How Much Does a Social Security Disability Lawyer Cost?

Disability lawyers generally cost about a quarter of your SSDI or SSI back payments—if you win.

By , J.D. University of Virginia School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney Seattle University School of Law
Updated 4/15/2024

If you're considering hiring a Social Security disability lawyer to represent you in your SSDI or SSI claim—and there are many good reasons why you should—you're likely wondering how much it will cost you up front or how much your lawyer will charge you over time. Fortunately, hiring a lawyer to help you get disability benefits doesn't have to be prohibitively costly, due to the way that attorney's fees are paid by Social Security.

Social Security disability lawyers work on contingency, meaning they collect a fee only if you win your claim for benefits. Therefore, your attorney will work on your case without any cost to you until your claim is approved, even if it takes several years (which it often does). It's only until you've been awarded SSDI or SSI disability that your lawyer can get paid.

How Much Do SSDI and SSI Attorneys Charge in Fees?

In order to make sure that they're paid for their work, disability lawyers enter into written fee agreements with their clients and submit those fee agreements to Social Security for approval. If Social Security approves the fee agreement, the agency will pay your attorney for you directly out of your back pay. You can learn more about backpay, or "past due benefits," in our article about how SSDI and SSI back payments are calculated.

The lawyer and the client can agree on any fee (or even no fee), but as of April 2024 the fee is capped at $7,200 or 25% of your back pay amount—whichever is less. So, for example, if you're awarded SSDI, you might have past due benefits totaling $32,000. 25% of $32,000 is $8,000, which is greater than the $7,200 fee limit. Therefore, Social Security will take $7,200 out of your past due benefits to pay your lawyer.

Keep in mind that just because your attorney is legally permitted to collect up to $7,200 in fees doesn't mean that they'll actually cost that much. The average fee paid to Social Security disability lawyers is actually much less, at about half of the fee cap.

In some instances, an attorney may be permitted to charge more than the $7,200 limit—such as when your case goes to multiple hearings or review by the Appeals Council or federal court. Because these cases often require a lot of additional work by your disability lawyer, attorneys can file a fee petition with Social Security to request higher fees than are generally imposed by the $7,200 cap. Social Security will review the fee petition and will approve it only if the agency thinks the fees are reasonable.

Reviewing Your Fee Agreement With Your Disability Lawyer

Most disability attorneys offer free consultations where you can discuss your SSDI or SSI claim with them. After the consultation, if you both agree to proceed with legal representation, your attorney will have you sign a written fee agreement that the attorney will then submit to Social Security before the agency issues a favorable decision on your claim.

Fee agreements are typically only one page long. Most of them contain what lawyers refer to as "boilerplate," meaning standard provisions that don't need to be changed from client to client. Social Security has suggestions for the language in the fee agreements, but there are really only two main requirements:

  • the attorney can't collect more than 25% of your back pay, subject to the fee cap, and
  • the agreement must be signed by both parties. If the claimant is a child, a parent should sign for the child. If the claimant is an adult with a guardian, the guardian should sign.

Your fee agreement might contain some additional sentences stating that your lawyer will exercise due diligence but doesn't guarantee that you'll win your claim, and that you agree to keep in touch with the law firm handling your case. Feel free to review your fee agreement with your attorney and ask questions before you sign.

Who Pays for Legal Costs Other Than Attorney's Fees?

Even though you won't have to pay your disability lawyer unless you win your case, it's common for attorneys to rack up other expenses while working on disability claims. Gathering evidence often costs money—for example, your lawyer might spend between $100 and $200 to copy and mail your medical records to Social Security. Depending on your state law, some facilities might give your lawyer the records for free (or at a reduced rate), but your attorney will likely have to spend at least some of their own money for these incidental costs.

Social Security does allow disability lawyers to charge a reasonable upfront fee to cover expected expenses in an SSDI or SSI claim. Your attorney may ask you to pay a small amount in advance to cover the costs associated with your case. If you pay the costs in advance, your lawyer must hold your money in a special account called a "trust account." Your lawyer is obligated to tell you whenever money is withdrawn from your trust account, and will return any remaining money to you at the end of your case.

But most Social Security disability attorneys won't ask you to pay costs in advance. Instead, they'll ask you to reimburse them for the costs once your case is over. No matter how your lawyer prefers to cover out-of-pocket expenses related to your claim, it should be clearly stated in your fee agreement.

Finding the Best Social Security Disability Lawyers or Law Firms to Help You File for SSDI or SSI

Choosing the right disability attorney can seem like an intimidating task. As mentioned above, many disability lawyers offer free consultations, so you have the opportunity to ask around and find an attorney who is a right fit for your needs. You can find more information below in our related articles about finding and selecting a disability lawyer:

You can start your search with our lawyer directory. If you're interested in pro bono (or "low bono") attorneys who will take your disability case for free or at a reduced cost, check out our article on how to find legal aid and pro bono law firms.

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