6 Top Lawyers Answer: How Can I Strengthen My Disability Case?
December 13, 2022 · 5 min read
When a lawyer is deciding whether or not to take on a new client, there are a number of factors they consider—beyond whether that person technically qualifies for social security disability benefits.
Sometimes, people who are eligible still have a hard time finding a lawyer who will take their case. This can be frustrating. You're three times as likely to win benefits with a lawyer, and 83% of people have legal representation at the hearing stage.
We asked our top attorneys why they turn down cases. Plus, we've provided some tips for ensuring you get the best possible legal representation for you.
What are the main reasons you decide not to take clients?
Paul Burkhalter | Morgan & Weisbrod LLP
“When deciding what cases to take for a Social Security Disability claim, a key consideration is whether the potential client has treatment for his or her condition. While it might seem apparent to that person that he or she cannot work, we need treatment records to convince SSA. If someone has a serious condition, but cannot afford treatment, we hope to tell them about clinics that provide mental and medical services at no or low cost, so they can obtain treatment. I know it seems bizarre, but even if you are missing a limb, the SSA will want medical records to prove it. Even if we can all see that the limb is missing!”
Paul is board certified in Social Security Disability Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and has been with Morgan & Weisbrod for thirty years and is one of the most experienced SSD attorneys in the country. We love working with Paul because he really understands what makes a disability case viable and has amazing follow-through with clients.
Atticus tip: For help finding free or sliding-scale fee primary care, visit https://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/. To see if you're eligible for Medicaid, get in touch with your state Medicaid agency.
Sarah E. White Park | Westmoreland, Patterson, Moseley & Hinson, LLP
“Two concerns I have when I consider a SSA disability case are age and amount of time out of work/still working. When people are under the age of 50, it’s much harder to find them disabled, though there are obviously exceptions to this rule.
When I’m working with individuals in their 20s and 30s, I very carefully consider if it is likely a very young adult will improve and/or should try vocational rehabilitation to see if there is another type of work an individual can perform.”
Sarah is the Vice President of the National Organization for Social Security Claimants and Representatives. We love working with Sarah because she is on the cutting edge of everything in Social Security Disability and is deeply passionate about systemic changes.
Atticus tip: If you are under 50 and aren’t sure whether or not your condition will improve, try asking your doctor about what realistic goals you might be able to reach in recovery and in what timeframe; as well as whether you have reached maximum medical improvement (often called MMI). If you will be unable to work for at least a year, you may still be eligible for benefits even if you expect to recover in the long run.
“As a disability attorney I am always trying to balance my desire to help as many people obtain Social Security Disability benefits with the reality that in certain situations clients don’t have a meaningful chance of getting approved.
While quantity of treatment is important, so is quality of the treatment. For each condition there’s generally a maximum level of medical treatment (e.g. Surgery for a back conditions, Keppra prescription for Epilepsy, Insulin for diabetes). The gatekeepers for these high-level interventions are specialists. If a person does not see a specialist it can often severely reduce their odds of getting approved. This is even more important when a person is under the age of 50.”
Dustin is a partner at Packard Law Firm and was named a Texas Rising Star by Super Lawyers. We love working with Dustin because he is willing to give almost any claimant a shot at getting disability benefits and, even if he can’t take your case, he will almost always provide advice on next steps.
Atticus tip: If you aren’t currently seeing a specialist, ask your primary care physician for a referral to one. If your insurance doesn’t cover it or if you can’t afford it, you may consider trying a teaching hospital, which sometimes offer specialist care at reduced prices.
Michael A. Liner, Esq. | Liner Legal
“It’s difficult to take on a case if somebody has already received an unfavorable decision from a judge. I don’t mean someone who’s applied and been denied before, but somebody who had a hearing and got denied. This is mostly a challenge if they can't explain how their symptoms have worsened or progressed since they last spoke before a judge. I have to demonstrate that your condition got significantly worse or that there's been change. And that's a social security requirement, not a Michael requirement.”
Michael Liner is one of the top disability attorneys in the country. We love working with Michael because he offers his clients an incredible level of service. Liner Legal has phone coverage 24/7 so there is always someone there to answer the phone and talk to a client or potential client.
Atticus tip: A good way to track this is by keeping copies of your medical records that show a different or worsening condition since your hearing. Many states have rules about when medical offices can destroy records, so keep your own copies. Also, be sure to keep records of any failed work attempts since your last hearing.
Ida Comerford | Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller, PLLC
“My job is to help our clients have a strong case for disability benefits. Sometimes it pains me that I cannot help someone fight for disability benefits because they have not gotten medical treatment for the issues they intend to allege as disabling. While some disabling conditions cannot be medically treated, most can. Without a diagnosis and treatment for a person’s medical conditions, it is incredibly hard to prove a case.”
Ida has been practicing Social Security Disability Law with Kenneth Hiller since 2010 and has previously done legal advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We love working with Ida because she loves to take cases that others might call “unwinnable” and uses her intricate knowledge and extensive experience to try to find a way forward.
Atticus tip: If you have not yet received medical treatment for your condition, make an appointment with a primary care physician right away!
Chris Best, CX Director + Attorney | Atticus
“It can sometimes be hard for clients and lawyers to work together when both sides have unrealistic expectations of the other and sometimes we see cases get dropped because of that. For example, not responding to phone calls or requests from your lawyer or expecting that they can force SSA to process your application faster than everyone else’s. For a case to be successful, both parties need to work together to communicate effectively and set realistic expectations of each other. The lawyer should definitely be setting the tone and leading the charge for a successful relationship, but it can’t be done without a client cooperating and communicating with their lawyer.”
Chris has been the director of client experience at Atticus since early 2021. He is a graduate of Stanford Law School and previously worked in big law. Clients love working with Chris because he is deeply empathetic and will remember a client’s story months later (and he serves hundreds of clients).
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Sarah is an attorney at Atticus Law, P.C. Prior to joining Atticus, she was a civil public defender in Brooklyn, NY and a business reporter in Seattle, WA. She is a graduate of the University of Washington School of Law.
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