How do Disability Lawyers in California get paid their fees?

As Social Security Disability and SSI claims are based in administrative law, a representative may be a disability lawyer or a Non-attorney disability representative. Very often, a non-attorney representative will be an individual who was formerly a claims representative working at a Social Security field office, or a disability examiner who made decisions on disability applications or reconsideration appeals, such as the author of, Tim Moore.

The Social Security Disability and SSI disability fee payment system is federally regulated. A disability lawyer or non-attorney disability representative in the state of California is paid with two considerations in mind:

1) To be paid a fee, the case must be won. If the case is not won, there is no fee payable to the attorney or representative.

2) The fee that is received by the attorney or non-attorney representative in California is equal to one-fourth of whatever amount of backpay that the claimant is found eligible to receive. For example, if the claimant is found to be owed $20,000 as a backpayment, the representative would receive $5000. However, the very most that a disability lawyer or representative can be paid as a fee for representation is $6000. This is the current maximum.

The fact that the representation fee is only paid after a Social Security Disability or SSI disability case is won is a clear benefit to claimants since it allows the majority of claimants to find representation without the worry of having to pay an upfront fee.

An additional benefit of the SSA fee payment system is that the Social Security Administration will also take care of handling the fee payment itself by A) doing the calculations for whatever fee is owed to the disability representative or disability attorney and B) sending the fee payment to the claimant's representative.

Is there any other kind of cost associated with getting a disability lawyer? Usually, there are additional costs, though these tend to be minimal. For example, an attorney or representative will generally charge for the cost of getting medical records. This is not a charge per se, but reimbursement since few if any clinics, doctor's offices, or hospitals will provide records without a copying charge.

On this note, it should be said that some attorneys and lawfirms will charge you upfront for whatever costs they incur for obtaining medical records or statements from physicians (not all doctors will charge for providing a statement on their patient but some will), whereas others will pay these costs as the case develops and then only ask for reimbursement when the case is finally concluded.

All costs in relation to a disability claim will be indicated on the fee agreement that a claimant signs when they choose someone to represent their claim. All fee agreements must be approved by SSA and for this reason disability representatives and lawyers tend to charge for the same incidental expenses in addition to the representation fee.

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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