If you are unhappy with your Social Security disability lawyer or advocate, you have the option of firing him or her at any time. However, before you make this decision, you should consider why you want to fire your attorney and how it could affect you.
Disability claimants sometimes become frustrated with their legal representatives because it takes so long for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to decide their claim. And their frustration isn't helped when attorneys or staff members don't return phone calls or emails promptly. However, disability lawyers and law firms are generally not able to shorten the time it takes for the SSA to process a claim or schedule a hearing (except for writing a dire need letter and in rare instances where a claimant's condition is a terminal illness). In most cases, individuals who fire their disability lawyer will have the same problems with the next disability lawyer they hire.
To limit your frustration, ask your legal representative what the general wait times are in your state. It's important that you have realistic expectations for how long the process takes, from start to finish.
You should consider where you are in the disability process before deciding whether to fire your attorney. When you hired your lawyer or law firm, you signed a contract called a fee agreement that allows the lawyer or law firm to collect a fee of 25%, or up to $6,000, from any disability back payments awarded to you. If you are close to your hearing date, your representative has spent time and resources preparing for your case and will likely not waive his or her right to the fee.
If you hire a new attorney, both attorneys will have to file a fee petition detailing the time spent on your case in order to get paid. If the fee petition is granted, the court is not bound by the 25% maximum fee; therefore, you may end up paying more in attorneys' fees than if you had stayed with your original attorney.
You must also be aware that even if you decide to fire your attorney, you are usually responsible for any out of pocket costs, such as copies of medical records, associated with preparing your case.
In some cases, you might feel you aren't able to work with your disability lawyer due to a personality conflict. If you think you could get along with a different disability lawyer, and your lawyer hasn't done much work on your case, you could ask your lawyer if he or she will withdraw from the case without collecting on the fee agreement (except for expenses incurred, such as paying for medical records). Your lawyer does not have to waive the fee under any circumstances, but may be willing to do it if the lawyer hasn't done much work on the case.
If your lawyer agrees, ask her to notify Social Security that she is withdrawing from the case and is waiving the fee. You should also notify Social Security that you don't want your current disability lawyer to represent you.
Because of the hassle and uncertainty involved with filing a fee petition with the SSA, most disability lawyers will not represent someone if another attorney has already entered his or her appearance in the matter, unless that attorney agrees to waive his or her fee.
If you are unhappy with your current representation, you should speak to your attorney and explain your dissatisfaction. Often, an honest conversation with your counsel will allay your concerns and avoid the hassle, risk, and expense involved in hiring a new disability attorney.