Will I need a Social Security Disability Lawyer in Michigan?

You are not required to have a lawyer represent you in any Social Security Disability or SSI application or appeal, in Michigan, or any other state. In fact, many claimants who file for disability do not seek disability claim representation unless they are denied, and others will not seek assistance until they are due to appear before an administrative judge.

Furthermore, there are some lawyers who refuse to represent a disability claimant until their case has been denied--though, increasingly, this is less common and many representatives will now consider handling a case from beginning to end, primarily to ensure that the evidence of record is developed properly.

So the short answer is, no, you are not required to have a lawyer to help you file a Social Security Disability (SSD) or SSI claim. However, here are some things to consider when deciding if you may benefit from representation and at what point you should consider contacting an attorney or non-attorney representative:

1. Are you knowledgable regarding Social Security administrative law and procedure? By this, we mean the medical-vocational grid rules that usually determine the outcome for cases, the process of sequential evaluation that each case is subjected to, and the specific definition of disability that is used by the Social Security Administration.

For 99 percent of all claimants, the answer will be no. Unfortunately, however, a lack of knowledge as to how decisions are made and how the system works can impose disadvantages for a claim, particularly with regard to evidence and appeals.

2. Are you capable of keeping up with the status of your claim and effectively managing what needs to be done to keep the claim moving forward, which, of course, includes meeting deadlines, supplying medical and vocational evidence, responding to official correspondence, and filing appeal paperwork?

To use one example, the social security administration allows a claimant a 60 day window for submitting an appeal (plus an additional five days for the mailing of documents). Surprisingly many applicants in Michigan fail to meet this deadline. In some cases, this may be because claimants assume that they can send in their appeal on the last day of the appeal period, when, in actuality, Social Security regulations require that the appeal must be received and logged-in at a Social Security office by the deadline.

Regardless of the reason, if you miss the deadline, your case has to be resubmitted as a new claim, which will set you back at least an additional three to four months (the average amount of time it takes to process a disability application, though claims can take as long as six months in certain instances).

But potentially worse is the fact that starting over with a new filing date can result in lost eligibility for possibly thousands of dollars in disability back pay.

With regard to deadlines and case management, some claimants may find that their physical or mental impairment makes them a poor case manager and advocate for themselves, while others may find that they are unable to keep up with everything given their current financial and emotional circumstances.

Those who find that they cannot monitor and manage the progress of their own case may benefit from obtaining a disability attorney early on in the process.

3. What will your next course of action be if your benefits are denied? Nationally, approximately seventy percent of all disability claims are denied at the initial claim level. In Michigan, a recent statistic for initial claim denials was 70.4 percent. If your case falls into this vast majority and you are denied benefits, do you plan to file a new claim, or will you request a hearing before an administrative judge?

A high percentage of claimants will misconstrue the filing of a new claim as somehow being equivalent to filing an appeal. Nothing could be less true. When a new claim is filed, a claimant essentially gives up their appeal rights and practically guarantees that their case will be denied again at the initial claim level. They will forgo the chance of having their case presented before a judge at a hearing where the chances of approval in Michigan are more favorable (more than half of all hearings are approved, and the chances of approval rise when representation is involved on a claim).

It is estimated that the number of claims approved at the hearing level rises to 60 percent when the claimant is represented by an attorney or non-attorney representative. For this very reason, many ALJs (administrative law judges) will advise claimants who show up at hearings unrepresented that their hearing may be rescheduled to allow time to secure a representative.

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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