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 the issue of legal representation, and which legal representative will handle your SSD or SSI disability case, is no small matter.
Social Security disability representatives can be found in a variety of different listing sources. The Yellow Pages, the Internet, legal aid clinics, and the referral service operated by each state's bar association are often used to locate qualified disability lawyers and attorneys. However, some of these services don't guarantee that their lawyers are active members of their state's bar in good standing.
Nolo, the premier plain-English legal website, offers a unique directory of disability lawyers that provides a comprehensive profile for each attorney with information that will help you select the right attorney. The profiles tell you about the lawyer's disability experience, education, and fees, and perhaps most importantly, the lawyer's general philosophy of practicing law. Nolo has confirmed that every listed attorney has a valid license and is in good standing with their bar association. Every attorney has taken a pledge to communicate regularly with you, provide an estimate of the time and cost involved, and provide you with a clear, fair, written fee agreement that spells out how they will handle your legal matter and how you will be charged.
On our site, part of the Nolo network, you can use our disability lawyer locator to quickly enter in the details of your disability claim and select several local disability lawyers to contact you.
How do you determine whether an attorney disability representative is especially suited to handle your Social Security disability or SSI disability case? Simple. 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.
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 attorney who represents them. Despite this reality, you can generally gauge the effectiveness of a potential representative through your initial contacts with their office. Is the representative accessible? Does the representative return your calls? Does the representative sound knowledgeable and experienced in Social Security disability and SSI claims? Also, because you don't want your hearing scheduled any later than necessary, ask if there are certain days the lawyer's not available for hearings and whether he or she is taking a significant amount of time off in the next year.
Good representation at the initial application stage and first two levels of appeal can usually be obtained from an attorney or a nonattorney representative (many of whom are former disability examiners and Social Security claims reps). But for an appeal to the Appeals Council, you'll definitely want to hire a lawyer. And since you'll pay a lawyer and a nonlawyer representative the same amount, it can make sense to hire a disability lawyer from the start. 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 advocate can make the difference between not winning and winning a disability claim for monthly disability benefits and backpay.