Hiring a Qualified Disability Lawyer in California

Claimants who are represented on disability claims in California tend to have a higher rate of approval, a need for fewer appeals, and more favorable "dates of onset" (the date the disability is proven to have begun) that lead to higher back pay benefits.

Representation may be through a disability lawyer or a specialized non-attorney disability representative. Many non-attorney reps are former Social Security Administration Claims Specialists and Disability Examiners with an extended history of working from within the federal system.

A qualified disability representative will have a knowledge of Social Security administrative law, particularly with regard to how claims are approved through the Social Security listings and the medical vocational grid rules. A qualified and competent disability representative or lawyer will also be skilled in the ability to obtain the most relevant case evidence, analyze it correctly, and incorporate it as part of a winning strategy for a claim.

To learn about fees for representation, see: "How do disability lawyers get paid?"

Additional information

California applicants for Social Security Disability (SSD) or supplemental security income (SSI) should consider obtaining disability representation, if not at the initial application stage, then certainly at the appeals level of consideration.

Federal statistics have shown that more than 69 percent of all applications to the California state disability determination services agency (DDS is the state-level agency that renders disability claim determinations for the Social Security Administration) are denied, and less than 20 percent of claimants are likely to be approved on the first appeal, the request for reconsideration.

While these odds may leave individuals wondering if it is even worth filing for SSD or SSI benefits in California, it is important to keep in mind that the majority of disability claims are eventually approved, particularly when the case is heard before an administrative law judge at a hearing (the second appeal level) where the rate of approval improves substantially.

In fact, more than sixty percent of all disability applicants that appear before an administrative disability judge are approved; if the claimant has representation by either a disability lawyer or a non-attorney disability representative, the chances of approval are likely to exceed this percentage.

An experienced disability representative or disability attorney can help present your case for disability in the strongest light possible, and present your medical documentation in a way that is most likely to persuade a judge that your medical condition is truly disabling and ongoing, or unlikely to improve over the next twelve months.

Note: To satisfy the SSA definition of disability, a claimant must have at least one condition that is considered disabling and which lasts for at least 12 full months while preventing them from being able to engage in substantial and gainful work activity.

Given the fact that so many Social Security Disability and SSI applicants in California are initially rejected, you should prepare yourself for the likelihood that it will be necessary to file at least one appeal before you are approved for benefits (assuming that you are approved for them).

Representation by an experienced disability lawyer or non-attorney representative may significantly improve your chances of winning your case, particularly if your first appeal fails and you request a hearing before an administrative law judge (your second, and, in most cases, best chance to appeal if your claim is denied).

How does a disability lawyer or disability representative improve the odds of winning a claim? The representative will review the claimant's file to learn the basis of the prior denials, what evidence was considered, what evidence may have been missed, and whether or not the previous decision makers (disability examiners at both levels) may have misidentified the claimant's past work history, misjudged the claimant's transferrable work skills, or misapplied a medical-vocational rule that would affect the outcome of the claim.

Additionally, a representative will try to obtain medical evidence that supports a "finding of disabled"; specifically, objective medical evidence that either proves that the claimant has a medical condition that satisfies a "listing" (in the Social Security list of impairments), or medical evidence that proves that the claimant has physical or mental functional limitations that rule out a return to work activity.

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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