Social Security Disability Lawyers - Fees and Representation Information

While individuals filing for disability benefits with the Social Security Administration do not have to hire a disability lawyer at any level of the disability process, they should consider obtaining the services of a competent Social Security Disability lawyer or disability representative if they are filing a request for an administrative law judge hearing--or sooner if their own personal situation warrants it.

What do I mean when I say personal situations that 'warrant' the services of a disability lawyer? If you have a mental condition that limits your ability to remember, read, or complete tasks timely (memory loss and depression are often involved in such situations) or a physical condition that prevents you from writing (such as arthritis or the residual effects of stroke), or perhaps a severe vision problem that prevents you handling your appeal online or on paper, you should consider getting help if your disability claim is denied.

Social Security has a sixty day appeal period plus five extra days mailing time from the date of your denial notice. If you do not return your completed appeal either online, by mail, or in person at your local Social Security office within that time frame, your appeal might be denied requiring you to begin the disability process again.

This is especially true for your disability hearing appeal request. Administrative law judges routinely deny request for hearing appeals if they are late.

Note: To elaborate on this, if your request for a hearing is sent in late, but you are granted good cause (i.e. an excuse for being late on the submission of the appeal) by the social security office that received the hearing request, it may still be ruled as a late appeal by the administrative law judge that receives your case many months later. So...just because the social security office accepts a late appeal does not mean that a disability judge will do the same.

Another reason to obtain the services of a disability lawyer for your disability hearing is that they know how to present your disability claim to an administrative law judge. Administrative law judges use vocational and medical guidelines to make their disability decisions, and it is unlikely that an applicant will know the rules or guidelines.

An experienced disability law practitioner will, however, be familiar with the vocational and medical guidelines used by SSA, as well as how claims are decided through the sequential evaluation process that is employed by both disability examiners and ALJs (administrative law judges).

If you decide to hire a disability lawyer make sure that you chose someone you feel comfortable with. Social Security requires you to sign a form selecting a disability lawyer as your representative. Your representative will have you sign the representation form (form SSA 1696) and a fee agreement when they take your disability case. You should read your fee agreement carefully before signing.

Social Security allows a fee for representation to be paid only if your disability claim is won and there are past disability benefits due (back pay). Social Security currently limits a disability lawyer's fee to $6000 or twenty five percent of any past due benefits, whichever is less.

However, Social Security does allow a disability lawyer to charge for incidental fees at a rate agreed upon in the fee agreement and these may be payable whether your disability claim is won or lost.

Incidental fees might include but are not limited to traveling, cost of medical records, phone calls, and even the cost of postage. Some disability lawyers charge incidental fees whether you win or lose, some only charge them if you win, and some do not charge incidental fees at all. Most lawyers will charge you upfront for one type of incidental expense, the cost of obtaining medical record updates from your doctors and hospitals.

This is a cost that is unavoidable since your own medical treatment sources will typically not send records to the lawyer without expecting to be compensated in return; however, some attorneys will not charge upfront for this cost, but, instead, will allow you to reimburse them when the case is concluded. Bear in mind, though, that the majority of lawyers will charge upfront.

You should read all fee agreements carefully before signing them. Fee agreements are legally binding and your disability lawyer can demand payment for incidental expenses even if they lose (if you agreed to pay them in your fee agreement).

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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