Having the right help on a Social Security disability case can easily make the difference between winning and losing a claim for benefits, so deciding whether to get legal help, and which legal representative to hire, is no small matter. If you're not sure if you need to hire an expert, first read our article on hiring a disability representative.
The Social Security Administration calls disability lawyers "authorized representatives." Authorized representatives can be disability lawyers, professionals who work for a disability firm, or other types of nonlawyer representatives. Some people decide to appoint representatives only after their initial claims for benefits have been denied and they want to appeal. At that point, they usually hire disability lawyers to represent them at their appeal hearings.
Other people hire representatives at the outset so that they can get help filing the application for SSDI or SSI. Getting help early can help increase your chances of getting benefits after waiting only a few months rather than a year or two.
Sometimes your best bet is to hire a disability firm that can help you fill out the application and provide a lawyer if you need to go to an appeal hearing. You can find disability firms in a variety of ways: through a personal recommendation, in a directory, or through a lawyer referral service. If you use a referral service, make sure it guarantees its lawyers are active members of its state's bar in good standing.
Two sites that are part of the Nolo family, Lawyers.com and Avvo.com, provide free lawyer directories. These directories allow you to search by location and area of law, and they list detailed information about lawyers. You can visit www.lawyers.com/find-a-lawyer or www.avvo.com/find-a-lawyer to find out more.
If you'd like a free consultation, you can sign up for a free case evaluation with our partner, Premier Disability Services. Premier provides disability experts who can help you fill out your application, gather medical information, and meet Social Security's deadlines. If your case goes to a hearing, they'll also provide a lawyer in your area. Read more about their services.
How do you determine which representative is right for you? Contact a representative's office and ask questions. First and foremost, ask if the lawyer has experience in winning disability claims for your medical condition.
Other questions you may want to ask include:
Typically, most lawyers who represent Social Security disability applicants are fairly busy, due to the large number of disability claims moving through the system. For this reason, many claimants share the common complaint of getting meager individualized attention from the person who represents them. You may want to make sure that the firm you call has a good-size staff of specialists who can assist you with your questions (and with the application itself).
You can usually get good representation at the initial application stage and the reconsideration stage (the first level of appeal) from either an attorney or a nonattorney representative (many of whom are former disability examiners and Social Security claims reps). The most important point is that you find someone who specializes in Social Security disability claims.
But for an appeal in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ) or the Appeals Council, you'll likely want to hire a lawyer. For more information, see our article on hiring a disability lawyer vs. a nonlawyer representative.
Regardless of the type of disability advocate you choose, a qualified representative can make the difference between not winning and winning a disability claim.
Updated November 30, 2021