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.

Finding an Attorney – Know Some Basics

At some point in life, just about everybody is going to need an attorney for something. It may be as mundane as signing finance documents to close on the purchase of a home or writing a simple will to issues as serious as accident liability or criminal defense. Whatever the situation, it is important to have wise and competent counsel. The problem is, most of us don’t need the services of an attorney very often, may not know one, or know how to go about finding an attorney that’s right for you. Like most things in life, the more you know and the more you are prepared the better. Selecting an attorney is no different. Let’s start at the beginning and work through the process.

It may sound simple, but the starting point should be to define if and why you need an attorney. There are times when not having one, or putting off contacting one, can actually make things worse. Don’t fall for ads claiming you can write your own will, handle your own divorce or set up your own Limited Liability Company (LLC). It may be possible to so with some of the packages that are offered, but what you don’t get is important legal counsel to advise you of any legal vulnerabilities, how to be sure your rights are being protected or whether those documents will stand up if challenged in court. There’s some truth to the old axiom, “A person who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client.”

Once you’ve defined why you need an attorney, decide what type of attorney you need. Some attorneys are “general practitioners” while others are specialists in one particular area of law. If you are going to be involved in a personal injury case or a divorce, it may be wise to seek out an attorney who has experience specializing in that area.

Finding the right attorney is going to take a bit of work on your part. You can always start by checking the Yellow Pages or web sites, but the most effective means is to ask people you know or professionals in your community for referrals. You can also check with the state bar for a list of attorneys in your area as well as consult a legal referral service. Whatever you do or however you begin your search, you must do your due diligence. The more you know, the more satisfying the results of your search.

When you’ve narrowed your list of potential attorneys, the next step is to begin contacting them. That contact may be made by phone, or by scheduling a meeting, and many attorneys don’t charge for a “first consultation.” However, before scheduling such a meeting, be sure you understand whether there will be any fee involved. Through the process of choosing an attorney, remember that you are the consumer purchasing their services. Don’t be shy about asking questions. It’s always best to be a smart consumer.

During your search and consultation meetings, be prepared and specific about your expectations. If there are any documents that pertain to the situation you will be discussing, have them with you should they be needed for reference or verification of information. It is also a good time to talk about the attorney’s fees. Depending on the case, fees may differ. Some examples are:

Hourly: Many attorneys base their fees on an hourly rate. This can vary significantly depending on the experience of the attorney and the size of the law firm.

Flat Fee: Some cases may be charged a flat fee. For example, a simple divorce, bankruptcy or basic will may be handled for a set amount with any additional charges added like mileage or court fees.

Retainer: There may be times when an attorney asks for a certain amount up front to work as an account to draw against as the case progresses. In other instances, like for a business, an attorney may be retained on a continuing basis for an agreed upon fee.

Contingency: In this case, the attorney receives a percentage of the judgment as the fee. This is most common in personal injury and liability cases. The fee is paid once the court has set the judgment. If the judgment does not go in your favor, there is no fee.

Be sure you understand and agree to the fee schedule before signing an agreement with an attorney.

The last step in choosing an attorney is interviewing, checking credentials and references. When you hire an attorney, think of it as hiring an employee. In many ways, that’s what they are. They are working for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask about other cases they have had that are similar to yours and what was involved in the case. You need to know what the attorney’s previous experience is. He or she may have been practicing law for twenty years, but they may not have extensive experience with cases like yours.

Ask for references. A reputable attorney will not have a problem with this as long as giving you such information does not breech any attorney/client privilege. It may not be out of order to ask what the attorney’s success rate is. In some instances it may help give you an impression of their skill or complexity of the cases they handle. Ask what percent of the cases handled by their firm is normally devoted to cases like yours.

Be prepared to answer personal questions that may be relevant to your case such as information regarding your finances, marital status, lifestyle or criminal record. Should you be asked such questions, be truthful. Your attorney cannot be effective if you don’t tell them the truth, even if it’s embarrassing or you think it may hurt your case.

There can be a great deal involved in working with an attorney when you need one. It is important to find one you feel comfortable with and trust. Taking the steps discussed above is by no means a comprehensive list of everything you may need to do to select an attorney that is just right for you, but it will give you a good start.

Remember to be proactive, do your due diligence in your search and don’t be afraid to compare and ask questions. Choosing the right attorney is a big decision, but one that you can make with confidence when you have done your research and come prepared.

Find the Best Criminal Defense Attorney For Your Case

A person charged with a crime, particularly for the first time, may be in a real quandary. How do they find the best criminal attorney for my case? Many people will have family members or friends who know lawyers but is that the best attorney for their case? The Internet is saturated with attorneys claiming to be experts but how reliable are their websites? This article briefly outlines some of the factors you want to consider in choosing a criminal defense attorney.

  1. Find an attorney with experience. See how long the he or she has practiced law. Ensure they specialize in criminal law. Examine their website and pay particular attention to the types of cases he or she has handled.
  2. Hire an attorney with jury trial experience. Asked the attorney how many jury trials he or she has conducted. An attorney with jury trial experience provide you with the greatest opportunity for an acquittal if you are not guilty or if the prosecution cannot prove their case; and, the maximum leverage in negotiating a plea in a case in which you are guilty. Judges and prosecutors know those who are not afraid to try a case; those that carry the most respect and are offered the best dispositions for their clients.
  3. Ensure that the attorney has tried your type of case. Some may only specialize in murder cases; that is all they do. They may not be the best for your drunk driving or your drug case. Be sure that the attorney you have selected has successfully defended a case similar to yours.
  4. Make sure the attorney you are hiring will be the attorney who handles your case. If you go to a large law firm you may speak to a partner who specializes in your type of case; however, that partner may pass your case to an associate with less experience. Be sure the partner will be representing you in court.
  5. Look for a professional website. A successful attorney will have a professional looking website. If the attorney is a professional he will carry himself that way in all respects, including the way he presents himself to you, in the courtroom and on his website.
  6. Asked another attorney. Attorneys in private practice know attorneys who specialized in all fields of law. If you have a family attorney that handles your real estate or probate matters that attorney can probably identify an excellent criminal attorney.
  7. You get what you pay for. It is not always wise to find the cheapest attorney. Attorneys with little or no experience will often charge far less money than those attorneys with experience. Some attorneys will take a case with no intention of considering a trial. They will review it with the sole intent of having you plead guilty; the attorney should explore all avenues, including motions to dismiss, motions to suppress and trial, before having you change your plea to guilty.