Does Having an Attorney Determine Whether You Win or Lose Your Social Security Disability Case?

Did you know you can increase your odds of winning your Social Security (SSA) Disability case by more than 50% if you are represented by an attorney? Simply put, that’s a dramatic difference and one that every Social Security disability applicant should heed.

Congressional and SSA’s own statistics confirm this statement is true. The statistic came to light in November 2001, during Congressional testimony provided by Congressman Robert T. Matsui of California. During the hearing Congressman Matsui provided the following testimony:

“Professional representation is a valuable-and indeed vital-service. The disability determination process is complex. Claimants without professional representation appear to be far less likely to receive the benefits to which they are entitled. For example, in 2000, 64% of claimants represented by an attorney, but only 40% of those without one, were awarded benefits at the hearing level.”[1]

At the same hearing, Congressman E. Clay Shaw, Jr. of Florida provided the following testimony:

“As many of you know, filing for Social Security benefits-especially disability benefits-is so complicated that many claimants must hire attorneys to guide them through the process.” [2]

Please understand I am not suggesting that you must have an attorney in order to win your disability case. People can and do win their cases on their own. In fact, SSA does not require you to have an attorney, you can represent yourself; but why on earth would you? Congressional and SSA’s own statistics show dramatic differences in the outcomes of cases depending on whether an attorney is involved.

I have debated for years on whether to write an article on why one should hire a disability attorney. I did not want the article to be viewed as self-serving for either myself or my profession. I am aware of the unfortunate stature attorneys hold in our society, some of which is deserved. I always enjoy the look in a person’s eyes when they learn I am an attorney; it is clear they are searching their mind to share the latest attorney joke…and most are very funny!

However, the testimony of Congressmen Matsui and Shaw confirms what SSA and many disability attorneys have known for years. With such a compelling statistic, it is my hope this article is viewed as educational, rather than self-serving.

So you know the difference a disability attorney can make in your case…what can do you do about it? For those of you who are now considering hiring an attorney, let me provide you with some basic information to assist you in your decision.

1. You only pay an Attorney’s fee if you win your Case!

The number one question on people’s minds is, “How can I afford an attorney when I am not working?” The answer is simple…you only pay the attorney a fee if you win your case. You do not pay an attorney upfront. Generally, every disability attorney will represent you on a contingency fee basis. Simply put, this means you do not pay an attorney’s fee unless you win your case. Thus, everyone seeking disability benefits can afford an attorney. The question you should be asking yourself is “can I afford not to be represented by an attorney?”

2. General information regarding the attorney’s fees

The SSA and federal law set the attorney’s fees in disability cases. The standard fee agreement most attorneys use states the attorney’s fee is contingent upon winning your case. The fee is 25% of all past due benefits for you and your family, up to a maximum of $5,300, or whichever is less. Some attorneys may use a fee agreement which provides for a maximum fee of $7,000.

It is worth noting that on February 1, 2002, SSA increased the maximum standard fee amount to $5,300 from $4,000. This is the first time the fee has been increased since 1990 and simply represented a cost of living adjustment.

Thus, the attorney’s fees are usually only a fraction of the benefits you receive; depending on the amount of your past due benefits, it can be a very small fraction.

3. What is my case worth if I win?

The answer to this question depends on a number of factors including…how long you have been disabled, when or if you will ever return to work, the amount of your monthly benefit and whether you have eligible dependents.

For example, if you are 45 years old, your monthly benefit amount is $1,000, and you do not return to work before age 65; your case can easily be worth $250,000! This amount does not include the value of the Medicare or Medicaid insurance you will be eligible for after being found disabled. As many of you know, the price of medical insurance in middle age, with pre-existing medical conditions, can be staggering and not affordable. This of course assumes that an insurance company is willing to insure you.

4. Why you increase your odds of winning your case if you hire a Disability Attorney

There are many reasons hiring an attorney can significantly increase the odds of winning your case. One significant reason is that disability attorneys understand the complicated laws and regulations that determine success or failure. Two questions I always ask potential clients are, “Do you know what you need to prove in order to win your case?” and “If you do not know, how are you going to go about proving it?

You should hire an attorney who specializes in Social Security disability law. Furthermore, I believe it is important to hire an attorney who has expertise in representing people with your type of diagnosis. It is important that your attorney believes in your case and that they can win it. I suggest you ask the attorney how much experience they have with your type of diagnosis and how often do they win? Any disability attorney should be willing to provide you with this information.

5. What an Attorney should do to increase the odds of winning your case

From the beginning, the attorney should set forth a strategy that you both of you should follow to win your case. It is critical to understand what is necessary to prove your case and how you will go about winning it. The sooner you know this, the sooner you can take steps to execute the strategy and thereby increase your odds of winning. Thus, you should consult with and hire an attorney either when you file your claim or as soon thereafter as possible.

Based on my experience in representing clients nationwide (remember Social Security is federal law and not state specific); literally none of them had a strategy or plan on how to win their case before they hired me. This is important because most of them were simply “doing whatever SSA told them to do” while their claim was being processed. This included seeing SSA’s doctors for an examination that often results in a denial of their claim.

It is important to understand that SSA is only obligated to investigate your case and is not charged with approving it. I am not suggesting that SSA denies every claim; I’m simply stating that my experience after having successfully represented many clients whose claims were previously denied by SSA because evidence was not obtained, not reviewed or SSA focused on what it wanted to in order to support a denial.

In conclusion, if you are contemplating filing a claim for SSA Disability benefits, I encourage you to consult with an attorney as soon as possible to help you understand the process. The consultation should not cost you anything except your time. By understanding the process and having a strategy, you will significantly increase your odds of winning your case.

Congressional and Social Security’s statistics do not lie – it is penny wise and pound foolish not to hire a disability attorney.

[1] November 16, 2001 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, Testimony of Honorable Robert T. Matsui of California, regarding the Attorney Fee Payment System Improvement Act 2001.

[2] November 16, 2001 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, Testimony of Honorable E. Clay Shaw of Florida, regarding the Attorney Fee Payment System Improvement Act 2001.

Should You Create a Power of Attorney?

There are some few exceptions as the right to get married or vote. As an individual and principal you can grant unlimited power known as a general power of attorney.

The attorney-in-fact generally can only carry out an action if the individual and principal can exercise the same power. This stops the attorney-in-fact from acting when the principal is incapacitated. If an individual is unable to sign a contract the attorney-in-fact is also unable to sign a contract for the principal. But if you have a Durable Power of Attorney the attorney-in-fact is allowed to execute the powers granted by the principal even after the principal becomes ill.

At the Time of Death A Power of Attorney Ends

Whether you have a Durable Power of Attorney or you do not, at the time of death all power of attorney ends. If the individual and principal has granted attorney-in-fact rights to perform certain tasks, upon death all those rights are terminated.

How A Power of Attorney is Revoked

As long as you are alive you have the power to revoke the power of attorney. To revoke the power of attorney you must contact your attorney-in-fact that the power of attorney has been revoked. You can also detail at what date the power of attorney will expire.

A Springing Power of Attorney

A power of attorney can be designed to spring into effect if you become disabled or at some predetermined time or event. This is a springing power of attorney. The springing power of attorney prevents your attorney-in-fact from using the powers while you are able to take care of them yourself.

The attorney-in-fact must prove that the individual where your powers are concerned is in fact disabled and can not perform the tasks needed. You will need a written document from the physician or hospital that you are incapacitated.

It should be a current document and not several days old or it could be questioned as to whether you are still ill or disabled. So to save yourself, added turmoil, and be required to furnish a more current document take care of it the same day.

Instant Power of Attorney

Your powers of attorney can become effective immediately, as soon as it is signed, This is the type of power of attorney people use when they will be in another country for a long period of time and will not be available to handle such matters. It is generally a durable power of attorney that will expire in one year. You can also have provisions built into the powers of attorney will you can extent it. If you become incompetent or ill when the power of attorney expires, and you’re attorney-in-fact or agent, will need to go before the court to get approval to continue.

Medical Decisions

When you have a durable power of attorney it can be used to allow your attorney-in-fact the power to make medical decisions in case you become incapacitated. Most individuals have separate power of attorneys for medical and financial affairs. Sometimes the same person handles both powers of attorneys.

How to Choose your Attorney- In-Fact

Since this is one of the most important documents of your life it goes without saying it should be the most trusted of people with impeccably credentials who understand your wishes And how to handle your business. One other thing to bear in mind is when you give someone this power they have the ability to do as they wish, and may not follow your instructions. That’s why you must be very careful. When it comes to money sometimes people do things for their own interest. Your attorney-in-fact is a fiduciary. Which means that they are there to manage your assets to help you, and not themselves. The person you choose will be called under difficult circumstances. So generally it will be a family member or a close friend and sometimes an attorney you trust and respect. If you do not have a power of attorney in place it will fall to the laws of the state.

Online Attorney Directories – How to Evaluate a Legal Directory on the Internet

There are a number of websites that purport to have lawyers waiting to help. The reality is most of these websites are only attorney directories created by marketing teams who have no understanding of the law or, in many cases, who have no connection to a real lawyer or law firm.

These online attorney directories often end up in the top of the search engine results. The marketing teams help ensure this happens. This leaves you, the consumer who is looking for an attorney, with the obstacle of having to evaluate the online attorney directory. Here are some tips for evaluating online lawyer directories as you search for the right lawyer.

  • Determine whether the directory is a paid directory.
  • Paid directories are those that require lawyers to pay a fee to be listed in the directory. Paid directories usually have the most accurate contact and practice area information. Attorneys who pay to be included in the directory have an interest in making sure their information is correct.

    The downside to these directories is they may have very few attorney listings. This raises the question as to what types of attorneys pay to be listed on an online legal directory. Many successful attorneys do not have to incur this expense in order to carry out their trade. Other very good attorneys do incur this expense, but most of them do not do it regularly. For example, attorneys who are just starting out, are changing practice areas, or are relocating to another state may initially use these directories as they establish their new law practices. Is this the type of lawyer you want to hire? If so, the paid legal directory may be just what you are looking for.

  • Scrutinize free attorney directories.
  • Not all free online lawyer directories are bad. There are some very good ones. The best online legal directories usually have some direct involvement by attorneys themselves. For example, many free online attorney directories have forums where lawyers answer free legal questions. This allows the attorneys to get the word out about their practice and their expertise, while helping point folks in the right direction.

    Some other free online attorney directories focus on compiling contact information for lawyers. Most of these directories compile the information without any direction or input from the lawyers who are listed in the directory. These directories stand out as they usually just provide a listing of attorneys. These directories often scrape the information off of legitimate websites with the sole aim of generating advertising dollars for themselves.

    A recent trend is for these websites to have an attorney profile page that can be “claimed” by the attorney. The purpose here is to bring visitors to the directory using the search engines thereby generating advertising revenues for the directory. The directory may also hope the lawyer will notice the profile and “claim” it by entering their information. Very few attorneys actually claim profiles in this manner. Indeed, many of them have to contact legal directories and ask to have their names removed from the directory. Thus, you should avoid any attorney directory that indicates attorneys should “claim” their profile.

  • Avoid attorney rating sites.
  • Attorneys help clients with a multitude of legal issues and the facts of each case are different. The work of attorneys cannot be boiled down to a number or other rating. These rating systems often try to gauge an attorney by the number of years the attorney has been in practice. Older is not always better. Statistics show that most complaints filed with state bar associations are filed against attorneys who have practiced a number of years. These complaints relate to failing to provide quality client service to failing to keep abreast of the law. While it is somewhat rare to see the same complaints filed against younger attorneys, this has no bearing on how the attorney is likely to handle your particular legal matter. You should avoid attorney directories that rate attorneys in this manner.

  • Avoid the attorney directory that includes prices.
  • Attorneys are highly regulated. The attorney professionalism rules for every state say that attorneys must charge reasonable fees. What is reasonable for a particular matter is dependent upon a great number of factors. Unless you have provided all of this information to the attorney directory, it should not quote prices. This seems like common sense, but it needs to be said. Avoid attorney directories that include pricing information.

    These steps should help you screen the online attorney directories you find in the search engine results.