You are not required to hire an attorney to represent you, but according to the Social Security Administration’s own statistics, people win benefits more often when they have representation than when they don’t.
If you choose to get legal representation, here are some good benchmarks to look for:
Professionalism and Courtesy:
Pay attention to the level of professionalism and treatment you are given by the attorney and staff.
Attorneys are busy and will likely trust much of their communication with you to their well-trained staff. A good firm should, however, allow you to schedule a free consultation with the attorney.
Promises of Outcomes:
It is unethical, and unfair to you, for an attorney to guarantee that he or she will get you approved. A good attorney will give you an honest assessment of your case only after reviewing the facts.
You should ask a potential attorney or a staff member about the firm’s approval rates overall, at the hearings level, and for both full and partial benefits.
Office and Case Management:
Even though disability firms are busy places, you should be provided with a contact person who you can rely on to answer your questions. The firm should also keep in touch with you on a regular basis.
An attorney doesn’t need to be licensed to represent claimants at disability hearings; in fact, a claimant’s representative need not be an attorney at all. However, a licensed attorney may have a better understanding of Social Security law. Also, your lawyer must be an attorney who is licensed to practice law in federal court if your claim ever gets appealed to that level. Additionally, a disability attorney who has practiced a long time in the area where you live knows the administrative law judges (ALJs) who may hear your case. ALJs are unique in how they approach decision. Some ALJs are also biased towards, or against, certain types of cases. A good attorney will know how to adjust arguments, if need be, to appeal to the ALJ assigned to hear the case.
Special Knowledge of Your Condition:
Some claims may be more challenging to win because of the medical condition on which they are based. This can be especially true if a claimant suffers from mental illness along with drugs or alcohol abuse. If this is your situation, ask the attorney about his or her approach to these types of cases and the success rate for winning them.
Children’s cases are handled differently from adult cases. Not all disability firms will accept children’s cases, and those that do may not have much experience with them. If you are filing on behalf of a child, make sure that the firm you deal with has experience with childhood disability questions. You should also ask about the attorney’s approval rate for childhood disability cases.
You should ask the potential firm if it is willing to provide references or testimonials from past clients. A good firm should be open to doing this.