Do I really have to hire a lawyer for my Social Security Disability claim?

By / March 3, 2016 / Social Security Disability & SSI Basic Facts / 63 Comments

Learn when it’s most important to hire a lawyer for your Social Security disability claim, and why it’s best to have an attorney if you have to appeal.

When You Might Not Need a Lawyer
If you have a very clear-cut and severe illness or injury that will clearly disable you for more than twelve months, then you probably don’t need a lawyer for your Social Security Disability claim; but, you may want one just to make things easier for you.

When It’s Best to a Hire a Lawyer
If you have any other situation, hiring a lawyer well-versed in Social Security Disability law for help with your initial claim may save you from having to file a Social Security appeal. The sooner that your claim is laid out fully and clearly to the Social Security Administration, the sooner you are likely to be approved. Your attorney can guide you and your physicians so that all necessary documentation is submitted with your initial claim.

If you are disabled by a combination of medical problems, if you have a diagnosis that does not always disable (such as fibromyalgia), or if you are disabled by pain, fatigue, or mental illness, having a Social Security attorney can be a big help. Your attorney will know which of your clinical findings and symptoms are signs of disability and should be emphasized in your claim.

Disability Attorneys for Denied Claims
If you are denied twice and have to request a disability hearing, a Social Security lawyer can sometimes get a favorable decision “on-the-record,” so that you don’t have to go to an actual hearing. This can speed up how fast you get an approval. If you do have to go to court, then your attorney will help you prepare for the hearing, secure affidavits, arrange witnesses, explain hearing protocol, help you answer questions, and ask questions at the hearing.

Another good reason for having a lawyer for your Social Security Disability hearing is that it can be comforting to have an active ally with you in court. For more information about disability hearings, see our article What Is a Social Security Disability Hearing and What Can I Expect When I Request a Disability Hearing? For information on payment for attorneys, please visit How Do Social Security Disability Attorneys Get Paid for Representing You in Your Disability Claim?

Do I really have to hire a lawyer for my Social Security Disability claim?
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  • Dear Mehnaz,

    Try contacting your state’s bar association to see if they have a list of attorneys that is organized by the focus of their practice. If not,screen the list of attorneys in your area for someone who has considerable experience with those claims. One indicator of this would be to ask what percentage of their business is Social Security and SSI Disability claims and what percentage of approvals they have attained.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Kelsi,

    If you are within the sixty-day appeal period, you can appeal; but to do so successfully, you need to get a copy of the trust from the trustee. You should be able to get a copy of it if you explain the reason you need it. If you are outside the appeals period, you can file a new application once you have proof of the trust fund provisions.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • I like that you point out that attorneys can help emphasize which symptoms should be highlighted on your claim. I can see why this would be helpful when wanting to get approved for assistance. I’ll have to tell my grandparents about this when they go to file a claim.

  • I am looking at disability attorneys so I know what to do for my parents , they are getting old and will probably need some help because of their health. It is very useful to know that having a lawyer can sometimes help you so that you don’t have to go to an actual hearing. It is also important to keep in mind that there are plenty of resources out here to find the best person for your case.

  • Leah

    Hello. I was diagnosed with Behçet’s disease 5 years ago and recently have become much worse and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia as well. I am currently on fmla leave from work since I can not currently work. I am not being paid since I am out of sick days. Am I able to file for disability? Do I need a lawyer? Thanks for your help.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Leah,

      If you have been or are expected to be disabled for a year or the return-to-work date is unknown, you can file an application. Claim the date you stopped work and be sure that Social Security knows that you got leave pay after that, so they don’t think your leave pay was work earnings. You do not need an attorney to file a claim; but if you are denied and want to appeal, I recommend you get one then. Reading the articles on this website under the “Appy SSD” and “Claim Process” tabs at the top of this webpage will help orient you to filing.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Karen

    My fee agreement with my attorney it’s says I’m paying them to obtain my records while I was on the phone with her yesterday she asked me if I could get them and send them to her for Sept to oct 1

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Karen,

      I suggest that you do everything you can to support your claim even if you think the attorney should be handling it. If the records are needed soon,it is possible the attorney thinks your doctor will respond more quickly to your request than his or hers. If you cannot get the records due to your health or another reason, discuss your situation with your attorney to see if their office can get them.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      • Karen

        I will . Thank you Kay

        • Kay Derochie

          You are welcome, Karen.

  • veronica

    Hi, I have a ss hearing on Fri day, but my attorney has filed bankruptcy and I can’t get in touch with them, what do I do? Do I actually need an attorney?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Veronica,

      You can call the hearing office and request a continuance to give you time to get a different attorney and for the attorney to get up to speed on your claim, or you can represent yourself. I can’t predict whether you need an attorney to be successful.

      If you represent yourself explain to the judge why you are doing it. If the vocational specialist identifies occupations you can perform, ask the VE whether you could do that occupation with your limitations and then list those–such as missing a certain number of days of work a month, having to take multiple breaks a day or whatever accommodations you might need.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • marvin

    I just like to know I have rheumatoid arthritis and congestion heart failure plus taking meds to control my heart rate my doctor told me to apply for my disability because my ra seem to always flare up and I NEED a walker sometime to get around but my question i apply without a lawyer and its been almost 3 months do I have to wait along time because I am not working and my short term disability insurance at my job is about to end

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Marvin,

      The average processing time for a new claim is two to five months. I suggest that you call the Disability Determination Services (DDS) to speak to the claims examiner. Inquire whether all requested records have been received and from which medical providers they requested records. If they are waiting for something, you can follow up to get it. Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to get your DDS’s phone number. If they can’t give it to you, call your state’s phone directory to request it.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Scott

    Hello Kay. My friend has paranoid schizophrenia and clinical depression. He’s been on Ssdi for 15 years but had a short working period and didn’t report properly and his benefits have been revoked. With his social worker we’ve appealed and ss has agreed to continue his benefits(reduced) until they make a final decision. We’ve hired a lawyer and apparently he’s entitled to 25% of my friends monthly benefit as compensation no matter how long this process takes?? I’m now questioning the value of the lawyer. Should we stay put with the lawyer or try and navigate this ourselves? Should we wait until a final decision is made to hire the lawyer? Can the lawyer influence the decision prior to the final decision? Thanks.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Scott,

      An attorney can review the claim file and the documentation that has been submitted with the appeal and submit additional information to influence the reconsideration decision. If the attorney or your friend plans to submit anything, your friend should ask that he be givien time to make the submission before the appeal is decided.

      The 25% fee applies only to back benefits. This means that the fee would be 25% of the amount being held back. No fee would be withheld from ongoing monthly benefits. Also note that if the full benefit is being paid because part of it is going to repay an overpayment, there will be no back pay and no attorney fee. By the way, your friend needs to notify Social Security of having hired an attorney so that correspondence and any requests go to him. When your friend makes the notification, he can also request a copy of the claim file for his and the attorney’s review.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

    • Scott

      Thanks Kay. However, I’m confused as to the attorney fee. Ours indicates that he won’t receive any compensation if benefits are not fully restored ( they’ve been reinstated (reduced) until a final decision is made) but yet he’s currently collecting 25% of my friend’s monthly benefits and indicates that he’ll continue to collect this until a final judgement is made even if this takes two years or longer? Thanks for your help.

      • Kay Derochie

        Dear Scott,

        I have not heard of an attorney being able to collect a fee from ongoing Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits; however, this is possible with workers compensation benefits. Perhaps your friend is getting a different kind of benefit. In any event, he agrees that he won’t be collecting from you until your benefits are fully restored.

        Sincerely,
        Kay

  • Mins

    What do you do if you won a ssi claim without lawyer, who does representative money go to?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Mins,

      If you have no paid representative, all your benefits go to you.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Taylor

    I am only 18 years old. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia about 3 or 4 months ago by my PCD, I’m waiting on a referral to see a Rheumatologist. When I was about 2 years old, I was diagnosed with Migraines, which I believe have become chronic as I have at least one a week, along with tension headaches. I have also been suffering with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders since I was about 11.
    When one condition worsens, the rest eventually follow suit. Would I be able to qualify for disability? Even at my age?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Taylor,

      If you believe you are unable to work and hold down a job on a regular basis and you are either not working or earning less than $1,130 gross per month, then it would be appropriate to file for disability benefits. If your income and assets are within the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) limits, you may qualify for SSI. If you have worked and paid Social Security taxes and have earned at least six quarters of coverage (work credits), you might also qualify for a small amount of Social Security Disability benefits. Lastly, if one of your parents is deceased or receiving Social Security, you might qualify for Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB), which are paid to disabled adult children who become disabled before age twenty-two.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • I had no idea that you should hire a lawyer if you are disabled by pain, fatigue, or mental illness. I had an aunt that couldn’t work for a while because she was in constant pain in her back. I will have to see if she ended up applying for disability.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Gregory,

      If your aunt was disabled for at least twelve months and has been disabled any time in the past twelve months, she can file an application for Social Security Disability (SSD/SSDI) even if she has already recovered.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • jessica

    Hi! I am a 27 year old single mother. Have been diagnosed and medicated for PTSD and Bipolar one for numerous years. I have signed up for ssi and ssdi.. I am wandering if maybe I am wasting my time?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Jessica,

      Whether or not you will be approved for benefits will depend on how severely you are affected by your diagnoses and how well your treatment controls or does not control your illnesses. If you are able to work in any occupation and earn $1,130 gross a month, your claim will be denied.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Wendy

    I was Receiving SSD for some years and all of a sudden they stopped giving it to me!! They said they sent me some new paperwork to fill out to continue getting what I get out of the Blue which is also odd because I was hit by a big vehicle which they were aware of and yet they just stopped giving it to me which I think is Odd so I went in and filled out there paperwork to the best of my ability and I never got it back and I have been in limbo ever since and I am not the one who originally filled it out some years back someone else filled it out for me and I was unaware that they could pull this on me!! I have espically been in Pain since I was struck while walking by a Vehicle! !

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Wendy,

      Continuing Disability Reviews are routine. You do not provide any dates on when your benefits were stopped or when you appealed and completed the paperwork. If it has been more than two months since you completed the paperwork, I suggest that you go to your local office and ask for the status of your appeal. If they say the appeal was denied and a notice was sent, ask for a duplicate and go on record as not receiving notice. Also be sure that they have your correct mailing address. You can then appeal again to get a hearing. If it has been more than sixty days since an appeal denial, be sure to put on the hearing request that you have good cause for not filing on time because you did not get notice. (If you missed getting both notices and didn’t have a change of mailing address, I suggest renting a post office box.)

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Renee Smith

    What happens if you know the DARS rep did not use or consider all of the medical records I sent? I know he received them because every time I sent them I called and confirmed he had them.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Renee,

      I am assume that DARS is a organization you engaged to represent you in submitting your claim to Social Security and that the representative did not submit everything you gave him or her. My response is based on that assumption. You can terminate the representative agreement with the DARS rep and file an appeal by yourself or with the help of an experienced Social Security and submit the additional evidence. Or you can continue with the rep and ask him or her to submit everything on appeal.

      If you hire a Social Security attorney, you do not have to pay any legal fees up front and you will pay attorney fees only if you are approved for benefits. Social Security law sets the amount your attorney can charge, and the Social Security Administration pays the attorney directly from your retroactive award before they send your back pay to you.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • I find it interesting that chronic illnesses can provide a benefit through social security. I have severe depression caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain, and I sometimes end up not being able to perform at my best. This has occasionally caused problems for me in the workforce. Does depression count as a possible claim or do claims tend to stick closer to more dilapidating illnesses? I really appreciate your advice. Thank you.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Lillian,

      Chronic illnesses can be disabling. To be eligible for either Social Security or Supplemental Security Income disability, you must be unable to “engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted, or can be expected to last, for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” Substantial gainful activity is usually defined as the ability to earn $1,130 monthly gross wages or net self-employment.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Shelby

    hi i have been curious if i would qualify for disability. I’ve been psyched out 4 times from hearing voices and seeing things. I’m taking seroquel at its highest dose. i still hear voices which sometimes keeps me from sleeping and holding down a job. I’m going on my 14th job. i also have severe anxiety. i was diagnosed with bipolar 2.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Shelby,

      You may qualify for disability benefits. I suggest that you a claim.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Jimmy Gordon

    How likely is an approval based on mental disorders? I suffer from alcoholism and have lost 4 jobs due to drinking. I also have severe anxiety which I believe contributes to my alcoholism. In addition, I am also mildly bi-polar. I also have a couple of physical issues which prevent me from doing physical work. Is there a chance I would be approved?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Jimmy,

      To be approved, you must prove that you are disabled by your mental illness diagnoses and your physical conditions because the law prohibits payment for disabilities caused by alcohol or drug usage.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      • tina

        My partner has severe short term memory loss which is apparently because of long term alcohol use. His disability claim was denied because they felt the disability wasn’t “severe enough”. There was no mention of illness caused by alcohol being automatically denied. I was getting ready to hire a lawyer for the appeal process. Am I wasting my time?

        • Kay Derochie

          Dear Tina,

          I suggest that you appea with an attorney. Although benefits are not paid for disability caused by alcohol use, sometimes claims are approved when there is documentable organ damage. If he has not already had a cognitive evaluation of his memory loss, getting an evaluation done by a clinical psychologist or geriatric physician would be helpful.

          Sincerely,
          Kay

          • tina

            Thank you!

            • Kay Derochie

              You are welcome, Tina.

  • Jessica

    My son was diagnosed with chronic asthma a year ago. He has a difficult time with this disease. He can hardly breathe at times and has to be limited on outside activities due to his asthma. He is monitored by a physician and is on daily medication. Would he be able to receive benefits?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Jessica,

      If your son’s asthma is so bad that it is affecting his ability to perform in school or otherwise significantly limits him from functioning as other children of his age, his claim might be approved. You can get more information about the criteria for childhood disability in the child’s section of the article “What Medical Conditions Are Required to Meet SSI Disability Qualifications and to Get an SSI Approval?” under the SSI tab on the navigation bar at the top of this web page.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Jennifer

    My second open back surgery left me partially paralyzed in my left leg. I have no strength or control. I had four spinal fusions with my last surgery. Some days I can’t get out of bed. The depression that comes with working 7 days a week to not being able to get out of bed several days a week is more than I can take. Most days all I can think about is how many pills it will take. Renting a motel room so the people that love me won’t find me. My first open back surgery gave me my life back…This one took my life away. …..I just want to die

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Jennifer,

      Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255 for support and help. The line is open 24/7. Their website is http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. If you reach out, perhaps someone will have some ideas to make your life more tolerable for you.

      Wishing you well,
      Kay

  • Kimberly

    Over my life I have had 2 major hernia repairs done,2 buldging disc, spinal stenosis, rhemitiod arthritis, a popaliteel cyst under my knee cap and multiple stomach surgeries in my insides as in no gallbladder, 3 different surgeries to complete a hysterectomy, a kidney stone removed, and as I mentioned the major repairs to my hernias each time in a different spot! I haven’t worked in years because of my back and my stomach causing me a lot of pain but I’m only 37 and I fear my age alone will get me a denial letter! All of these surgeries have been documented,xrays, MRIs done for my back and test results for my rheumatoid arthritis with blood test and I have azma . Does any of that qualify me or does it hurt me that I have to many things wrong with my health that one would need to be pinned done to prove and documented?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Kimberly,

      If you are indeed unable to work and you well document all the conditions and how they limit you, you may be able to prove you are disabled.

      To receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability, your family income and assets have to fall below the SSI limits. To be eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD), you have to be insured for SSD at the time you became disabled. Being insured includes having twenty credits in the ten years before your disability began, unless you were under age thirty-one in which case you need credits that equal or exceed half the number of calendar quarters between age twenty-one and the age you became disabled. This means that to qualify for SSD, you may have to prove that you were disabled in the past, not just now. You can find out from Social Security the last date you were insured and whether you are financially eligible for SSI.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • jessica

    Hi everyone, i was approved for ssd on my very first try and without a lawyer as well,i got approved for ssd at age 22. So i was letting everyone know that it is possible to be approved on your first try and even eventaully so just keep trying and do not. Give up, if you need ssd benefits. Keep trying and good luck. Everyone i hope you all get the benefits you deserve. Take care

  • Mark Tooke

    Hi,
    I have been working in a union supervisor type position for 21 yrs, I have had 3 major back surgeries all 3 were failures, I still deal with chronic pain, my question is… My company is closing the place I work and I will be forced though seniority of company time to go back to working as a mechanic, I know I will not be able to perform in this position on the bases of pain I deal with, would I be able to get 100% disability? My job is being eliminated but I still have job within company just in a much more physical way, I am 55 yr old and scared to death whether I will be able to perform this new position after 21 years in this one.
    Thank You
    Mark

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Mark,

      It is possible that you will not be considered disabled because you can still do the type of supervisory work you have been doing and do it for a different employer. If other jobs in your supervisor occupation exist in the country, not just in your locale, you will likely be denied. Similarly, if you have transferable skills to another occupation you can perform your claim might be denied, though your age would be in your favor there.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • jane

    I was recently awarded ssd on my first attempt. Crazy, I know. So why does my lawyer get 25% if they did nothing? I had to fill out a ton of paperwork, I had to call SS multiple times to get updates, I informed them that my claim was approved. I know I would need them if I went to a hearing, but they did nothing.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Jane,

      If you signed a fee agreement, you agreed to pay the attorney. Make a list of all the things you did and a list of all the things the attorney did including giving you advice about filing. Take the list to Social Security and request a fee reduction based on minimal services from the attorney. This may or may not be successful.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Walter barbour

    I need a lawyer I have one leg and was denied. If you can give me a call back at ___ please and thank you

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Walter,

      I suggest that you contact your state’s Bar Association for a list of attorneys who specialize in Social Security Disability claims. This site is set up for website responses only so I cannot call you. I have removed your phone number from your post to protect your privacy.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Gwendolyn dutt

    I’m currently collecting social security early retirement, I have COPD and can barely do anything ie walk, carry things etc. would this be a disability consideration? I just don’t know if it’s reasonable to try to apply for benefits.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Gwendolyn,

      You may be eligible for Social Security Disability (SSDI). I suggest that you file a claim to get a formal decision. If you have been disabled seventeen months or longer, I recommend getting the claim started before the end of the month. You can start a claim online at http://www.ssa.gov. You can find tips on filing a claim in the articles under the “Apply SSD” tab on the navigation bar of this website.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Please, how do I ask my own question on here? Thank you! 🙂

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Daniele,

      Ask your question in the same place where to asked how to ask a question.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • jay

    I am a diabetic I have neuropathy in my feet and hands and I have been driving a tractor trailer for 28 year’s i can no longer drive can I apply for Social Security disability

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Jay,

      Yes, you can apply for benefits. Whether or not you are approved will depend in part on your age and your educational background as those things will be considered in determining whether you can work in another occupation. The best way to find out whether you qualify is to apply.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • If I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist for four years now, and the psychiatrist said i can’t do substantial gainful employment, and I was denied at my hearing, and the ALJ did not give this psychiatrist’s findings any or little weight, and I’ve submitted more evidence of my mental issues since before my termination in 2008/09, what’s my chances at the appeals level I’m at now? Had my hearing in Dec 2014. Was seeing phsycologist in 2008/09 few short months before my termination. ..

    Thx,
    KReeves

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Kimberly,

      I cannot predict the outcome of the Appeals Council review. The Council’s review is quite narrow and consists of reviewing to see whether the judge made a mistake based on the evidence available at the time of the hearing. If you do not have legal representation, it might be a good idea to get legal help to correctly submit your argument to the Council.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • i had my social security disablility hearing a week ago friday , when should i hear or get an award letter from them

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Diane,

      The guideline for a hearing decision is sixty days, but many decisions pend much longer.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

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