Social Security - What Does a Disability Lawyer Do?
At some point during the Social Security Disability application process, an applicant has a decision to make: Should I represent myself? Or do I have to hire a disability lawyer?
If you have done research online, you'll see plenty of articles encouraging you to get an attorney. These articles can be helpful as long as you realize most are posted by disability lawyers hoping to get your business. The truth is, many disability applicants get approved without a lawyer. Social Security workers are trained to help you get through the paperwork and confusion of the application process.
However, many disability applicants who have excellent cases still fall through the cracks and get denied. The Social Security process is simply long and frustrating.
If you are unsure if hiring a disability lawyer will make a difference, maybe it will help if you know exactly what an experienced attorney's office does for each disability client:
1) Initial telephone (or Internet) conversation, during which the applicant is asked about his or her medical disability, work history, doctor and hospital information, etc. The disability attorney (or legal assistant if applicable) then decides if the case can be won. If so...
2) The attorney sends you paperwork to complete, sign, Andre turn. Typical disability forms include Appointment of Representation, Fee Agreement, Medical Authorization forms, etc. These will allow him or her to speak with Social Security, your doctor(s), and others in your behalf.
3) The attorney's office then processes the information and begins to communicate with Social Security on your behalf. Depending on which point in the process you are at, they will also gather medical records from your doctor(s), hospital(s),and employer(s). The attorney should contact you for help if there is difficulty getting these records. The best disability enters even check the status of your claim on occasion with Social Security, just to make sure your case hasn't fallen through the cracks.
4) If your claim is at the hearing level, your attorney should have gathered all applicable evidence and processed it with Social Security. He or she should have scheduled a hearing at the Hearing Office and contacted you to make sure you will be there. Sometime before the hearing, the disability lawyer should meet with you and go over your case.
Then, during the hearing, the attorney will present your case in the best light possible. He or she can cross-examine medical experts and vocational experts as well as help you clarify your own testimony. Statistics show that applicants who are represented by attorneys are 20-30% more likely to be approved at this level.
5) If your claim is denied at any point, your attorney should handle the appeal for you. If your claim is approved, the attorney should contact you and let you know what to expect in terms of payment. If you do not receive your payment within two to three months, your disability lawyer should check with Social Security to make sure everything is on track.
6) Once your claim has been approved and you begin to receive disability benefit checks, your lawyer can get paid. Disability attorneys typically charge 25% of the back benefits (basically the period of time between the date you first became disabled and the date you were approved), up to $5300.
Some lawyers may also ask to be reimbursed for expenses paid out of pocket, such as medical record costs. Remember that disability lawyers get paid on a contingency basis, which means they don't get paid until they win your case.
Now that you understand the process, make sure the disability lawyer you choose is experienced and successful in disability law specifically. Choose someone who will communicate with you often about your case. If you are still unsure about hiring someone, remember that most disability lawyers offer a free consultation, which is just a fancy word for free advice. You always have a choice. Wherever you are in the process, best of luck.
About the author:
Becca has been involved in the Social Security Disability world since 1995 and enjoys watching the program change lives for the better.