Why do people choose not to be represented at a Disability Hearing?

In a prior post, I spoke of the fact that, while some disability judges will point out to an unrepresented claimant (a person who shows up at a Social Security Disability hearing without a disability attorney and, most likely, without any form of hearing preparation as well) the fact that they can reschedule their hearing and obtain representation, many judges will not take the time to do this. In short, they will disadvantage the people who appear before them by not informing them of their right to representation. Which is a shame. However, it begs the question. Why do some people choose not to be represented at a disability hearing?


1. What to expect at a disability hearing
2. What happens when you go to a disability hearing?
3. Preparing for a Disability Hearing
4. Winning at a Social Security Disability Hearing

As someone who works in a social security field recently commented to me, "so many of them don't understand the pay thing". What this individual meant was that a large percentage of individuals who file for disability don't know that they can afford to hire a disability lawyer. They mistakenly conclude that such representation will be extremely costly and that the cost will be prohibitive. They also make the mistake of assuming that the cost of a disability attorney will be something they have to endure "upfront".

In actuality, it doesn't work this way at all when it comes to Social Security Disability administrative law. The fee system for representation on SSD and SSI disability cases is setup so that any person may be represented in a claim, with no upfront cost, and with no risk of loss if the case is not won by the disability lawyer.

Essentially, it works like this. A claimant who desires representation will contact an attorney or a non-attorney representative and state their desire for representation. Typically, what will follow is a brief interview and then the signing and filing of certain disability forms. These will include medical release forms used by the social security administration, an appointment of representative form (the form SSA-1696), and, of course, the fee agreement. The fee agreement, and its language is guided by provisions set forth by the social security administration. And a fee agreement that steps outside these bounds can be rejected by SSA.

What does a fee agreement between a disability attorney and a claimant stipulate? That the representative may receive up to one-fourth of the claimant's disability back pay. However, this is capped to a certain maximum (currently set at $6000.00). It also indicates that the fee is payable only if the claimant's case is won and disability benefits are awarded to the claimant. Since the fee is based on back pay, which is only given to a case that is awarded, how could it be otherwise?

The primary cost factors that should be kept in mind by applicants for disability benefits are simply the following:

A) the fee you pay to a disability representative is only incurred if the case is won and it is limited to one-fourth of the back pay, up to a maximum of $6000.00 and

B) there are no upfront costs.

Are there additional costs that must be paid by a represented claimant to a representative? Yes, in most cases, a person who is represented will also be expected to reimburse the attorney for the cost of obtaining medical records, which will typically be less than $300.00 in most cases. However, this is also a cost that is typically not paid upfront. Most attorneys will not bill for records until the case has been won (meaning the claimant will receive monthly benefits and disability back pay).

Note--if you speak to a disability representative and they make it clear that they would like a fee for out-of-pocket costs (such as for gathering records) upfront, find someone else. Also, if the prospective representative makes it clear that they will bill for incidentals such as the cost of postage and printer paper and ink...you may wish to take a pass on this rep and keep looking elsewhere for assistance.

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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