How can a Social Security disability lawyer help me get Social Security benefits?
Learn how a disability attorney can help your disability claim or appeal and increase the chances of your getting Disability Social Security benefits.
Thankfully, Social Security Disability is one of the areas of law where you can obtain legal assistance without paying any money up front. Under most circumstances, attorneys cannot charge you for their services until after they help you win your benefits. Even after you win, payment in this field is usually a painless process wherein SSA directly pays your attorney 25% of your back benefits or $6,000, whichever is lower, and then just sends you the rest!
Advantages of Having an Attorney
The ease of use and peace of mind that come with hiring a seasoned Social Security lawyer are not the only reasons to consider using an attorney when applying for disability. As with any other area of law, having an experienced professional working on your behalf can make a huge difference in getting the desired outcome. This is especially true if your Social Security Disability claim has been denied and you are in a reconsideration, hearing, or Appeals Council stage of the appeal process. Experienced Social Security attorneys know how to best navigate SSA’s many rules and regulations and they know what really matters to them.
Here are just a few of the ways a Social Security lawyer or trained advocate can contribute to having your Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability claim approved.
An attorney knows how to present the most important information. Sending a lot of unhelpful details makes it harder for the claims examiner or judge to focus on the significant evidence that proves your disability. Experienced Social Security lawyers know what facts SSA really uses to award benefits, what items may negatively affect your claim, and how to avoid wasting time on information that will not support your case. They can guide you so that you include only the most relevant facts when completing all the required forms. Social Security lawyers know what SSA expects to see in an application. They may or may not need specific documentation from your doctor or your past employer and will not waste your time with useless requests.
An example of an error that someone filing their own claim can make that can negatively impact a claim occurs when unskilled or semi-skilled workers exaggerate their previous work accomplishments and job duties because they believe skilled workers have a better chance of being approved. However, to SSA it appears they have transferable skills that can be used in some other type of employment, and the claim may be denied because it seems they have marketable skills. This denial causes a delay in receiving benefits but can be appealed if the worker gets a knowledgeable representative, who will see the error and correctly present the work history to a disability judge.
Attorneys in Action at Hearings
Sometimes the judges do not dig deep enough to unravel all the intricate details of your particular claim. Since so many claims wind up at hearings, having a seasoned attorney really helps because it’s likely they have been working with you since the start of your claim and have gotten to know you and your claim’s nuances. So, if a judge asks a question and you give a possibly harmful answer, the attorney will be there to help mitigate the possible damage. They could do so by asking you questions about facts that the judge may not know to ask because they have not spent months or years talking with you about your limitations and your claim.
Similarly, your attorney may bring up details at the hearing that he or she thinks may actually sway the judge or change the Vocational Expert (VE) testimony, or help you strengthen a legal argument if you lose and need to appeal. It is important to be fully responsive to any question the attorney may ask, even if you wonder why it is being brought up.
Vocational Experts (VE’s) and other experts such as medical experts (ME’s) may be called to testify at your hearing. Experienced attorneys know how to question these experts and even how to discredit their testimony if it is not in your favor. There are only a handful of VE’s that each hearing office uses, so the VE’s and local attorneys often get to know each other very well. You may even see them chatting in the hallways outside hearing rooms. When your attorney is local, he or she has probably worked previously with the VE at your hearing, which may give your attorney an advantage in questioning the VE that you would never have.
Attorneys May Get You More Money
Not only can attorneys help you win your benefits but they can also assure that you are getting the maximum Social Security benefits you deserve. Some workers who have had worsening health issues over a lengthy period of time do not realize that they may be able to prove their disability began prior to when they finally stopped working and by doing so maximize their retroactive benefits for months occurring before application. An attorney will be able to analyze periods when you were on and off work to select the earliest possible date of disability by recognizing short, unsuccessful work attempts.
In another situation, sometimes a judge will offer to approve a claim if the claimant will agree to a later date of disability onset, resulting in fewer back benefits, if any. An attorney will help you figure out if amending your onset date really is in your best interest. Part of the assessment could include how successful the attorney believes an Appeals Council review would be in the event of a denial.
Strength in Numbers
If you have to go to court, you may feel stronger and better able to answer the judge’s questions clearly because you know that you have someone in your corner who knows the ropes.
More about Social Security Appeals and Attorney Representation
For guidance on how to select an attorney, please see our article When and How Do I Select an Attorney to Help with my Social Security or SSI Disability Claim? For an overview of Social Security’s appeal process, visit I Was Denied Social Security Disability. What Can I Do? and you can find more information specifically about hearings in our collection of hearing articles, starting with What Is a Social Security Disability Hearing and What Can I Expect When I Request a Disability Hearing? Additional information about attorney fees is available in How Do Social Security Disability Attorneys Get Paid for Representing Me in My Disability Claim and How Can I Afford a Lawyer?