You do not need to hire a disability lawyer to apply for Social Security disability benefits. In the United States, any litigant can choose to represent themselves. However, we recommend hiring an attorney to represent you during the entire Social Security disability application process.
Should I Get a Lawyer Before Applying for Disability?
A disability attorney can evaluate your specific situation and advise you on which kind of benefits to pursue. They can also clarify Social Security’s terminology, help you fill out the application, and assist you with the paperwork needed to satisfy Social Security’s requirements.
While you can apply on your own, approximately 60% of applicants are denied at the application stage. Social Security does not just want to know which job you had before you became disabled and why you can no longer perform it. They want to know specific details about all the things you can and cannot do on a daily basis, such as run errands, mow the lawn, iron your clothes and clean your house. Your lawyer will know what medical documentation you need to prove your disability and how best to explain your limitations to improve your chances of a successful outcome at the initial adjudicative level.
In order to be approved at this stage, claimants must suffer from a condition that:
- Is on Social Security’s list of Compassionate Allowances Conditions; or
- Meets the specific and strict criteria set in Social Security’s Listing of Impairments, also known as a blue book listing.
If your injury or condition does not fall into either of these categories, it does not mean you are not disabled. At this point in the process, a disability attorney’s expertise becomes even more important. Many people do not hire an attorney until they receive their denial letter. Some disability attorneys will not take your case until your initial claim is denied and you want to appeal Social Security’s decision. However, you only have sixty days from the date on the denial letter to appeal your claim. Time is of the essence, so it is helpful to already have an attorney before you reach this part of the process.
What Does a Disability Lawyer Do?
A disability lawyer will review your denial letter to determine why Social Security denied you disability benefits. Any inconsistencies will be addressed using updated medical records, prepared testimony, and vocational and medical experts, solidifying the disability case you present to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) during your hearing.
These elements are all part of the sophisticated legal argument your attorney will present to the ALJ. Although the format of the hearing and the process involved is different from standard courtroom procedure, it can still be a stressful experience. Because a hearing is usually your final chance to make a compelling case for your inability to work due to injury or illness, you don’t want to take any chances that Social Security will deny you.
Your attorney is very familiar with the rules and regulations governing Social Security disability law. They are also aware of each deadline that needs to be met during the appeals process. Experienced SSD attorneys understand the importance each date on your disability timeline and can help you maximize the benefits you deserve. Your attorney knows what needs to be included in your testimony and what the ALJ looks for to appropriately determine your disability status. Together, you’ll prepare for the kinds of questions the ALJ will ask at your hearing and practice your answers.
Why Should I Hire an Attorney to Obtain SSD?
The process for obtaining Social Security Disability is complicated. A disability attorney can generally help you with these tasks:
- Analyze your case to develop a strategy for your claim.
- Collect medical, vocational, and other evidence.
- Help you keep a diary that details your condition.
- Explain Social Security Administration (SSA) notices.
- Answer questions about the application process.
- File appeals.
- Complete or review all paperwork required by SSA.
- Provide moral support.
- Seek the opinion of your physicians regarding your ability to work.
- Advise you to see specialists for additional medical reports.
- Send you to a vocational expert for a report on your ability to work.
- Suggest the SSA send you to a doctor for a consultative examination, if appropriate.
- Obtain, review, and analyze documents from your Social Security file.
- Review actions taken by SSA and respond appropriately.
- Investigate unusual delays in the processing of your claim.
- Help you prepare for your hearing.
- Address exceptional situations, such as the re-opening of prior claims.
- Protect your right to a fair hearing by objecting to improper evidence and procedures.
- Ask questions of you at your hearing to ensure all relevant information is heard by the judge.
- Cross-examine witnesses at your hearing, if appropriate.
- Ensure that SSA correctly calculates your benefits, if you win.
- Request a review of the hearing decision by SSA’s Appeals Council, if appropriate.
- Represent you in a Federal Court review of your case, if appropriate.
Statistically speaking, your chances of receiving a favorable decision at the hearing stage increase substantially if you hire an attorney. A study by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released in 2018 shows that disability claimants with a representative, such as an attorney, are three times more likely to receive a favorable decision.
How to Find a Good Disability Lawyer
To find a good disability lawyer, we recommend speaking with friends and family who have been through the disability benefits process.
Firsthand perspective is invaluable when making an important decision like selecting legal representation. Keep in mind that you will be working closely with this attorney and their staff for many months, or even years. You want to be sure that you get along well, feel comfortable asking questions, and this person is able to work on your behalf throughout the entire process.
You can also find an experienced disability attorney by:
- Contacting your local Bar Association,
- Doing online research,
- Looking in the phone book,
- Reading reviews, or
- Asking your attorney.
Choosing the Right Disability Attorney
Before contacting any attorneys, prepare by doing a little research on Social Security disability. You want to have a working knowledge of the application process so you can ask the right questions. When you’re ready to call potential firms, pay close attention. You can determine a lot about a firm and the people who work for it from your initial conversation. Aside from gathering important information about your situation, this discussion is an opportunity for a firm and its employees to show you their philosophy toward clients.
It’s okay if you don’t talk with an attorney the first time you call. The person you speak to will ask you a few questions about your disability and the circumstances surrounding it to see if the firm might be able to represent you. If you feel comfortable during this initial conversation, you can request an appointment to speak with an attorney at the firm in person or over the phone.
Before choosing a disability lawyer, ask yourself these questions about your initial conversation:
- Were you treated professionally and with courtesy?
- If you had to leave a message, was your call returned promptly?
- Did you feel comfortable asking questions?
- Are legal team members accessible?
- Did you feel respected and understood?
- Does the firm have the knowledge and experience to represent you successfully?
- What is the firm’s overall approval rate?
- What percentage of its wins are for full benefits? For partial benefits?
- How many of its approvals are at the hearing stage?
- How many people will likely work on your file?
- With what frequency will the firm check in with you about the status of your claim?
- How involved will the attorney be, and how often can you expect to talk to them?
- How long has the attorney been practicing disability law? In this location?
- How many cases do they handle each year?
- Can you see testimonials or references from past clients?
- Why did the attorney begin practicing disability law?
The answers to these questions will likely help you decide on one attorney over another. Remember to set reasonable expectations and go into the process with an idea of what makes a good disability attorney. A skilled, experienced disability attorney is not going to tell you what you want to hear just because it sounds good. A good disability attorney will honestly and candidly evaluate your case, tell you what your situation’s strengths and weaknesses are, and use their expertise to help you obtain Social Security disability benefits whenever possible.