Hiring a disability attorney to handle your case can greatly improve your chances of success, but it's important to make sure the person you hire is experienced, knowledgeable, and willing to go the extra step for you.
Most attorneys will schedule you for a free consultation to explain the disability process and to interview you about your medical problems and work history. But remember: the attorney should not be the only one asking the questions. You should also be interviewing the attorney. Keep in mind that disability lawyers need clients just as much as clients need lawyers.
Questions to Ask an Attorney Before Hiring Them for Your Disability Claim
Whether you've found an attorney through a television commercial, a referral from a friend, or our partner Premier Disability Services, there are a number of questions you should ask before agreeing to let an attorney represent you. Here are some of the most important.
- Do you have specialized training in disability law? The field of disability law is highly specialized, and you should avoid hiring a general practitioner attorney to handle your case. Most disability attorneys are members of NOSSCR, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, which provides continuing education and training in disability law throughout the year.
- Are you a licensed attorney or an advocate? You can hire a lawyer or a disability advocate (or advocacy firm) to help you with your claim. The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows nonattorney advocates to represent claimants (applicants) in disability hearings, though advocates must be registered with the SSA to be able to collect a fee for their work through the agency. Advocates are more likely than lawyers to help you at the application stage, but if you hire an advocacy firm, but sure they'll provide an attorney to represent you at your hearing, if you need to appeal. Lawyers are more likely to be familiar with relevant Social Security regulations and case law, and unlike nonattorneys, they often handle cases in federal court.
- What is your fee? Disability representatives generally require little or no money up-front, and instead charge 25% of their clients' disability back benefits, with a cap of $7,200. (Nonattorney advocates and attorneys generally charge the same fees.) The fee may change if your case is denied at the hearing level and proceeds to the Appeals Council. Be sure that your representative explains the fee structure both at the Appeals Council and in federal court.
- What case-related expenses will I need to pay for, and will I be charged for them win or lose? Virtually all disability attorneys require you to reimburse them for expenses related to your case, including the cost of medical records requests, medical source statements, postage, and sometimes travel expenses. Make sure you're clear on what expenses are included, the average amount clients usually pay, and whether you'll be charged even if you lose your case.
- Do you arrange consultative examinations with doctors? Sometimes attorneys or firms will arrange consultative examinations (CEs) for a client and pay the upfront cost. But they aren't appropriate for every case. Because CEs typically cost hundreds of dollars, an attorney who arranges a CE for every client would go broke very quickly. In some cases, the SSA will set up and pay for a CE.
- Will you consider drafting an on-the-record (OTR) request? In cases where there is overwhelming evidence of disability, an attorney might draft an OTR request to ask the judge to approve you without a hearing. While this can be time-consuming and isn't appropriate in all cases, your attorney should be willing to consider submitting an OTR request if you have a strong case.
- How often will we discuss my case before the hearing? If your case has been denied at the initial level, it can take a year or more to receive a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. During this time, your representative should contact you periodically for updates on your medical situation.
- Will we meet before the hearing? Your representative should be willing to meet with you in person or by Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams before your hearing rather than simply discussing your case on the phone. You should ask to meet face-to-face with your representative at least once before your hearing.
- Where is your office located? If you hire an attorney from an out-of-state disability firm, you probably won't meet them face-to-face until the day of your hearing. While many of these firms still provide quality representation, applicants who are uncomfortable with this set-up should look for attorneys closer to home.
- Do you handle cases in federal court? While this question may not be a deal-breaker (many disability attorneys don't practice in federal court), your representative should at least be able to refer you to someone who practices in federal court should the need arise.
Rest assured that an experienced disability lawyer won't be offended or annoyed to answer any questions you have. On the contrary, most attorneys will be pleased that you care enough about your case to make sure you're hiring the right person.
What Can You Expect After Hiring a Disability Lawyer?
After you choose a lawyer or disability advocacy firm to hire, someone from the firm will contact you and ask you a lot of questions about your work history and your medical history. If you need any additional medical tests, their staff can help you obtain them. Your representative will then work with you to get the necessary medical records from your doctors, hospitals, and clincs and submit them on time to the SSA.
If you hire an attorney or firm who can help you at the application stage, you won't have to visit a Social Security Office during the process of applying. The staff will help you fill out the application and will know exactly what language to use.
If your claim is denied, your lawyer will file the appeal paperwork for you and will appear with you in front of an administrative law judge.
Updated March 8, 2023