Hiring a lawyer for Social Security Disability is a big decision that should not be taken lightly. There are some questions you will need to ask beforehand.
In South Carolina, most Social Security Disability claims take more than a year to resolve, and some claims drag on for nearly a decade. During that time, you’ll need to place a lot of trust in your Social Security Disability (SSD) lawyer.
Before you sign a lawyer’s fee agreement, you should take some time and evaluate their qualifications as well as their personality and temperament.
The following questions can help you identify whether an attorney is the right fit to handle your SSD claim.
Under Social Security rules, non-attorney representatives can handle SSD claims. However, many of these non-attorney reps have less training and knowledge than a licensed attorney. And unfortunately, many of them also tend to hide their lack of credentials and will charge the same fee structure as a licensed Social Security Disability lawyer.
Where Are Your Offices? Look for “Social Security Disability attorney near me”
Some national, high-volume Social Security firms advertise heavily on television and the internet. These national firms may try to maximize their profits by hiring less-experienced lawyers or non-attorney reps, cutting costs, and handling as many cases as possible. You should always be wary of big-box Social Security firms that are willing to handle out-of-state claims.
When your lawyer or representative’s office is far from your home, it can create lots of problems. First, travel expenses are something that few disabled people can afford while appealing a Social Security claim denial. Also, your long-distance lawyer might not visit your community frequently or at all, which means very little face-to-face time with the person who’s handling your claim.
Can I Deduct Attorney Fees for Social Security Disability? (Social Security Disability attorney fee limits)
The Social Security Administration (SSA) caps attorney fees at the hearing level. A lawyer can charge 25% of your past-due Social Security benefits, up to a maximum fee of $6,000, but that’s going up to $7,200 on November 30, 2022.
Most Social Security lawyers request direct payment from the Social Security Administration. If that’s the case and you win your claim, the Social Security Administration will deduct attorney fees from your benefits and send them directly to your lawyer, so you’ll never have to worry about it. However, your lawyer’s fee structure might change if your claim needs Social Security Appeals Council review in Virginia or even up to Federal Court.
Most Social Security lawyers and representatives also expect you to pay legal costs related to your claim, such as the price of medical records and consultative examinations. Different lawyers treat these legal costs differently. For example, some law firms will bill you for your costs whether you win or lose. Others, only if you win. So, it pays to ask!
How Frequently Do You Meet with Your Clients?
Every SSD client has different needs and expectations. Some clients want frequent briefings on the status of their claim, while others just want occasional updates. Before you meet with a Social Security Disability lawyer, ask yourself how much guidance and information you will want or need.
Some lawyers are very accommodating with client meetings. Others — especially those who have high-volume practices — try to avoid them. So, your first face-to-face meeting with a high-volume lawyer might be minutes before your Social Security Disability hearing! Try to find a lawyer that balances efficiency with compassion. One who’s willing to meet with you when needed. However, keep in mind that in these days of COVID, a lot can be accomplished by Zoom, email & phone.
SSDI Hearing Question – Who Will Handle My Social Security Hearing?
Sometimes, Social Security firms — especially big ones — “bait and switch” their clients. You might meet with an experienced, senior lawyer at your initial appointment, only to find a young, inexperienced associate or even a non-attorney rep at your hearing.
While emergencies do happen and can provide a valid reason for a lawyer to delegate a hearing to someone else, it’s fair to ask a lawyer about how frequently he or she delegates hearings to other lawyers or representatives. If you’re not comfortable with the lawyer’s answer, don’t sign their fee agreement.
How Much Experience Do You Have with Social Security Claims?
Social Security claims are highly technical. A successful claim requires:
- A detailed analysis of your medical records
- Knowledge about Social Security laws and regulations
- Experience presenting testimony to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- The ability to cross-examine medical and vocational witnesses
If your lawyer doesn’t understand how your age, medical conditions, and work experience impact your claim, it will put you at a significant disadvantage.
Also, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have their own unique quirks. When you work with an experienced Social Security disability lawyer, he or she should try to tailor your claim to your ALJ’s preferences. For example, some ALJs rely heavily on residual functional capacity (RFC) forms, which explain your ability to perform specific activities. A missing RFC form might result in denied disability benefits.
Are You Familiar with My Medical Conditions?
Some medical conditions, such as degenerative disc disease and depression, are relatively common in SSD claims. Most Social Security Disability lawyers and judges understand these conditions, and they also understand the limitations of people who live with them.
However, if you have a relatively rare medical condition, the ALJ in your case might be unfamiliar with that condition, which means your claim might require a lot more development. For example, complicated claims, such as those involving systemic autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), can require your lawyer to sift through large volumes of medical records and interpret test results, then translate all this information for the ALJ.
What Is Your Approach to Social Security Claims?
Every Social Security lawyer has a different approach to filing and appealing claims. Disability lawyers have a wide array of tools available to them, including:
- On-the-record requests: Rarely, a formal request asking for a decision without an ALJ hearing,
- Expedited hearings: If you have a terminal illness, you might be eligible for a quicker hearing date
- Opinions from your medical providers: Your lawyer may give you a form for your medical provider to fill out to use at your SSD hearing. They can be very effective.
An experienced Social Security Disability lawyer will use the appropriate tools for your case.
Do You Handle Appeals to the Social Security Appeals Council?
For instance, The Charleston, South Carolina Social Security Disability hearing office denies more than 40% of the claims it reviews. Sometimes, denials happen because Social Security ALJs make mistakes. While each level of a Social Security appeal becomes more challenging, your lawyer should always review your ALJ’s decision for appealable issues.
Some lawyers do not handle SSA Appeals Council claims. If your lawyer or non-attorney rep does not handle appeals, you might have a hard time hiring a new, qualified lawyer who will take your case. (Many Social Security Disability lawyers won’t take on an SSD claim if they didn’t handle the hearing.)
Your lawyer should carefully review an unfavorable decision and the facts of your case before deciding whether to appeal. Sometimes, a Request for Review by the Appeals Council is the best option. Other times, clients are better off refiling for benefits.
The Law Offices of David L. Hood: Representing Social Security Disability Applicants in Columbia, Florence, Sumter and throughout Georgetown and Horry Counties
Social Security Disability claims are highly technical, requiring extensive medical and legal knowledge. Without help from an experienced South Carolina Social Security Disability lawyer, you can easily make mistakes that lead to a denial of benefits. But even if your claim has already been denied, don’t give up hope. Social Security frequently denies legitimate disability claims, and most claims require an appeal to succeed.
At The Law Offices of David L. Hood, we fight for the rights of the disabled. If you are considering hiring a lawyer for Social Security Disability, schedule a free consultation with us today at no risk to you. We handle all SSD cases on a contingent fee basis, which means you won’t pay attorney’s fees unless we help you receive benefits. You can easily contact us by filling out our quick and easy online contact form, email us or by calling (843) 491-6025.
*Clients are not liable for any expenses, unless there is a recovery in their case; however, if there is a recovery in their case, clients will be liable for expenses. Attorney’s fees are based on a percentage of the recovery, which will be computed before deducting expenses.
ALJ disposition data FY 2022. Social Security Administration. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/03_ALJ_Disposition_Data.html.
Average wait time until hearing held report (2022, July). Social Security Administration. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/01_NetStat_Report.html.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.