How to Find a Good Disability Lawyer

Asking the right questions will ensure you find a qualified, experienced, and ethical disability attorney.

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

While you aren't required to hire an attorney to receive Social Security disability benefits (SSDI or SSI), statistics show that disability claimants who are represented by a lawyer are much more likely to get approved—especially at the hearing level. If you choose to get a disability lawyer, here are some things to keep in mind when selecting an attorney who's a good fit for you.

What to Look for in a Disability Lawyer

Good disability attorneys can be found in large firms or as solo practitioners. Many lawyers handle SSDI and SSI claims as part of a broader practice and may also represent clients seeking workers' compensation or veterans benefits, while others focus exclusively on Social Security disability law. Regardless of the size and scope of the law firm, your attorney should have several valuable attributes that let you know they'll be a zealous advocate for your case.

Your Disability Lawyer Should Be Professional and Courteous

When you call an attorney's office, pay attention to the level of professionalism and treatment you're given by the attorney and staff. Disability lawyers are generally fairly busy, but they shouldn't be taking on a heavy caseload if they can't treat all clients (or potential clients) with respect. If you feel like you're getting the run-around or you don't have the chance to ask questions, it's probably best to look elsewhere.

Your Disability Attorney Should Be Accessible

Don't be put off if you can't speak with the lawyer the first time you call, or if you're asked to talk to a staff member or paralegal about certain questions. Experienced disability attorneys spend a lot of their time in hearings and rely heavily on their administrative staff to field calls. But most law firms will allow you to schedule a free consultation with an attorney. Keep in mind that, due to time constraints on the attorney, the firm is likely to limit the length of these consultations.

Your Disability Attorney Shouldn't Guarantee an Outcome

It is unethical and unfair for an attorney to promise that you'll get approved for SSDI or SSI benefits. Good disability lawyers will give you an honest assessment of your case only after reviewing the facts. They won't overstate your chances of success or promise to get your claim for benefits approved quickly.

Here are some sample questions you should ask—and answers you should expect—from a good disability lawyer:

  • "Will my claim be approved?" I can't guarantee that you will win. However, I can pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses in your case and look for ways to improve your chances of approval.
  • "Can you get me approved faster?" I probably can't get you through the Social Security disability process any faster. However, my staff and I can make sure that deadlines are met and that your medical records are requested and submitted on time.

Your Disability Lawyer Should Be Able to Share Approval Rates

You should feel free to discuss the firm's approval rate with a potential attorney or a staff member. Some questions to ask:

  • "What is your overall approval rate?"
  • "What portion of your approvals are at the hearings level?"
  • "What percentage of your wins are for full benefits?"
  • "What percentage of your wins are for partial benefits?"

A good firm should be willing and able to share their statistics. You can also ask your potential lawyer if they're willing to provide references or testimonials from past clients.

Your Disability Lawyer Should Have Efficient Office and Case Management

Disability firms are busy places. Depending on how large the firm is, your attorney may be more hands-on with your claim, or they may have departments dedicated to collecting medical records and communicating with Social Security.

Regardless of the firm's size, your attorney should provide you 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:

  • "What kind of support staff do you have?"
  • "Will I have my own case manager?"
  • "How many clients does an average case manager handle?"
  • "How often can I expect a call from my case manager to keep me updated on the progress of my case?"
  • "Is there a paralegal in the firm?"
  • "Will you request my records for me?"
  • "Will you advance the cost of my medical records?" (Most firms will, but you'll usually have to pay them back at the close of your case, whether you win or lose.)

It's important to have reasonable expectations about how frequently you'll be able to speak directly with your lawyer. Most work on your disability claim goes on behind the scenes, and there's a lot of waiting involved. It's normal for lawyers to find it unnecessary to provide constant updates when there's been no movement on your decision. But attorneys have to abide by certain rules of professional conduct, including maintaining communications with their clients, so your lawyer should strive to return your calls promptly. (Attorneys also need to abide by the Rules of Conduct and Standards of Responsibility for Representatives found at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1740 and 416.1540.)

Your Disability Attorney Should Have Proper Credentials

Many people are surprised to learn that Social Security allows you to appoint anybody as a representative for your disability claim, including a friend, family member, or other non-attorney advocate. But there are plenty of reasons why hiring a lawyer is a better idea in most cases.

Licensed attorneys are likely going to have a better understanding of how to convince Social Security that you qualify for benefits, because they receive special training in reading and interpreting statutes and court decisions. And you're required to have a lawyer if you need to appeal your SSDI claim to federal district court.

You can gauge your potential attorney's expertise by asking the following questions:

  • "How many years have you practiced disability law?"
  • "What state are you licensed (admitted to the bar) in?"
  • "How many cases do you handle a year?"
  • "Do you regularly attend continuing legal education (CLE)?"
  • "How long have you practiced in this geographical area?

This last question may seem strange, but it might be the most important one. This is because disability lawyers who've practiced a long time in the area where you live will know the administrative law judges who may hear your case. Local attorneys will be able to tell you how the judge runs their hearing room, what types of questions they tend to ask, and what kinds of arguments they're more likely to agree with. Having these insider details can greatly increase your chances of winning disability benefits.

Your Disability Lawyer Should Be Familiar With Your Medical Condition

Every Social Security disability lawyer worth their salt should be familiar with the most frequently seen conditions on SSDI and SSI applications, such as back disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome, and mental illnesses. While you don't need to find an attorney who specializes in your specific impairment in order to win your case, it might help to ask a potential representative if they've ever handled a claim based on your medical condition before.

Don't automatically rule out an attorney who hasn't yet dealt with your particular diagnosis, however. The disability determination process is the same regardless of what your health impairments are, and the important thing is that your lawyer conducts due diligence to become informed about your disease, disorder, or injury.

Where Can I Find the Best Disability Lawyers Near Me?

Finding the best disability attorneys near you can seem like an intimidating task. If you're in or near a major metropolitan area, for example, you might find dozens of lawyers to choose from. Armed with the information below, you can narrow down your search for potential disability lawyers to a more manageable amount.

One final note—children's disability cases are handled differently from adult cases. Not all disability lawyers will accept children's cases, and those that do may not have much experience with them. If you're filing on behalf of a child, make sure that your attorney has previously worked on child disability claims.

Updated April 16, 2024

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