When to Hire a Social
Security Disability Lawyer
You can hire a lawyer to represent you at any stage in the disability application process. You may wish to hire a lawyer early in the process when:
- your case involves an unusual or complex medical history
- your case involves a prior application that needs to be re-opened
- your case has been remanded by the Appeals Council
- you are too sick or uncomfortable to deal with all the paperwork
- you do not have a stable address and you need to make sure that someone meets all your appeal deadlines
Some people choose to represent themselves at the initial application and during the reconsideration appeal. Most of the communication you will have with Social Security will be through written forms and you will not have to appear before any judge at initial or reconsideration. If you do choose to represent yourself prior to requesting a hearing remember:
- you must meet all appeal deadlines (60 days after receipt of a denial notice)
- you cannot claim ignorance of the law as reason for missing a deadline or failing to include relevant information
- if you mistakenly left out any reference to disability arising from a specific medical or mental health condition, and then try to raise it at hearing, the Judge may remand case back to reconsideration or he may decide the case without considering your new evidence
- if you choose to represent yourself, it is a good idea to invest in a quality guide like the Answer Guide or the NoLo Guide.
Very few people try to represent themselves at a hearing and that is a good thing. Although Social Security hearings are more informal than typical state court hearings, there are rules of evidence and procedure that need to be considered. In addition, you may be required to cross examine a medical doctor serving as a medical expert or a vocational expert serving as a vocational witness.
More significantly, if you do not have a clear theory of your case that brings into play both the medical basis of your case and the vocational implications, you will find it difficult to effectively present yourIf you choose to hire an attorney, most cases are handled on a "contingency" basis, meaning that the attorney is paid only if the case is won. An attorney's fee is typically 25% of any past due benefits collected for you. case. As a rule, you should always hire a lawyer to assist you at your hearing.
Note that an experienced lawyer can be very helpful to you in many ways. First, your lawyer can make sure that you have applied for all disability programs for which you are eligible. For example, disability claims offices sometimes "lose" files or fail to process them timely. Just about every claimant's lawyer has had to argue that any evidence of a communication with Social Security is enough to prove that an application was filed, thereby counting as a "protective filing" and preserving the claimant's rights.
A lawyer can also determine if you are eligible to "reopen" old applications. In some cases, a prior application, even one filed three or four years earlier, can be reopened, thereby making you eligible for years of back benefits and thousands of dollars. If you ever filed an old application, or even if you simply called Social Security to inquire about benefits, you could lose our if you fail to look into reopening an old application. Make sure to tell your lawyer about any old applications or communications with the Social Security Administration.
Your lawyer can evaluate your case and suggest a strategy to win your case. After handling hundreds of cases, most attorneys have a fairly good perspective as to what cases are winnable and what cases are not, and what it takes to win a case. While an attorney's opinion is not a determination of how your case will end up, he/she can offer you the benefit of experience. More importantly, if you decide to hire an attorney, he/she will make sure that your case file is up-to-date with all medical records. In addition, he/she will work with your doctors to "translate" your medical problems into work limitations so that Social Security can evaluate your claim properl