Should I Pay a Disability Attorney a 21% Fee?

"My name is Susan, and I am writing to you on behalf of my brother, Jim, who has filed for SSI Benefits and was denied, and then filed an appeal which was also denied. He has asked me for help at this point because he does not have a computer and he cannot drive. He lives in Hayward, CA.and I live nearby in Fremont, CA.

Jim has been diagnosed with epilepsy as an adult. He is currently seeing a physician and is prescribed seizure and anxiety medications.He has been off work for approx. 6 years.(Not sure about this number).

I have been looking at your Website: and I really like the clarity it brings on all aspects of SSI filing. I have started to work with attorneys, but would like to avoid the 21% fees that they would obtain for their services. We understand that this is not an easy process and we are hoping that someone from your organization can help him.

What I would like to know is if I can get a person to work with my brother (and/or myself) over the phone. He has his paperwork and information. I would like to discuss his case with someone and help him get some help with what his next steps are. My guess would be to request a hearing date?

I look forward to hearing back from someone."

I am not sure where your brother is in the disability process. You state you (your brother) have started working with attorneys: if your brother has signed a fee agreement with a disability attorney that may be considered a legally binding document. This would mean that the attorney may be able to collect a fee or portion of their fee if your brother is approved for disability benefits.

If your brother does not have an attorney helping him file his appeal and his reconsideration has been denied recently, he needs to file his request for hearing appeal. He has sixty-five days from the date on the reconsideration denial notice to file a request for hearing. If he files late, it is very likely an administrative law judge will deny the hearing for late filing of the appeal. Not matter what else you and your brother decide to do, file the request for hearing as soon as possible.

With regard to representation at a disability hearing, I would suggest to you that it is not wise to go to the hearing without an attorney or Social Security representative. Social Security representatives know disability rules, case law, and guidelines that could improve your brother's chance of being approved for disability benefits that the average person does not know.

National statistics indicate that disability applicants with representation are at least twenty percent more likely to win their disability cases than those who attend their disability hearing without representation. In some years, I've seen statistical data that has showed that the rate of approval increased by as much as 50 percent for represented claimants versus those who showed up at a hearing by themselves. Typically, when a claimant appears unrepresented, they don't even have the first clue as to how to interpret the information that is in their own file, which is made available to them at the hearing.

In my opinion, it would be worth twenty-five percent of any potential disability back payment to win my disability benefits. It takes such a long time to get a disability hearing and financial hardship just seems to go along with the disability process. Of course, it is your brother's choice whether or not to seek professional help with his disability case. But preparation for a hearing can be a tricky thing. True, a good percentage of cases at the hearing level will be won regardless of whether representation is involved. However, there are many cases that would not be won were it not for the fact that a rep had been involved and had secured the necessary evidence to win the claim, in addition to properly addressing certain aspects of the case such as the basis for prior denials, or possible errors that were made by a disability examiner at the earlier disability application or reconsideration appeal levels.

Also, in many hearings the ALJ, or administrative law judge, will have a medical expert or vocational expert appear to provide expert testimony. When this happens, and it happens fairly often, it is good to have an experienced rep who knows how to respond to hypothetical scenarios regarding work scenarios as well as one who understands a discussion of physical and mental limitations in the context of the medical vocational grid that directs decisions or "disabled" or "not disabled".

Good luck with his situation.

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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