What is my disability lawyer doing?
Millions of disability applicants apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits each year. Unfortunately, many of these applicants are denied benefits the first time they apply and then have to hire a lawyer to help them appeal their denial.
While not all applicants will need to hire a lawyer, and a lawyer cannot speed up the disability process, many claimants find that a disability lawyer can improve their chances of winning benefits at every step in the disability process.
Unfortunately, however, as the months or years pass and the applicant hears very little from their disability lawyer, they may wonder whether their lawyer is actually doing anything to help them win their case.
While the argument can be made that some disability lawyers do minimal work and have too many cases, a good lawyer can definitely be worth the money. Let’s take a look at what your disability lawyer should be doing at each step of the disability process.
1. Initial Application Level
Claimants can apply for disability benefits by completing an application on the phone, in person at the local SSA office, or online.
Historically, many disability lawyers would do very little at the initial application level. In fact, many lawyers would not even take cases until the claimant had been denied and was ready to file their first appeal.
Now, however, there are law firms and other disability advocates who may be willing to help claimants complete their initial application and answer questions about the process.
You can talk to your lawyer to determine whether or not they offer any services at the application level.
2. First Appeal Step – Reconsideration
Disability claimants who have been denied benefits and who want to file an appeal can contact a lawyer for help. The lawyer will review the facts of their case, generally over the phone, and decide if they can win their case. If they do not believe that they can help the claimant win their case, they will not take the case.
At the reconsideration level, the disability lawyer will:
- Review the claimant’s application
- Complete the reconsideration request
- Gather medical evidence to submit to the Social Security Administration (SSA)
- Manage all correspondence with the SSA
3. Requesting a Hearing
Claimants who are denied at the reconsideration level have 60 days to request a hearing. Many claimants will hire a lawyer at this point in the process. Claimants who decide to hire a disability lawyer should contact the disability lawyer as soon as possible.
At this step, the disability lawyer should complete the following:
- File the request for a hearing (Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge, Form HA-501).
- Have the claimant complete additional paperwork, including the SSA-3441, Disability Report - Appeal, the SSA-827, Authorization to Disclose Information to SSA and the SSA-1696, Appointment of Representative (if the claimant is appointing a representative).
- Review and gather additional evidence to strengthen the claimant’s case.
4. Preparing for the Hearing
Unfortunately, after the hearing is requested, it can take months or even years to have the hearing scheduled. Disability lawyers will not have the power to move your case to the front of the line, and patience is important for all parties involved.
So what will your lawyer do while they wait for your case to be heard before the judge?
While staff members at the law firm are generally requesting medical records, determining if you need additional testing or exams, gathering supporting evidence from doctors, and discussing all pre-hearing issues with you, the disability lawyer may be waiting for the hearing.
When the disability lawyer has a hearing date, however, they will:
- Review your case and prepare for the hearing
- Make sure that they understand why your claim was denied
- Develop a theory to win your case
- Determine if they need to have witnesses present at the hearing
- Outline their rebuttals for the medical expert and jobs expert
- Meet with you prior to the hearing to outline expectations for the hearing
- Create a brief (short synopsis of your case) for the administrative law judge
- Contact you and answer your questions about what to expect at the hearing
Is a disability lawyer worth the money?
Whether a disability lawyer is worth the money is a really tough question and may have a different answer for different applicants. If you hired a disability lawyer at the application level, and you were approved immediately, you may pay them a small amount of money for doing very little work.
If you hired a disability lawyer and they successfully argued your case at the hearing and you won benefits within a few months, they could have saved you months or even years of wasted energy and time. For some claimants, that’s worth a lot more than what they end up paying a lawyer.
Many claimants argue that they should not have to pay a lawyer for what is rightfully theirs. While this may be true, more often than not claimants find that a disability lawyer helps them to get benefits that they may not have been able to get on their own. So, unfortunately, until the system is fixed, hiring a lawyer may be your best option.