Do You Need a Lawyer or Attorney?

This page will address the question of whether you need a lawyer for your Social Security Disability or SSI claim.  We will also discuss why it is important to have lawyer at application.  I will also briefly discuss what an attorney does or should do when representing you before the Social Security Administration.  I have also included some examples of how it helps to have a lawyer from the start of your SSDI claim.

The short answer is no you don't need an attorney in your SSDI or SSI claim.  However, statistics do show that those that are represented are more likely to win.  So if you do decide to go it alone you must get as much knowledge on Social Security Disability as possible.  If you have a good understanding of how Social Security determines if you are disabled and make sure you get all your medical records including RFCs you will increase your chances of winning on your own.  This is true even if you have a representative.  If you plan on representing yourself take a look at the how to win section of this site.  You should also read the key to SSDI and SSI and SSDI and SSI tips page.  You will also want to review the stage you are at whether it is applicationhearing or Appeals Council.  Lastly you should have a good understanding of the GRID rules and the Medical Listing of Impairments
If you are at the hearing stage or Appeals Council even if you understand the Social Security Disability process you may want to consider having an attorney at this point.  A lawyer who has handled Social Security Disability hearings before is comfortable in that setting and should be able to make sure you are given a fair hearing.  Most ALJs are fair and if an attorney is not representing the claimant will try to make sure that claimant gets a full and fair hearing.  But I know from experience that a small number of Administrative Law Judges will not look after your interest in fact some can be quite hostile.  A lawyer representing you at the hearing will make sure all questions are asked that need to be asked and will organize your case and present a winnable theory of your case to the ALJ.  It also helps to have a lawyer at your hearing even if you ultimately lose at that stage because your next step is to the Appeals Council and the lawyer will have to come up with a theory as to why the case should be reversed (appeals council finds you disabled) or remanded (sent back for a new hearing). 
Why should you have a lawyer at the Appeals Council stage?  You could just fill out the request for review form and give your reason you think the ALJ made the wrong decision but it is much more effective to have a well written letter brief to the Appeals Council stating the law that is relied on in your argument.  This requires an extremely good understanding of Social Security Law and how it applies to a judges decision.  It is probably a good idea to have an attorney or experienced representative write a letter brief to the Appeals Council due to the need to know the grounds for having a case reversed or remanded.  But no two are the same and each one requires good sources of information that attorneys who practice in this area have.

If you would like to speak to a lawyer who has handled thousands of Social Security Disability claims you can email me.  I am a Board Certified Social Security Disability Specialist by the National Board of Social Security Disability Advocacy.  Please note that this website is seen nationally and not all states recognize the use of this title.   

Why get a Lawyer when you apply for SSDI?

Get a Law Firm Involved From the Start: By Tracey Cahn, Esq. attorney for Kazmierczak and Kazmierczak, LLP.

Why should I have an attorney involved in my case before I apply for Social Security benefits

If you have to go through a MINE FIELD, would you rather have a buddy with a map of the field or go it alone?  Sure, you may make it through the mine field successfully, but you might not. The social security process has too much in common with the mine field to go it alone.

Please note, I specified that the attorney/firm be “involved.”  I am not talking about a firm that simply signs you up and then never communicates with you until your hearing.  For a firm to be worth your confidence, you need to be able to reach out and discuss issues of importance to your case – how you determine your onset date, whether your doctors are supportive of your claim, how to explain your level of function to Social Security, etc. and etc. 

Recently I represented three very disabled people who did hire our firm at the eleventh hour; within weeks of their hearing dates.  John X, Donald Y, and Cari Z.  While I have some confidence that we will eventually prevail in at least 2 of these cases, I am confident that we would have won all three relatively easily had they come to us from the start.  Why?  John X overstated his activities, Donald Y was too embarrassed to state all his problems and Cari Z failed to realize and treat her profound mental illness until she had been out of work for nearly 3 years.

Example 1

John X:

At some point John X had an attorney, but about a month before his hearing, that attorney quit on him because his case was weak.  It would have been nice had the attorney given John X more notice.  Anyway, John called our office.  After hearing the particulars, we took the case on the provision that John would get the hearing postponed.  That he did. (Please note, it is not that we could not have represented him with one week notice.  It would not have been fair to other clients who already had deadlines to be met.)

In reviewing the paperwork, I saw the prior attorney’s point.  John had horribly misrepresented his post onset work attempts and, if not corrected, there could be no finding in his favor on the Title II claim. 

In a nutshell:  John worked as a laborer for most of his life.  His parents had been very interested in antiques.  It was John’s dream to be involved in the world of antiques and to make that his occupation. As John aged, his body began to give out on him.  He could no longer lift and carry the weights required of his job.  Despite his doctors’ warnings, he continued to push himself.  After many years of pushing himself beyond reason, John cannot lift and carry, has balance issues, and is very limited with regard to sitting, standing and walking. 

John had never performed skilled work and had never done sedentary work.  When he was around age 50, John’s boss told him that he could not use him any longer primarily due to his physical impediments. 

Antiques would be the answer.  John and his wife set out to open an antique shop.  They converted part of their home for this purpose.  However, by this time, John’s body was too decrepit to do all the work necessary to attempt this business.  Long story short, if someone came to the store, John would generally be able to show his wares; the rest of the day was spent lying in a recliner and maybe doing some research on the Internet.  His “business” was really a hobby, and it was not profitable. 

So, what was standing between John and getting his Social Security benefits?  Simple, John’s statements to SSA were destroying his case.

John applied for benefits in 2009.  He had not earned any money since 2000.  Based on Social Security rules, he had to prove that his ongoing disability from work had begun and had been continuous since before the end of 2005.  This would have been supported by his doctors and his earnings, but it was not supported by John’s statements to Social Security. 

John did not understand that he had to prove ongoing disability since before the end of 2005, and he wanted to impress Social Security with how hard he worked and how long he tried to work, and how he did not ask for disability benefits lightly and how he had only put in this application as a last resort….etc.  The problem is John wrote Social Security lengthy letters about how he had been working his antique business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until the end of 2008, 3 years after his date last insured. 

What should John have told Social Security?  The TRUTH!!!  His cause would have been much better served had he simply stated the truth; he moved from his job as a laborer due to his multiple progressive medical conditions that his employer was not willing to abide any long and then he set up an antique store that he was able to work no more than a few hours a week, and that his fatigue and pain precluded him from doing much more than that. 

John’s judge is still reviewing his case.  In the meanwhile, we were able to file his wife’s application for her disability benefits, and she prevailed quickly.

Find a Lawyer for Social Security Disability

Example 2

Donald Y:

Donald came to us six (6) before his hearing date.  He too had prior representation.  Despite this, he had only applied for Title II benefits, even though he was economically eligible for SSI benefits.  His earnings were sporadic and because he did not apply for SSI benefits, to be awarded SSA benefits, he has to prove ongoing disability since before the end of December 2009.  His onset date was in April of 2009. 

Donald is over 50 years and has hypertension, diabetes and some orthopedic problems.  These are the problems he let SSA know about.  However, Donald’s pride prevented him from giving SSA the entire story.  And, without the entire story, Donald is deemed to be limited in work ability, but not disabled.  While hypertension, diabetes and orthopedic problems can each be totally disabling on their own, in Donald’s case it is reasonable to find that his level of severity would not preclude light work.  However, in combination with the above conditions, the conditions that he was too proud to inform SSA of render him totally disabled.  These additional facts are that he reads and writes at a 1st grade level, has an IQ of no higher than 84 and is suffering from anger management issues and depression. 

In other words, were Donald’s entire list of conditions/inabilities been provided to SSA from the start, his case for disability would have been far easier to prove.  As it is, we have a difficult judge who is in disbelief with regard to Donald’s mental condition.    I have counseled Donald to apply for SSI benefits.  He is an adult, and there is only so much we can do.  The judge is still considering his case, and I am asking that further testing be done so that there will be proof in the file of Donald’s reading limitations.

Example 3

Cari Z:

 Cari called us one month before her hearing.  She had previously had a representative, but did not feel comfortable with her.  Upon reviewing the file, I felt that Cari had been alone throughout the process.  Why? 1.  Her onset date deprived her of eight (8) months of benefits she should be entitled to and 2.  She had only started treatment for her mental health concerns in the last 4 months prior to her hearing when she should have been in this treatment for several years. 

The amended onset date was easily rectified.  We requested the earlier onset date at the hearing and submitted a Work Activity Report explaining her subsequent work attempts. 

 The lack of mental health treatment is far more problematic.  She began seeing a psychiatrist a few weeks before calling our office.  And, as of this date, we have received a highly supportive statement from the psychiatrist.  But, the psychiatrist can really only be helpful for the time period she feels confident reporting about; the time period Cari has been in treatment.

 I do not know how her prior representative advised her, but by my history of counseling clients, I know that I would have strongly urged Cari to consult a neurologist and/or a psychiatrist early in the process because in addition to her physical complaints of aches and pains from fibromyalgia, she was having severe problems with her memory and ability to concentrate.  While pain can cause such problems, I would have recommended that she see a specialist. 

As it is, Cari has a judge who only grants 50% of the cases he sees.  We pushed hard, and I do think we will prevail at some point, but with proper medical records, Cari may have been able to prevail more easily and possibly earlier.

Last Words: 
 Is there a downside to selecting an attorney early in the process?  I do not really think so.  Social Security only allows Social Security attorneys/representatives to collect retroactive benefits, and these are capped at $6,000.  What does this mean?  Generally, attorneys/representatives likely receive the full $6,000 in around 85% of the cases where the determination of disability is made at the hearing level.  But, what of those cases that are decided early on?  Do attorneys/representatives receive an undue award when a client is found disabled quickly?  No, we do not.  There is an “elimination period” and benefits do not begin to accrue until after this period, five full months after onset date, is over. So, if we win very early in the process, our office receives thanks, but little to no money.

 Example, Henry is in a pedestrian knockdown and suffers a severe TBI.  His doctors determine that he will have to be in a rehabilitation facility for at least 6 months and it is unlikely he will be able to return to any kind of regular work for at least another 18 to 24 months, if ever.  He is disabled.  His mother calls our office and we put together his application and various other supportive forms.  The Claims Adjudicator grants benefits within two months of filing.  What do we receive?  Heart-felt thanks.  Since there is no retroactive benefit, there is no financial settlement to our office. 

Cari, John and Donald would all have been in a better position had they had a friend with a map directing them through their Social Security mine fields from the start, and there was no downside in asking that a law firm become involved early in the process.

We have attempted to provide up to date and accurate information, however the information in this site is not guaranteed. No attorney client relationship exist. The information in this site is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified attorney.
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If you need a lawyer for your SSDI claim at application or hearing call us at 1-877-527-5529.