What should a person look for when hiring a Social Security Disability Lawyer?
Recently, I was interviewed by a reporter working on a story about Social Security Disability. One question was “What should a person look for when hiring a Social Security Disability Lawyer?” That’s a great question and I thought I would give some tips and questions to ask when you or a loved one needs a disability lawyer.
1. Knowledge and Experience
You’ll want to put yourself in experienced hands. The more experience, the better. Some lawyers hold themselves out as a disability lawyer when they have just a mere grasp of the most basic principles. Social Security disability is governed by federal regulations and is highly specialized. It takes years of experience and study to gain expertise. And it takes dedication to keep up with ever changing law, policies and procedures. A highly experienced lawyer may know more law than some of the Social Security Judges, particularly judges with less experience. So, look for a disability lawyer who is dedicated to this area of the law and who understands the disability process. Believe me, more often than you might think, one small factor or obscure point of law brought to light can make the difference in a favorable versus an unfavorable outcome. I’ve seen this in my own practice many times over the years.
2. Look for Free Initial Consults
Most Social Security Disability attorneys only get paid when you win your case. Therefore, most are more than willing to meet with you for a half-hour to an hour to judge how successful your case might be. After that, they may take the case on “contingency,” which means that they get paid out of the case’s earnings so you do not need to pay them directly.
Be wary of lawyers that charge a consultation fee for Social Security Disability cases. This is a signal that they may not know enough about the subject or that they may not take your case. There’s no requirement that a lawyer take a case after a consult, and paying a lawyer in advance may discourage them from taking your case.
3. Find the Right Fit
Make sure you feel comfortable talking to the lawyer. If you and your lawyer relate well, you will have a more productive hearing. Your testimony at the hearing should be more than answering stock questions. Your lawyer should ask questions of you that allow you to tell your unique story. So, effective hearing preparation requires your lawyer to learn important details from your past medical history, work history, daily activities, lifestyle changes, work ethic and the like. Genuine, compelling testimony that rings true to a judge can lead to an award of benefits in a difficult case.
4. Prepare for a Long Case
Before hiring any lawyer, I recommend requesting a free consultation to make sure he or she is someone you can trust. Social Security Disability cases, especially if not approved at the initial level, can be a lengthy process. In Alabama, the wait time for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ranges from 12 to 18 months from the date of the appeal. During this time Social Security disability claimants have enough to worry about, including health issues, family issues and financial woes, so you shouldn’t be worrying about your choice of an attorney. Finding the right lawyer to help you navigate the system and represent your best interests can give you peace of mind.
5. Does the lawyer live and regularly work in your state?
I believe it is an advantage to hire an attorney who lives and works in the state where you live. Being familiar with the preferences and policies of the ALJs allows for better hearing preparation and presentation of your case. A local attorney will be more accessible to you and should have more time to devote to each individual client. Generally speaking, representatives who fly in or travel great distances to attend hearings tend to be from very large firms that handle cases on an assembly line basis. Also, a lawyer from a “national firm” may not be as familiar with the federal case law that pertains to your particular federal circuit or jurisdiction. This is important because a skilled lawyer knows how to document the record and preserve errors in the event it is necessary to file an appeal in federal court.
For more information on finding the right social security disability lawyer or for any other questions about Social Security disability, please contact my firm at www.coxandreynolds.com or (205) 870-1205.