Getting a Social Security Disability Attorney or Representative for your case

Because finding experienced and competent representation can be crucial to winning a Social Security Disability or SSI disability claim, especially for cases that will inevitably be presented to an administrative law judge at a hearing office, it is always in your best interest to find a disability attorney or representative who specializes in social security cases only.

This is an important distinction to make. Some disability lawyers handle a wide variety of cases, ranging from medical malpractice to worker's compensation to long term disability insurance claims. You do not want someone like this handling your claim. Lawyers who divide their practices between so many different areas of law seldom ever become true experts in the area of social security law and procedure. And they seldom ever develop a comparable amount of case preparation experience as compared to disability attorneys and representatives who do nothing but represent social security claimants.

For this reason (basically that you want an expert on your side, not a generalist), you will want to choose a representative who restricts his or her practice to social security representation.

How do you designate a representative for your case? Typically, the first step is to contact a representative by calling their office directly or by filling out an online form. In either case, the objective is to give the representative a chance to evaluate the basics of your case. If the representative ascertains that they can assist you and you, likewise, choose to have this individual represent your disability claim, then you will do the following:

1. You will sign an SSA-1696. This is the appointment of representative form that is used to authorize someone to represent your disability claim. Generally, the individual you have chosen to help you with your claim will supply this form to you and will simply sign and date the form. The representative will then submit this form to the social security administration. Once SSA receives this form, you will officially be represented and social security will be on notice to keep your representative fully informed regarding actions that are taken on your case. In keeping with this, when social security sends you correspondence, they will send a copy to your representative. Likewise, in deference to the fact that you have representation overseeing your claim, the social security administration will not attempt to contact you by phone without first obtaining permission from your representative.

2. You will sign a fee agreement. This form will also be returned to the social security administration after you have signed it. What does the fee agreement do? It allows your representative to receive a fee for winning your case. The fee is equal to 25 percent of your disability back pay, up to a certain maximum fee amount (to see the current maximum fee that is allowed for a representative, go here:SGA).

All fee agreements have to be approved by SSA. Be sure to read your fee agreement before signing it to make sure that you are comfortable with what your representative expects to be reimbursed for. Remember: the fee for representing your case is strictly regulated by the social security administration; however, your representative can charge for other expenses in the fee agreement, such as for postage and the cost of copying records, as well as the cost of obtaining updated medical records.

3. Your representative will generally have you sign medical release forms. These include SSA-827 forms which are the medical release forms used by social security to obtain medical records from your medical treatment providers. Very often as well, your non-attorney representative or disability attorney will also have you sign their own medical release forms so they can also obtain copies of your records (usually this is done to prepare for a disability hearing).

Part 2: What does a Social Security Disability Lawyer or Representative do for your claim?

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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