Even though you aren't required to hire an attorney to represent you in your disability case, statistics show that disability claimants who are represented by a lawyer are much more likely to be approved for benefits, especially at the hearing level. If you choose to get legal representation, there are some things to keep in mind to help you select the right attorney.
When you call a potential attorney, pay attention to the level of professionalism and treatment you are given by the attorney and staff. Even though disability firms are generally busy places, you should still receive timely callbacks and be given the chance to ask questions.
Don't be put off if you can't speak to the attorney the first time you call, or if you are asked to speak to a staff member for help with a question. This is because experienced disability attorneys spend most of their time in hearings and rely on their staff to field calls. However, a good firm should allow you to schedule a free consultation with the attorney. Keep in mind, though, that due to an attorney's time constraints, it is not uncommon for the firm to limit the length of these consultations.
It is unethical, and unfair to you, for an attorney to guarantee that he or she will get you approved. A good attorney will give you an honest assessment of your case only after reviewing the facts. A good attorney will also admit that he or she probably can't get you approved any faster than you could on your own. Here is a sample question you should ask and a sample answer a good attorney should give you:
You should ask a potential attorney or a staff member about the firm's approval rate. Here are some questions to ask:
A good firm should be willing, and able, to share their statistics.
Even though disability firms are busy places, you should be provided with a contact person who you can rely on to answer your questions. The firm should also keep in touch with you on a regular basis. Here are some questions you should ask to get an idea of how your case will be handled:
An attorney doesn't need to be licensed to represent claimants at disability hearings; in fact, a claimant's representative need not be an attorney at all. However, a licensed attorney may have a better understanding of Social Security law. This is because attorneys receive special training in how to read and interpret statutes and case law. Also, your lawyer must be able to an attorney who is licensed to practice law in federal court if your claim ever gets appealed to that level.
Here are some additional questions you can ask to get an idea of the attorney's expertise.
This last question may seem strange. However, it is important to ask because a disability attorney who has practiced a long time in the area where you live knows the administrative law judges (ALJs) who may hear your case. ALJs are unique in how they approach decision. Some ALJs are also biased towards, or against, certain types of cases. A good attorney will know how to adjust arguments, if need be, to appeal to the ALJ assigned to hear the case.
Some claims may be more challenging to win because of the medical condition on which they are based. This can be especially true if a claimant suffers from mental illness along with drugs or alcohol abuse. If this is your situation, ask the attorney about his or her approach to these types of cases and the success rate for winning them.
Children's cases are handled differently from adult cases. Not all disability firms will accept children's cases, and those that do may not have much experience with them. If you are filing on behalf of a child, make sure that the firm you deal with has experience with childhood disability questions. You should also ask about the attorney's approval rate for childhood disability cases.
You should ask the potential firm if it is willing to provide references or testimonials from past clients. A good firm should be open to doing this.
Nolo offers a unique directory of disability lawyers that provides a comprehensive profile for each attorney with information that will help you select the right attorney. The profiles tell you about the lawyer's disability experience, education, and fees, and perhaps most importantly, the lawyer's general philosophy of practicing law. Nolo has confirmed that every listed attorney has a valid license and is in good standing with their bar association.
Also read Nolo's article on questions to ask before hiring a disability attorney.