If you have a permanent disability that affects your ability to work, you may qualify for disability benefits from the federal government, or in some cases a state agency. The two most common forms of disability benefits are Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both programs are run through the Social Security Administration (SSA) and provide disability payments to those who qualify.
When applying, it’s not necessary to retain a disability attorney, but many people do to improve their chances of being awarded benefits.
6 Tips for Hiring a Social Security Disability Lawyer
- Look at online ratings and client reviews
- Research BBB score
- Research the firm’s success rates
- Know the terms and fees upfront
- Schedule a consultation
- Ask the right questions
A disability lawyer can often be helpful with an SSDI or SSI claim as well as during the appeals process. Unfortunately, obtaining disability benefits can often take a long time. The approval rate for Social Security disability benefits fluctuates between states, but overall more than half of new applications for SSDI benefits are rejected. Nationwide, only 39% of claims are approved after the initial application, meaning you must go through the lengthy appeals process to pursue benefits.
Why Should I Hire a Disability Lawyer?
Even if you think you’ll be one of the lucky few to have your disability claim approved the first time around, you can still benefit from working with a Social Security disability lawyer. There are several things to keep track of once you start this process, and an experienced attorney can help you troubleshoot any obstacles that come up and help you should you need to file an appeal.
You are not required to hire a lawyer, but most claimants find the benefits of working with an expert far outweigh the costs and inconvenience of going it alone.
The best thing you can do when starting your Social Security disability claim is to ensure it’s accurate and complete every step of the way. A good lawyer will help you with this during each stage of the application process. You will save time, money, and hassle by making sure your SSD claim is right before you send it off to the SSA.
An experienced disability lawyer can look at your application, find the weak spots, and work with you to gather more evidence or strategize on how to rework your claim. A good law firm will have worked with thousands of disability claims and can spot potential problems before they get worse.
Your attorney can also let you know if your case may be eligible for the SSA’s Compassionate Allowances program. This is a service that expedites approval for certain conditions that are automatically considered severe enough to receive a benefit, but you must ensure you have sufficient medical records to support it.
Anyone can apply for SSD benefits online, over the phone, or at a local Social Security field office. However, the amount of information and supporting documentation you must supply can be overwhelming to many applicants.
Sadly, when many people choose to complete this on their own, they will inadvertently omit essential information and their claim will be denied. Or, applicants may misunderstand what the SSA is asking for and submit incorrect information. You would then have to wait for your determination to come back (which can take months) before you’ll be able to rectify it.
Collect Medical Information
One of the most important components of your SSDI claim is the documentation you provide about your medical condition. To qualify for Social Security benefits, your disability must limit your ability to work for at least 12 months or end in death, and it must be listed in the SSA’s “blue book,” a comprehensive list of conditions that have been deemed severe enough to receive benefits.
However, it’s not enough that your condition is simply listed here, but you must also meet the criteria within the listing as well. Simply having the condition will not automatically qualify you and the SSA includes a comprehensive explanation of what symptoms you must show, what test results they’ll need to see, and what diagnosis they’ll accept.
Without providing the right kind of evidence, you run the risk of being denied. A Social Security disability lawyer knows what the SSA is looking for and can help you collect and organize your evidence so you meet all the criteria for approval.
Communicate With the Social Security Administration
Submitting your application is only the first of many steps to getting your Social Security claim approved. It can take a long time to hear back from the SSA. Since the majority of applicants have their initial application denied, there’s often a lot of back and forth communication to establish what your next steps should be.
If you’re working with a Social Security disability attorney, you won’t have to worry about this or waste your time trying to get a representative on the phone, or reviewing email correspondence. Your lawyer will handle it and can then deliver the needed information to you once they’ve learned the facts.
Roughly 61% of all initial applications are denied. If you’re serious about getting a Social Security benefit, you should begin the appeal process almost immediately after receiving your determination. The appeals process is done in stages, and each stage has a time limit for completion (usually 60 days from the prior denial). If you end up working through all four stages, this process can take up to one or two years.
The beginning steps of appeals require additional paperwork, more communication with the SSA or the disability determination service you’re working with, finding out what was missing from your application, gathering more medical evidence to support your claim including obtaining witness statements in some cases, and presenting all this information to an administrative law judge. This is a lot of work, and a Social Security lawyer can help you get through it.
The final stages of the appeals process can get even more complicated and drawn out. If the administrative law judge denies your claim, you can still petition the Appeals Council and then with a federal court for another review.
Appointments with an Appeals Council or a Federal Court take months (if not years) to obtain. Since the stakes are so high at this point, the vast majority of Social Security claimants work with lawyers. By working with an attorney, you improve your chances of success at each level of appeals.
What’s the Difference Between a Disability Lawyer and a Disability Advocate?
Disability advocates and disability lawyers offer similar services, but each has their own unique qualities. In fact, many disability advocates are attorneys. Choosing who to work with will depend on your needs, the details of your disability case, and who inspires the most confidence. Using either will improve your chances of your claim being approved, though neither can guarantee approval.
Both lawyers and advocates have undergone training in Social Security disability law and understand how to work with the Social Security system to maximize your chances of approval. However, an advocate only needs to earn a training certificate and may or may not have a bachelor’s degree. An attorney must obtain a bachelor’s degree as well as a law degree.
Lawyers must also pass a state bar exam and remain in good standing with the state. Both an attorney and advocate are limited to what they can charge clients for their services when pursuing Social Security disability, and they can only charge you if your claim is approved.
6 Tips for Hiring a Social Security Disability Lawyer
You will likely have many choices when seeking a lawyer who specializes in Social Security law and can work with you on your claim. Spend some time choosing the lawyer who is right for you by considering these six tips.
1. Look at online ratings and client reviews
Read reviews about the individual lawyers and their law firm, and don’t just stick to Google. Seek out legal review sites like Justia and Lawyer.com too. If possible, talk with family and friends who may have recommendations for lawyers they’ve used as well who can give you a personal account of their experience.
2. Research BBB score
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is an organization that sets industry standards for the marketplace. They review all kinds of businesses and brands and rate them on their integrity and performance. Check out the BBB’s website to see what grades the Social Security disability lawyers in your area are receiving.
3. Research the firm’s success rates
Find out how many disability cases the firm takes on and what their success rate is. Most lawyers have more than one practice area, so it’s essential to ask about their experience as a Social Security lawyer specifically. Ask them what factors go into a successful case, and what they think your chances of approval are.
4. Know the terms and fees upfront
Social Security law requires that attorneys and advocates cap their fees when working with a client seeking disability insurance benefits. They are limited to charging 25% of your potential SSDI back pay or a maximum of $6,000, and they are only allowed to charge this if your application is approved. If a lawyer tries to charge you more than this, that’s a red flag.
5. Schedule a consultation
If you can, meet with two to three attorneys in person at their law office or over the phone. Most lawyers offer a free consultation to ask questions before you have to sign any contract. This will allow you to get a feel for their practice and what kind of person they are. You want someone whom you feel comfortable talking to and who answers all your questions to your satisfaction. After all, you will probably be working with this person for a long time.
6. Ask the right questions
When you do find two or three lawyers that you may want to hire, be ready to ask them lots of questions to get a feel for how they communicate and what their process looks like. For example, do they work with anyone else, or is it a private practice? Will you be communicating directly to the attorney most of the time or through their assistant? How much experience do they have working with clients with your particular disability? How long have they been practicing disability law?
Do You Need a Social Security Disability Lawyer?
Applying for Social Security disability benefits can be a complex and extensive process, but it’s also a necessary one if you’re suffering from a long-term disability. These benefits can provide essential help to individuals and families who are struggling to make ends meet due to circumstances beyond their control. If you still have questions and want to connect with someone who can help, reach out to an SSDFacts Advisor for a free case evaluation.