There is no law or rule that requires you to hire an attorney to represent you on your Social Security Disability claim. Disability claimants can file their request for reconsideration or request for hearing without the help of an attorney, and can even appear at hearing in front of a judge. However, here are some things to think about when deciding whether you need an attorney to help with your Social Security Disability claim.
First, under the Social Security statute, an attorney cannot charge a fee unless your claim is approved. The fee is based on the attorney’s time working on the case, or a percentage of the retroactive benefits. All fee agreements must be approved by the Social Security Administration. If your attorney is unsuccessful in obtaining benefits, there is no attorney fee. This minimizes the risk of hiring an attorney.
Second, Social Security is a complicated area of the law. There are many potential issues you may face going into a hearing. For example, if you performed some kind of work after the date you claim your disability began, is that “significant gainful activity?” Is your medical condition “severe” in that it interferes with work activity? Other possible issues include whether you meet an impairment listing, your residual functional capacity, and whether you can perform any work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Often times, a well-meaning physician will write a letter supporting your claim, but may not address the critical questions Social Security needs to make the right decision on your claim.
Finally, we see many cases where medical records critical to the case have not made it into the claims file, or where the Social Security Administration simply does not have an accurate understanding of your past work and your current medical condition.
Overall, it makes sense to have someone helping you with the case.
That raises another question of how to go about selecting an attorney.
Social Security Disability is a federal benefit system, and as a result, any attorney or approved non-attorney representative can represent a disability claimant, regardless of location. We have seen situations where non-attorney representatives clear across the country in the Northeast will represent a claimant in Oregon or Washington. Although some of these national firms may do a good job for their clients, we have heard some sad stories regarding the quality of representation. It is not unusual for a disability claimant to meet their attorney or representative for the first time just a few minutes before the hearing in the hearing office waiting room.
If you are considering retaining a representative or lawyer that handles cases on a national level, make sure you understand how the firm will work with you, and handle your case. Will there be one representative assigned to your case? Will the representative assigned to your case also go to hearing with you? Will there be a pre-hearing appointment other than a brief meeting in the waiting room before you go in and see the Judge? Find out how your firm or attorney will handle the case before making a decision, and do not be shy about talking to a few different firms or attorneys.
If you have a denied Social Security disability claim, call us at 503-325-8600. We will meet with you in person, and explain the appeals process, what you must prove, and how we work with clients. Then, we leave it up to you to decide whether you would like us to help with the case, and encourage you to check around with other attorneys or representatives before making your final decision.