When to Talk to a Social Security Disability Lawyer

If you think you won't be able to work for a long time, consider a consultation with a Social Security disability lawyer.

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

Because Social Security doesn't require that you have a lawyer to apply for disability benefits—or even appeal a denial—it's tempting to do it all yourself. While it's certainly true that some people who apply without a lawyer are awarded benefits, statistics show that applicants who are represented by an attorney have higher chances of getting approved for disability.

If you're asking yourself whether you should get a Social Security disability lawyer to help with your SSDI or SSI claim, it's useful to understand what a disability attorney can do for you that you might be unable to do yourself. It's also important to consider at what point in the disability determination process is the best time to get a lawyer involved.

What Exactly Do Social Security Disability Lawyers Do?

From the initial application to the hearing level and beyond, disability lawyers understand the nuances of presenting a case in the light most favorable to their clients. On your initial application, your lawyer can offer advice on when your alleged onset date of disability should be, argue that your condition meets one of the impairments listed in the "Blue Book," and help you focus on the facts that will be most persuasive to Social Security.

During the reconsideration and hearing stages—the first and second levels of appeal available if your initial application was denied—your lawyer can get any missing medical evidence to Social Security, obtain doctors' opinions, draft a detailed brief to the disability judge, and prepare you for the judge's questions at the hearing. Your attorney will also be able to cross-examine the vocational or medical experts present at the hearing to show that you aren't able to work.

At the last stages of appeal—the Appeals Council and federal district court—your lawyer can craft sophisticated legal arguments to show that Social Security wrongly denied your case.

When Should I Call a Social Security Disability Lawyer?

The earlier, the better. Even if you're just considering filing for SSDI or SSI, you should call a disability attorney for a free consultation. Your attorney can evaluate the strengths of your case, suggest how you can improve any weaknesses, and assist you in completing your initial application. While many people choose to navigate this stage without an attorney, you're more likely to get approved earlier if you have a lawyer on your side. And it may be cheaper for you in the long run because of the way disability lawyers are paid from Social Security.

If using an attorney to help with your initial application is a smart idea, hiring a lawyer after you've received a denial should be a no-brainer. In addition to increasing your chances of winning disability at each step, lawyers can occasionally move your case more quickly through the system—especially if your medical condition is terminal or your financial situation is dire (for example, you're facing homelessness). But it's important to remember that your disability lawyer can only do so much to expedite your case. You might be working with them for several years while your case is resolved, so make sure you choose one you have a good connection with.

Perhaps the only time it doesn't make sense to get a lawyer is right after you've submitted your initial application to Social Security and are waiting to hear back from the agency. There isn't much your lawyer can do for you at this point, and you might be able to get approved anyway (in which case it doesn't make much sense to pay attorney's fees). But in just about every other situation the benefits of having a disability lawyer greatly outweigh the costs.

How Much Do Disability Lawyers Cost?

Nothing, until you win your case. Disability lawyers work on contingency, and attorney's fees are regulated by federal law. Social Security allows attorney's fees to be paid 25% out of your disability back pay, up to no more than $7,200 ($9,200 starting in the fall of 2024). The agency recently adjusted the fee cap so that it will be adjusted annually based on COLA increases, keeping in line with most other disability benefits.

Resources for Finding a Lawyer to Help With Your SSDI or SSI Claim

If you're still on the fence about hiring a disability lawyer—or you've decided to hire an attorney to help with your Social Security claim—you can find more information in our related articles below.

Two sites that are part of the Nolo family, Lawyers.com and Avvo.com, provide free lawyer directories. These directories allow you to search by location and area of law, and they list detailed information about lawyers. You can visit www.lawyers.com/find-a-lawyer or www.avvo.com/find-a-lawyer to find out more. Remember that disability lawyers typically provide free consultations, so don't hesitate to ask around to find an attorney who is a good match for your needs.

Updated April 11, 2024

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