Do You Need a Disability Benefits Attorney?
You may have considered appointing a Social Security disability representative. A representative can help you navigate the two main programs for disability: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not require you to appoint a representative. But you do have a right to representation. A skilled representative can increase your odds of claim approval in less time. And remember, you only owe a representative money, like attorney fees, if the SSA awards you monthly benefits.
The following provides information about Social Security disability representation. This information can help SSDI and SSI claimants decide whether representation is right for them.
When Should You Seek Representation?
It's often helpful to appoint a representative right from the start. A representative's guidance may keep you from a lengthy appeals process. This includes a review by the Appeals Council.
A representative can ensure you meet the SSA's definition of disability. They can also make sure you meet other eligibility requirements. These requirements include having enough work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits. Requirements also include that your work history isn't at substantial gainful activity (SGA) levels. This requirement is for both SSDI benefit and SSI benefit applications.
But many claimants don't seek representation until the appeals process. This may be because they believe the Social Security disability application process is straightforward. Some people think they must simply fill out a few forms at their local Social Security office. But the reality is that the SSA denies most initial claims for Social Security benefits.
Should You Hire an Attorney or a Non-Attorney Representative?
You can appoint either an attorney representative or a non-attorney representative.
To practice before the SSA, attorneys must be in good standing with their state bar. Non-attorney representatives must have a bachelor's degree. They must also pass an SSA-administered exam and take continuing education courses.
Each type of representation has pros and cons, so it's important to find the right fit.
- Some attorneys have years of experience in disability law. But many more may not have the expertise to handle a disability claim. They may practice primarily other types of law, such as workers' compensation or personal injury.
- Attorneys may be selective and only take cases with a high chance of winning. This is especially true for attorneys in large law offices.
- Only attorneys can argue federal law in federal court on an appeal of your claim
- May be very well qualified to handle your claim. They may be focused only on disability cases.
- They may be more willing to take a weak case with a slim chance of success. But they can only take your case as far as the Appeals Council. They cannot argue your case in federal court.
- Could have less experience with brief writing and trial techniques like cross-examination.
All representatives must follow the SSA's Rules of Conduct. If a claimant suspects a violation of these rules, they should notify an SSA field or hearing office.
Hiring a Representative to Appeal Your Claim
If SSA denies your initial application, you may file for reconsideration. However, reconsiderations usually result in another denial.
There are still advantages if you wait to appoint a representative. The SSA is more likely to approve cases at the hearing level, especially with the expertise of a representative. A representative can do the following before and during the disability hearing:
- Gather your necessary and relevant medical records about your medical impairments
- Get physicians' opinions of your medical condition
- Assess your medical evidence and submit briefs to the administrative law judge (ALJ)
- Prepare you for questions by the ALJ
- Ask the vocational expert critical questions during cross-examination
- Make legal arguments during the appeals process
You are more likely to get a favorable disability onset date with a representative. This affects your benefit amount, including disability backpay. Also, a representative is likely familiar with your hearing judge. They can tailor their approach during the hearing to suit different judicial personalities.
Representative Fees in an SSDI or SSI Case
Social Security disability lawyers and non-attorney representatives work on contingency fees. This means they only get paid if you do. The SSA must approve or authorize a fee before paying your representative. Approval of a fee agreement by the SSA is the most common way a representative gets paid.
The fee agreement details the fee arrangement you have with your representative. You and your representative first sign the fee agreement. Then your representative submits it to the SSA before the first favorable decision.
There is a maximum fee that the SSA will approve under a fee agreement. This amount is twenty-five percent of your past-due benefits, or $7,200, whichever is less. But your representative may also charge out-of-pocket expenses. These may include the cost of medical records.
A representative may file a fee petition instead of a fee agreement. Representatives often file fee petitions after completing services on complex or lengthy cases. The representative may petition for a reasonable fee higher than the maximum allowed under the fee agreement process.
A claimant dissatisfied with the amount authorized under a fee petition may request a review with the SSA.
Find the Right Attorney for Your Social Security Disability Claim
Deciding whether legal representation is right for you can feel overwhelming. But remember that most experienced attorneys will provide a free case evaluation. Get started on the claims process for Social Security disability benefits today. You can contact a Social Security disability attorney. This attorney can help with the application process or SSI and SSDI appeals.
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