Ask Atticus: How Often Should I Talk to My Disability Lawyer?
November 30, 2023 · 2 min read
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Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and have helped over 10,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.
I’m in the process of applying for disability benefits and I recently signed with a lawyer. The lawyer promised they’d help me with every step of the process — but I haven’t heard from them in weeks. I’m getting worried about where things are and whether my lawyer is going to hold up their end of the bargain. Is this normal? I’d expected my attorney to be in contact much more often. How often should I talk to my disability lawyer?
Dear Radio Silence,
First of all, don’t panic! We understand that when you’re anxiously waiting for a response on your disability application, it can be scary to feel like your lawyer has exited stage left. But we promise, they haven’t.
Applying for disability benefits takes a long time. It takes most disability applicants an average of two years to get approved and start receiving benefits. Many disability applicants might not talk to their lawyer for months at a time because there’s simply nothing to talk about — you’re just waiting for the SSA to get back to you.
If your lawyer hasn’t contacted you in weeks or months, that’s okay. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You’re going to talk to your lawyer less often than you probably expect. So be prepared to hurry up and wait.
I bet you've got some more questions, and we have answers:
When should you talk to your lawyer?
Of course, at certain stages during the disability application process, your lawyer should be reaching out to make sure you’re on the same page. For example, you’ll need to talk to your lawyer:
Before signing anything. It should go without saying that you want to talk to your lawyer before signing anything legally binding, such as a fee agreement or retainer agreement.
After receiving an update from the Social Security Administration. Whenever you receive any communication from the SSA, you and your lawyer should connect. The SSA might contact you to deny or approve your application, ask for more medical information, or notify you about a disability hearing date.
Ahead of your hearing. Once your disability hearing is on the calendar, a big part of your lawyer’s job is to meet with you. They’ll help you understand what will happen during the hearing and how you should prepare for the judge’s questions.
If you have questions. Communication is a two-way road — don’t be afraid to reach out to your lawyer if you have questions. The process of getting disability is long and confusing, and your lawyer should be reachable to answer any of your questions.
Does your lawyer get updates before you?
It might seem like your lawyer isn’t on top of things if they are unaware of the latest update about your case from the Social Security Administration. In most cases, the SSA will update you and your lawyer at the same time.
Don’t worry if you get updates before your lawyer does. You might receive a notification on your online SSA account before it reaches your lawyer’s inbox, or updates sent via snail mail might have different delivery times.
Your lawyer should reach out as soon as they get an official notice from the SSA. They’ll act in time to take any necessary actions — like filing for reconsideration or requesting a hearing — by the required deadlines to keep the process moving. But if you have any questions, or notice an update in your online account but haven’t heard from your lawyer yet, reach out to confirm.
Can you fire your lawyer?
You can fire your disability lawyer at any time. However, we don’t recommend this. Even if you fire your lawyer, you might still have to pay them. Plus, it can be challenging to find a new lawyer in a timely manner.
As long as your lawyer is communicating when necessary, hitting deadlines, and capable of representing you well, it’s probably in your best interest to stick with them to see it through.
PS: We know anticipating the SSA’s decision can be overwhelming — it can feel like you’re waiting til the cows come home. Check out these resources to help you build a financial and social safety net in the meantime.
Get personalized advice on your appeal. Talk with our team today.
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Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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