Disability Lawyers and Finding your Disability Lawyer

Some individuals consider the issue of representation before they even file a Social Security Disability or SSI disability claim. And some individuals consider finding a lawyer after they have received a notice of denial from the social security administration. However, the majority of all claimants typically have the same questions about disability lawyers and here are just a few.

Question 1: Are lawyers required for filing appeals on disability claims?

Answer: No, disability lawyers are not required for this. If you file a claim for disability benefits with SSA (social security administration) and get denied, you can file the appeal yourself. How do you file a Social Security Disability or SSI appeal? Fairly easy. You can do the appeal online. Or, if you prefer to file a paper appeal, just call the social security office where you applied, notify them that you'd like to submit an appeal, wait for them to send you the appeal paperwork, complete the paperwork, and return it. Ideally, you should do this within just a few days of receiving your denial notice (you are alloted 60 days in which to file an appeal, and this applies to internet appeals, but don't wait to do this any longer than necessary).

Question 2: Do lawyers increase the odds of winning disability cases?

Answer: Disability lawyers can certainly improve the odds of winning claims for disability benefits and can influence the outcome of a case at the intial claim phase, first appeal phase known as the reconsideration, and disability hearing phase. However, in most cases, disability lawyers make their greatest impact at the disability hearing level at which a claimant's case is presented before an administrative law judge. At a disability hearing, a claimant's lawyer can present a rationale (based on a knowledge of social security rules and regulations) as to why a claimant should be approved for continuing disability benefits.

Competent disability representatives can enhance your chances of winning your claim because they will understand the following:
  • The definition of disability used by the Social Security Administration which is very different from other definitions of disability.

  • The process for determining claims which involves five steps and which can result in an approval based on meeting or equaling the requirements of a disability listing, or by a finding that a person is not capable of going back to their past work or switching to other work they have never before done, but which might be suitable based on age, education, work skills, and residual functional capacity.

  • What relevant work means and which jobs in a person's work history can be considered in their claim.

  • The actual decision process used by disability examiners and by administrative law judges.

  • The importance of a medical source statement and when and where that statement carries the most impact.

  • Which types of medical evidence are useful to a case, as well as at what point to obtain that information and submit it to SSA or the hearing office.

  • How vocational considerations impact a claim, as well as, and in combination with, medical evidence.

  • How mental impairments are viewed and how they can impact a claim that involves both mental and physical impairments.

  • What Social Security consultative exams mean, why they scheduled, and to what extent they usually affect cases.

  • How to view RFC forms that have been completed by DDS examiners and medical and mental consultants and whether they accurately reflect the evidence obtained.

  • Issues that affect claimants at hearings and which involve the speed of scheduling and decisions such as congressional inquiries, on the record decisions, and dire need.
  • How to analyzle medical evidence for signs that listing in the SSA blue book can be met or equaled.

Question 3: How expensive are disability lawyers?

Answer: Obtaining assistance from lawyers in various fields can be fairly expensive due to upfront fees. Fortunately, for individuals attempting to win Social Security Disability or SSI disability benefits, the social security administration regulates how disability lawyers may receive their fees.

How are disability lawyers paid? Disability lawyers receive a percentage of a claimant's backpay as their fee. Currently, this percentage is set at one-fourth of whatever backpay is owed to an individual who has won their claim for benefits. This is the current maximum fee for a disability attorney or representative.

The system that regulates how disability lawyers are paid is beneficial in a number of ways. First of all, claimants are not required to pay anything upfront (which makes the issue of finding representation much less complicated). Secondly, no fee is paid to a lawyer unless a case has been won (meaning a lawyer has every incentive to do a competent job of handling a case).

All this said, however, some representatives and attorneys will charge for incidental expenses which can include travel expenses, the cost of obtaining medical records (which are seldom ever free from doctors and hospitals), etcera. Reimbursement to a representative for getting the medical records obtained is a completely valid expense and is beneficial to claimants because it allows them to avoid this as an upfront expense and to reimburse the representative when the case is concluded. As to other incidentals, all claimants are advised to read the fee contracts presented to them before they sign them and agree to being billed for these charges.

Question 4: When should you consider getting a disability lawyer?

Answer: A person who files for disability benefits may obtain a lawyer at any point in the process. Or not. Their is no requirement to have a lawyer or representative.

That said, however, it is always advisable to have a lawyer at a hearing. Statistically, the use of disability lawyers at hearings increases the chances of winning by about 50 percent (roughly 40 percent of claimants who go to hearings without lawyers win their claims while roughly 60 percent of claimants who go to hearings with lawyers win their claims). Also, claimants who have received a notice of denial on a claim may wish to consider finding representation since this will typically mean that a disability hearing will be necessary. In fact, statistically, a person who has been denied on an application for disability will nearly always have to attend a hearing in order to be approved.

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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