While some disability lawyers would rather have you apply for Social Security or SSI disability and get denied before you call them, other lawyers will help you from the get-go. If you're just starting the application process, it can help to have a consultation with an attorney first to get some advice. With some tips from a lawyer on what to include in your application, you’re more likely to be approved on your first try, saving you months of waiting for a decision on appeal. In some cases, a lawyer can even help speed up your case.
Attorneys’ fees for Social Security disability are limited to 25% of your back payments from Social Security, up to a maximum of $6,000. These fees are limited by the Social Security Administration.
For SSI, your back payments go back to the month after you apply, and for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), backpay can go back even further. For SSDI, you can get backpay from five months after you became disabled, up to a year before your application date, if you were disabled that far back.
Only if you win disability benefits do you need to pay the attorney fee. This kind of "contingency fee" agreement has two benefits - it makes it possible to afford expert help in winning your case, and it gives the lawyer financial motivation to do the best job possible. If they don't win, they don't get paid.
Statistically, disability applicants who have lawyers have a better chance of winning disability benefits from Social Security. Social Security law can be fairly complicated for the layperson, as there are regulations and case law that change the rules frequently. Disability lawyers can tell you which disability listings you could meet and which ones you can’t, or whether there are any listings your condition might be equivalent to, and what medical evidence you’ll need from your doctor to show you meet the requirements of the listing.
If you’re headed to an appeal hearing, your lawyer will draft an appeal “brief” containing legal arguments to convince the judge that you’re disabled according to Social Security’s definition. Most importantly, your lawyer can present you and your medical conditions in the best light at the hearing by asking you the right questions (ad preparing you for them ahead of time). They can also question the testimony of any vocational or medical experts that Social Security brings to the hearing, which is difficult to impossible to do if you’re not represented.
If you have a strong case, you could win at appeal, but there are no guarantees. It makes sense to at least arrange a consultation with a disability lawyer before you go to your hearing.
The lawyer that handled your personal injury case or workers compensation claim may not be the same lawyer you want to represent you before Social Security. When you hire an attorney to represent you, you need someone who has experience in handling Social Security disability cases and appearing before administrative law judges who work for Social Security.
While many lawyers who handle Social Security cases advertise on radio or television, this is not be the best way to find a lawyer. These law firms take their cases by volume, and your case may not get the attention you think it deserves. If you have a friend or acquaintance who was successful in getting disability benefits and can recommend their lawyer, by all means give them a call. To learn more, read our article on how to find a local disability lawyer.