There are several things to keep in mind when deciding when– or even whether– to hire an attorney to handle your claim for Social Security benefits. The appeals process for disability benefits takes on average about two years from beginning to end. Despite the length of the process, a mistake that many claimants make is waiting until the last minute to seek attorney representation. In fact, I receive a lot of telephone calls from claimants who are already scheduled for a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge; at that point it may be difficult, if not impossible, for an attorney to adequately prepare the case for hearing. If you are pursuing disability benefits through the Social Security appeals process, you may want to seriously consider retaining a lawyer sooner rather than later.
While some claimants are able to successfully navigate the application process for Social Security without representation, statistics show that claimants who have attorney representation in the disability process are more likely to be approved for benefits than claimants who are unrepresented. This is simply because an experienced attorney is familiar with Social Security’s complicated laws, how to document a claimant’s medical impairments, and how to present a case effectively at the hearing.
Some claimants may wish to retain representation even before filing a claim for benefits. This is advisable in some situations because an attorney may be able to assist a claimant with filing a claim for Social Security Disability benefits using the online application process. Some claims, however, may need to be filed by visiting your local Social Security office. Also, Social Security may ask you to complete various forms about your daily activities or even your work history early on in the applications process. A lawyer experienced in practicing before the Social Security Administration will be able to review these forms with you for both effectiveness and accuracy. Remarkably, some claims for disability benefits are won or lost based on the information listed on these forms.
Approximately 3 out of every 4 claims for disability benefits are denied following the initial application review. If a claim is denied at the initial stage, a claimant will have only 60 days to file a Request for Reconsideration appeal. The Social Security Administration will require the claimant to submit some forms about their medical condition, limitations, and medical treatment. A lawyer and his or her supporting staff will be able to assist you with completing the appropriate appeals forms and timely filing the appeal.
The chances of prevailing in a claim for disability benefits at the Reconsideration level are even lower than at the initial stage. Following a denial at the Reconsideration stage, a claimant will need to complete additional forms and submit a Request for Hearing with an Administrative Law judge appeal within 60 days. Like at the reconsideration stage, a lawyer will also be able to assist a claimant with timely and accurately filing the Request for Hearing appeal.
After the Request for Hearing appeal is filed, a claimant should expect to wait between 12 and 16 months before their case is heard by an Administrative Law Judge. An attorney may be able to expedite this process in some circumstances. Also, an attorney may be able to obtain supportive documentation from treating physicians which will enable the attorney to file a brief requesting that one of the judges review the record to see if a favorable determination can be made without the need for a hearing. Even if a decision cannot be obtained without a hearing, an attorney will help their client to understand what types of evidence are essential during the wait for hearing. This means that a claim for benefits will be properly developed for the judge and all relevant medical evidence will be gathered and submitted; this gives the claimant the best chance of being approved following a hearing.
An experienced lawyer is probably the most useful to a disability claimant at the hearing before an administrative law judge. Lawyers practicing locally, like the disability lawyers at Campbell and Associates, are familiar with the judges who hear and decide disability cases. Familiarity with the presiding judge is sometimes crucial to the effective presentation of a client’s case. The disability hearing is generally non-adversarial, meaning that there is not an attorney at the hearing representing the government. There are, however, expert witnesses at most hearings that provide testimony for the government. An experienced disability lawyer can also cross-examine these witnesses on your behalf.
Money should never be the reason that a claimant decides not to obtain a lawyer because most attorneys, including the attorneys at Campbell and Associates, work on a contingency basis. This means the lawyer only collects a fee if you are successful in your appeal. The typical fee arrangement is for 25% of monies going to the client from Social Security in the form of back pay up to a maximum fee of $6,000. One thing to keep in mind is that the fee arrangement is always the same whether a lawyer is hired at the very beginning of a case or only a few days before the hearing. Most lawyers will even agree to front the expenses for you.
In sum, a claimant pursuing disability benefits should seriously consider hiring a lawyer earlier in the process rather than later. A disability attorney may be able to assist with various administrative tasks early in the process that may have an impact on the outcome of the case. Also, the lawyer will file appeals timely and assist the client with properly developing the evidence to support their case. Finally, the experienced disability lawyer will make sure the client has an effective hearing with an Administrative Law Judge. Taking into account the fact that fees are generally contingent upon recovery, it only makes sense to contact an attorney at Campbell and Associates about your Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income case as soon as you have questions or if you have already been denied.
If you are interested in reading more about how an attorney may be able to help with your disability matter, you should visit the Social Security Administration. If you are interested in learning more about the Administrative Law Judges who hear cases for our clients living near our offices in Charlotte, Hickory, Gastonia, Monroe and Rock Hill, you should visit DisabilityJudges.com.