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

You are allowed to have a representative assist you on your disability claim at any point. On this page, we'll notate what disability lawyers and non-attorney representatives do at various stages.

1. When no disability application has been filed yet - If you have not formally applied for disability with the social security administration, that doesn't mean you cannot have representation. You can contact a lawyer and they can assist you in getting your claim filed. However, your lawyer will not be your official representative in the eyes of the social security administration until you have gone through your disability interview and your claim paperwork has been submitted and received.

2. When the disability application is only pending - Pending simply means that the claim is being processed at disability determination services. Claims are usually decided by disability examiners in under four months but they can take longer. There are no deadlines for arriving at decisions on disability claims and some claims have been known to take as long as a year even at the application level (though this is somewhat rare).

At this level of the system, your representative can help explain how the process works and can assist you in responding to requests for information from the social security administration. Generally, though, there is relatively little for a lawyer to do at this point (before a decision is made).

3. Denial of the Disability Application - This is actually the chief reason for having representation on the disability application. If your case is one of the 70 percent of cases that get denied at this level, you will have a representative in place to get your reconsideration appeal paperwork filed quickly.

4. Denial of the Reconsideration appeal - If your request for reconsideration appeal is also denied (81% are usually denied), your representative will submit a request for hearing before an administrative law judge. It is at this point that your claim may grind to a relative halt. Due to backlogs, it may take up to two years or longer for your request for a hearing to actually result in a scheduled hearing date.

5. Maintenance of the case after the request for hearing - During the time you are waiting for your disability hearing to be scheduled, your attorney will monitor the claim and stay in receipt of notices from the social security office and from the hearing office. When the hearing is getting closer to being scheduled, the hearing office may send an exhibit list to your attorney.

This is basically a listing of everything that is already in the file to be considered at the hearing. This is also the point at which your attorney will probably begin to request updated medical records from your medical treatment providers.

Remember: at this point in time, most of the records in your social security file will be well over a year old. To win your claim, your lawyer will need to present the administrative law judge with recent medical record documentation that points to you being "currently disabled".

6. The Disability Hearing - It is at this level, of course, that your lawyer does what is obvious, which is to present your case and argue, based on the medical evidence in file, statements from your treating physicians, and a knowledge of your work history, that you do meet the standards for receiving disability benefits.

At the hearing, your lawyer may also interact with a medical expert if one has been called to testify by the judge. The judge may also choose to have a vocational expert who can comment on jobs that might be available to you and your ability to take one of those jobs. Your lawyer will often respond to hypothetical scenarios proposed by one of these "called experts".

Responding to expert witness testimony is best handled by an experienced disability lawyer, of course, as unrepresented claimants are generally at a loss to even understand the implications of the information that is being passed from the medical and vocational experts to the judge. In other words, going to a hearing where there are experts by yourself is seldom practical for the outcome of your case.

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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