If you are unable to work due to a physical or mental health condition, you may qualify for disability benefits offered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). There are two specific types of SSA benefits that may be available to disabled Americans: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
The process of qualifying for one of both of these types of benefits can be daunting, filled with legal jargon and a mountain of paperwork. Working with a disability attorney is often a good way to reduce the stress of the process – and to increase the likelihood of a successful disability claim. This presents many people with a new dilemma: how do I choose a good disability lawyer?
While you are not required to have a lawyer or advocate to file an SSDI or SSI application, it can be incredibly helpful. If you do choose to work with a Social Security disability attorney, there are certain things that you should look for to know that you are getting someone who will help you achieve the best possible result for your case.
Do You Need a Social Security Disability Lawyer?
Although you have a right to a lawyer or non-attorney representative when filing an SSA claim or appeal, many people with disabilities choose to file an application for disability benefits on their own. If you believe that you are able to file the correct forms and gather the necessary paperwork, representing yourself in the SSDI and/or SSI process might be a good choice for you.
However, there are situations where it makes sense to hire an attorney to help you file an initial disability claim or an appeal after a denial of benefits. This is particularly true if your mental health or medical condition is complex, or if you are unsure of whether you may qualify for benefits. If you do hire a lawyer, federal law caps attorneys’ fees in most situations.
In 2018, just 36.6% of all applications for Social Security disability benefits were approved at the initial application level. Because many initial denials are based on technical reasons – rather than for medical reasons – it may make sense to hire a lawyer to help you through the process. An attorney who understands the SSA process can guide you through the initial steps, including filling out forms like the Activities of Daily Living questionnaire.
What to Look for in a Disability Advocate
If you choose to seek help with your disability claim, the first thing to know is that there are two types of advocates that you may hire: an attorney (or law firm) or a non-legal organization. There are benefits to working with both types of advocates. If you choose to hire a lawyer, they will be able to use their knowledge of disability law to handle both the disability application and any appeal, if necessary.
When selecting a Social Security disability lawyer, there are several questions that you should ask, such as who will be handling your disability case and whether the law office will collect medical records and other important information for you. To develop a list of possible attorneys to hire, consider the following factors. You can then set up free consultations to narrow down the list and figure out the best disability advocate for you.
Social Security disability work is a specialized area of the law. An attorney who hasn’t ever handled this type of case – or who has only represented people in a handful of disability claims – probably isn’t well-suited to take on your case. When looking to hire a lawyer, the first thing that you should check for is exactly how much experience they have handling this type of claim.
In addition, if you have a unique situation, look to see if this lawyer or law firm has represented claimants with similar cases. For example, if you are a parent seeking disability benefits for your child, check to see that this lawyer knows how to handle this specific type of case.
If you have already filed an application and received a denial, then you may also look for a lawyer who has experience with the SSA appeals process. Appealing an SSA denial may involve as many as four levels, including filing a lawsuit in federal district court. You will want to hire an attorney who understands each step of the process and can represent you from start to finish.
A Game Plan
During an initial consultation, you will have an opportunity to ask an attorney questions about your claim. While there are many questions that you can and should ask, you should also inquire about their plan for your case, should you choose to hire their law firm.
Disability cases can be complex, and the strategy for pursuing benefits may vary depending on the facts of your case. Asking a lawyer, “what is your plan for my case” will give you insight into how they handle claims like yours, their experience, and even their willingness to take on a challenging claim.
If an attorney talks about their approval rates instead of their plan for your case, it may be a red flag. A law firm can pick and choose which clients they take in order to get a high approval rate – or even drop claims that they might lose to keep their number high. When you are looking to hire a disability lawyer, remember that their win-loss statistics don’t mean as much as their plan for how they will help YOU.
Communication and Professionalism
If you cannot work due to a disability, your disability case is very important. While Social Security disability attorneys are often very busy, they should communicate with you regularly and professionally. If you get the sense that a law firm doesn’t want to take the time to answer your questions or if you never get timely return calls, then it might be time to look for a different disability advocate.
By their nature, Social Security disability claims involve a lot of paperwork. A lawyer should have a good system for handling this, from making records requests to ensuring that your forms are submitted on time. If the law firm doesn’t have an effective case management system, then you may want to look for another attorney.
One of the best ways to find a top-notch disability attorney is by asking other people who have gone through the same process. If you don’t know anyone personally, look at the law firm’s reviews, both on their website and on third-party sites like google. In this way, you will get a good sense of how they treat their clients – and whether the firm might be a good fit for you.
Working with a Skilled Disability Benefits Lawyer
Applying for disability benefits can be difficult, especially if you are already dealing with issues related to your disability. A seasoned disability advocate can ease this burden, taking on the paperwork and legal issues related to a disability claim. They may also help you avoid some of the technical errors that often result in denials of SSDI and SSI claims.
Based in Cherry Hill, NJ, Bross & Frankel is dedicated to helping people with disabilities get the benefits that they are entitled to under the law. With decades of combined experience, including as a benefit authorizer for the SSA, our team of attorneys has the knowledge and skill to help you achieve the best possible outcome. To learn more or to schedule a free claim review with a disability benefits lawyer, contact our law office at 856-795-8880 or fill out our online contact form.