Using a Lawyer for an SSDI Disability Case

I write this page based on both my own experience having worked as a disability claims examiner for the social security administration's DDS (disabiilty determination services) AND as someone who has worked in the area of claimant representation. I performed each of those functions for a number of years, in addition to having previously been a medicaid-disability caseworker.

If you look online, you'll find a fair amount of advice as to how you should pick a lawyer for an SSDI (Social Security Disability insurance) case. Most of it, I would have to say is not very realistic.

Here's one example of what I mean: "Ask the lawyer what his win rate is". I see this question all the time. But, honestly, no lawyer who wants your business is going to give you any answer that suggests anything other than a very high win rate, or a statement that indicates he or she wins most of his cases. So, in essence, this question is quite useless.

Here's another: "Ask the lawyer if he has any experience handling claims that involve your condition". This question is not entirely useless because it may be helpful to you to know if the lawyer has ever heard of your very rare condition. Or, if you have a condition for which the etiology is somewhat in question, such as fibromyalgia, you may be able to learn what the lawyer's approach has been on cases like this.

However, having said this, the truth is that this kind of question does not matter much. Why? Because not even the social security administration really cares much about your specific diagnosis, or what the name of your condition is. SSA is concerned with two things:

A) what your functional limitations are and

B) whether or not your functional limitations rule out your ability to engage in what is known as substantial, gainful work activity.

Based on this reasoning, a claimant could potentially be awarded benefits for any mental or physical condition, provided that the condition results in enough limitations that sufficiently rule out the ability to perform work activity.

So, are there any questions you should ask to a lawyer...who may or may not be selected as your representative? Yes. Here's several:

1. If my claim gets denied, should I contact your office to advise you, even though social security is supposed to send you a copy of the denial notice?

2. If my claim gets denied, will your office quickly send in my appeal paperwork?

3. Will your office send me copies of paperwork submitted to the social security administration?

4. Will your office send reminder notices for things like consultative medical examinations and the disability hearing appointment?

5. If I have a question and have to leave a message with your office, will I receive a call back within three business days?

The answers to these questions, of course, should all be Yes. Why ask them? Simply to establish upfront how things should be handled regarding your case, i.e. expectations.

Other questions that claimants typically have about getting a lawyer for an SSDI claim are as follows and we will answer them here:

1. How much is the fee for being represented? One quarter of whatever back pay that the claimant receives, limited to a maximum of $6000. . So, if you receive $20,000 in back pay, your attorney will receive one quarter of that, or $5000. If you get $24,0000 in back pay, your attorney will get the full $6000. But if you get $30,000 in back pay, your attorney will still only get the maximum of $6000.

2. Is there a fee if the case is not won? No, though the claimant may still have to reimburse the lawyer for certain costs such as the cost of obtaining medical records.

3. Will you be able to speed up my case? No. In fact, it is a common misconception that a disability lawyer can do this. In some cases, a lawyer can, for a case that is at the hearing level, ask for an expedite based on dire financial need, but this does not happen much due to the extreme backlog of disability cases at hearing offices.

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.

Questions and Answers

1. To Apply For SSI or SSD Disability Benefits, Where do I Start?

2. How Often Does Social Security Disability Review Cases?

3. Is There A Maximum Dollar Amount For SSI Disability?

4. If Am Medically Disabled, Can Social Security Still Turn Me Down For Some Reason?

5. What Happens in the processing of a disability claim after you file?

6. What Is The Social Security Disability Activities of Daily Living Questionnaire?

7. When Social Security Disability Sends You To A Doctor, What Kind Is It?

8. Can A Disability Attorney in Florida Guarantee That I Get A Social Security Approval?

9. Can't Work In My Old Job, How Does Social Security Disability Consider This?

10. Who Makes The Social Security Disability Decision, A Judge Or A Caseworker?

11. For Social Security Disability, What Does It Mean When Your Case Gets Sent Out For Review?

12. Can You Work While You Appeal Your Social Security Disability Decision?

13. Social Security Disability and Going In Front Of A Judge - What Happens?

14. How Long Does It Take To Get SSDI If You Have To Appeal?

15. Does The Social Security Disability Reconsideration Have A Time Limit?

16. Will An Attorney Be More Successful On A Social Security Appeal?

17. How long Does SSI Disability or Social Security Disability last?

18. Still Waiting For My Social Security Disability Decision?

19. Avoiding Mistakes to get your Disability Claim Approved