Why do I need a Disability Lawyer? Can I do the claim myself?
I found a statement similar to the title of this post in a forum recently. And it reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a gentleman who been denied on his Social Security Disability application. He was typical of some prospective new clients in that he had quite a few questions: what does representation involve, how much does it cost, how long will the case take, what are the chances of winning, etc, etc. Near the end, though, he blurted out that he didn't see the need for representation since he was of the mind that he could handle his case satisfactorily on his own. So I essentially told him the following:
1. No claimant is required to have representation on a Social Security Disability or SSI disability claim, at any level of the system, including the hearing level, the appeals council review of an administrative law judge's decision, or district court.
2. If a claimant decides to have representation, they can choose to have either a non-attorney claimant's representative, or a disability lawyer, meaning an attorney who handles SSD and SSI cases (hopefully, this attorney specializes in social security versus being one who handles a little bit of personal injury, a little bit of traffic, and a little bit of disability--you really do want a specialist versus someone who doesn't even know the basic concepts involved in the SSA disability system).
3. Many claimants do just fine without representation.
4. Many claimants win their cases at the initial claim (disability application) and reconsideration levels without the use of a disability representative. A sizable percentage of claimants who go to hearings by themselves also win their disability claims.
After some more discussion, this individual decided he did, in fact, want representation. Why? Perhaps because he felt comfortable with the information I had given him, or the manner in which I had relayed it to him. Perhaps, as well, it was because I had explained---
A) How long it can take to get to a disability hearing (he had been denied on his initial claim and needed to file a request for reconsideration---since reconsideration appeals are overwhelmingly denied, he was most likely heading to a hearing at some point),
B) The fact that many ALJs (administrative law judges) will advise claimants who show up unrepresented that they can reschedule for the purpose of obtaining representation,
C) Claimants with representation have a statistically higher chance of being awarded benefits.
I think what he took away from the conversation was that hearings take too long to get to and are too important to simply take a chance on not being as prepared as possible. And from my perspective, as I informed him, that involved having representation.
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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