What should a claimant actually look for when searching for a good Social Security disability attorney? The very first thing you want to know, even before you ask a question is: How are you treated over the phone? Are you treated well? Are you welcomed? Or are you just a file number? You need to understand that hiring a Social Security disability attorney will be a long-term relationship, and whoever you decide to hire will be with you for a long time. You're kinda getting married to them for a couple of years. So you want to make sure that you're dealing with someone or an office that makes you feel comfortable and you do feel welcomed, so that's number one.
A very important question you want to ask, which most people don't realize is this: If I hire your firm, will a lawyer represent me at my hearing? You would think that if you called a law firm, you'd get a lawyer. However that's not always the case. Many firms, national and otherwise, will send an advocate to the hearing with you. Now, under the Social Security rules, you do not have to be represented by a lawyer. A non-attorney representative can represent you. There is no benefit to being represented by an advocate rather than a lawyer. They will charge you the same fee, yet they are not as well-trained or as well-educated in Social Security disability as an attorney.
You also want to ask, with the law firm, how do I communicate with you? You want to know the firm's communication policy, how often can you talk to them, how often can you expect to hear from them, and who will you be dealing with? Will you be dealing with an assistant? An intake specialist? A paralegal? More often than not, you will be dealing with a staff member rather than the attorney. They tend to handle the day-to-day processes.
Another question you might have is how do Social Security and disability attorneys get paid? Is this an expensive process? It is not. The claimant has no pay as you go expenses. These are on a contingent fee basis, so just like you hear on TV, if the attorney doesn’t win, they don't get paid. The attorney does not get paid until the client gets paid. Their fee is a percentage of any back payment that the client receives.
A Social Security disability case can take up to two years. Many people ask “is it even worth it?” The answer to that is it is worth it. Here’s why: once someone is approved for disability they're eligible for a back payment from the date their disability began, or a year before the date you applied. From that date until the date Social Security finds that they're disabled, that would be the period for which the claimant should calculate their back pay. They’re eligible for monthly payments until they get better, go back to work, or they reach the age of retirement. During this time they are also eligible for medical insurance, which under the Social Security program is Medicare. The attorney’s fee comes out of the back payment. When Social Security calculates the back payment, they will deduct the fee directly from that, send the fee to the attorney, and they send the rest of the lump sum payment directly to the client. The only other thing clients are responsible for if they win is to reimburse their attorney for the expenses they were charged to get the medical records.