 appointment of representative form--if the disability case is won the lawyer will be fully entitled to receiving a fee even if they did very little on the case.

(Note: The fee is equal to one-fourth of the claimant's back pay up to a certain maximum -- to see the current maximum, visit this page: How much does a Social Security Disability attorney or lawyer get paid?).

Why should a person pay a disability lawyer for providing services if no services, or very little in the way of services, was actually provided? Most would conclude that there is no reason for doing this. In other words, if the bulk of the lawyer's work only occurs after the claim has been denied at the disability application level, getting a lawyer can easily wait until the claim has been initially denied.

My own opinion in this area is that a person would be ill-advised to go to a disability hearing where the decision is made by a federal judge (and where expert vocational and medical witnesses may be called by the judge--solely at their discretion--to provide pivotal testimony) without representation.

Furthermore, if a person receives a denial on a disability application, the argument can be made that they might as well get disability representation before their case is decided at the next level (the reconsideration appeal level). This is simply because most reconsideration appeals are likewise denied, making the need for requesting a hearing nearly a foregone conclusion.

In other words, if you get denied once, you are, statistically speaking, highly likely to get denied again, and you will probably have to go to a hearing in order to win disability you might as well get a disability attorney.

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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