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Can a Lawyer Help My Social Security Disability Appeal?

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
July 13, 2022  ·  5 min read

So you’ve successfully appealed your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) case, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) scheduled a hearing. 

You might be wondering what you can do to prepare for the hearing and win your case. If you’re considering hiring a lawyer to represent you, you’re on the right track. 

Your chances of winning disability benefits with a lawyer are three times higher than going it alone. By the hearing stage, 83% of applicants have legal representation

Still, some people don’t hire a lawyer because they simply don’t know how to, think they can’t afford it, or are unsure how they’ll be able to help.

Here we’ll explain how a lawyer for a social security disability appeal will help position you for success with your case and how to find the best one to represent you if you choose.

How can disability appeal lawyers help?

What’s great about working with a disability lawyer is that there are no upfront fees, which means there’s virtually no risk in having legal representation. 

Disability lawyers only take a fee if you win your case. Their commission comes from your benefits earnings and can only go up to 25% of your back pay or $7,200, whichever is lower. Your back pay is all of the compensation for the months between the onset of your disability and your approval.

Lawyers can help at any point in the process but are crucial leading up to a hearing.  

They will make sure the judge has all of your medical records

You want to ensure that the judge has all your medical evidence. The medical evidence includes treatments, specialists' visits, X-rays, and testing. 

It may be difficult for you to gather, organize and send all of this information to the SSA before your hearing. You may even miss medical records that could make or break your case. 

Your lawyer will make sure all medical records make their way to the judge before your hearing. 

Disability lawyers will prep you for your case

Each disability lawyer handles case preparation differently, but they will work with you before your hearing to prepare you for the questions they think you will face. 

The judge will ask detailed questions regarding your pain levels, previous work history, and day-to-day life. While they are not trying to trick you, they will ask questions that seem insignificant to you but are critical to determining if your condition is severe enough to prevent you from working. 

Without preparation, you may get nervous and respond with inaccurate information that may hinder your chances of winning. 

What to expect from a disability lawyer during the hearing preparation

Many lawyers prefer to practice with you a week before your hearing date to keep the information fresh. 

Here are a few ways they will help you prepare for a hearing:

  • They will verify the hearing details, including who will be there, their roles, and the time, date, and location.

  • Since most hearings occur over the phone, they will want to make sure you identify an area of your home that is quiet and free from distractions to take the call. 

  • They will provide you with sample questions the judge may ask and coach you on how to respond. They’ll make sure your answer is 100 percent honest but that you don’t add unnecessary details that distract the judge. 

  • They’ll reassure you that they have your best interest in mind and that they are your advocate for disability benefits. 

Lawyers will cross-examine the vocational expert

A vocational expert will be present at your hearing to answer the judge’s questions regarding what type of work someone with your limitations could perform. 

The dialogue between the judge and vocational expert will include phrases, job codes, and acronyms a lay person won’t understand, but a lawyer will. 

The lawyer will skillfully cross-examine the vocational expert to challenge their statements. 

For example, the vocational expert may state that someone with a limitation like yours could perform a job in a job category that would accommodate that limitation. However, because the lawyer knows every detail about your unique situation, and the details of the job categories, they can strategically ask questions that prove the expert wrong.

Lawyers follow up for you after the hearing

Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a waiting game after the hearing. The law clerks have a mountain of paperwork to prepare to process the judge’s decision, so it can take weeks or months to find out if you’ve won. 

When you work with an experienced lawyer, they’ve been to enough hearings to give their educated guess on the outcome and give you some indication of how the decision went. If they don’t, you can ask them. 

You’re not left in the dark wondering what the future holds (even if it’s just a fair estimate of the future). 

Another benefit of having legal representation is that your lawyer will receive the decision electronically before you receive it in the mail. They will call you right away to let you know the outcome. 

If the decision is in your favor, they’ll let you know the timeline on receiving your benefits. If the judge denies your case, your lawyer will discuss options for further appeal, like going to the Appeals Council or Federal District Court.

How to find a disability lawyer 

Having the right lawyer on your side is crucial for a disability hearing. They’ll coach you through the judge’s questions and ask you questions that will strengthen your case. 

You can search on your own for a lawyer by researching online or asking for recommendations from friends, family, or colleagues. Of course, like with any occupation, there are good and bad lawyers, so you’ll need to vet anyone you are considering thoroughly.

If you want help finding a disability lawyer for free, Atticus can help. We’ve vetted hundreds of firms nationwide, and can match you with a great attorney within 48 hours.

Ready to get benefits today?

Frequently asked questions about disability lawyers

What does a disability lawyer do?

A disability lawyer can help fill out your application, gather medical records, schedule medical care, and appeal denials. Lawyers have access to information on your case that the SSA may not share with you, and they’ll know how to best present your situation in a court hearing with an SSA judge (most people need a hearing). Applicants with lawyers are three times more likely to win benefits. Read more about what disability lawyers actually do for you.

Can you win disability benefits without a lawyer?

A lawyer isn’t required and you can win benefits without a lawyer. However, the process is complicated and technical — especially when you get to a court hearing. Working with a good lawyer triples your chances of winning an appeal.

How much does a disability lawyer cost?

Disability lawyers have a standard fee of 25% of your first check, up to a maximum of $7,200. Your lawyer only gets paid once and only if you win. If you don’t win benefits, you won’t pay anything. The fee can sound high but it comes out of your first check, which includes the months (or even years) of back pay that you’re entitled to. Learn more about disability lawyer fees.

How long does a disability appeal take with a lawyer?

The average disability appeal takes more than a year. Having a lawyer won’t slow down that process. In some cases, like if you hire them right before a hearing, your lawyer might request a later hearing date to better prepare for your case. But lawyers don’t drag out cases because they only get paid when you do.

Is there a difference between an SSDI lawyer and an SSI lawyer?

Disability lawyers handle both SSDI and SSI cases, but many do focus on SSDI. To find a disability lawyer near you, use our 2-minute disability benefits quiz.

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

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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