What if you are not sure if your disability lawyer is doing anything?

I found this interesting. Someone wrote in a forum (I'm loosely paraphrasing): "I got a disability lawyer for my case over half a year ago. But when I go see him, he's never there and he doesn't return any of my messages. My contract says that if I fire my attorney I have to pay him. But he hasn't done anything. I think I will get my disability and that I shouldn't have to pay him at all. How do I fire him without paying."

I've heard variations of this story more times than I can count.

First off, if you are dissatisfied with your disability representative (either a non-attorney claimant's representative or a disability attorney), you always have the right to choose a new representative. That can be as easy as sending in a new SSA-1696 (the form used to designate someone as your representative) with their fee agreement. Secondly, it is true that there are reps who do a poor job of staying in touch with their clients and returning calls. Thirdly, there are legitimate reasons for discharging a representative and finding a new one.

Discharging a representative, however, may still leave an individual obligated to pay whatever out-of-pocket expenses were incurred by the representative (for example, the cost of procuring medical record updates and medical source statements a.k.a. RFC forms from treating physicians). And the rep being discharged may decide to file a fee petition, something that may be more likely to happen if a significant amount of development has been done on the case.

Are there reps who should be fired because they never ever return calls and, worse, continually miss appeal deadlines (to be honest, this can legitimately happen once in a blue moon due to an honest oversight or foul-up, but should never be a regular occurrence in any rep's office)? Yes, of course.

However, having said that, the following is also true.

1. There are some claimants who call their representatives office wayyyyy too often.

2. There are some claimants who make the incorrect assumption that nothing's been done on their case when, in fact, quite a bit has been done.

3. Some claimants (thankfully, a small percentage) have a problem--and I hate to say it but it is true--with the notion that they should have to pay a portion of their disability back pay to a representative who has assisted them with winning their case.

Bottom line:

1. You will have a better chance, ulimately, of winning your disability case if you have representation.

2. If you are not satisfied with the representation you receive, you have the right to seek new representation.

3. You need to read your fee agreement before signing it and be mindful of the fact that you are obligating yourself to the conditions of the fee agreement (all fee agreements, by the way, have to be approved by social security).

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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