Ask Atticus spotlights real stories and real people fighting to win their disability cases. In this month’s column, find out what happens when disability lawyers drop clients, and how to identify the right representative for your case.
For the last few years, I’ve suffered from significant back pain that makes it impossible to maintain a job. Recently I’ve begun to pursue disability benefits, and I reached out to a local disability law firm. At first, it seemed promising. They took my case details and let me know a lawyer would reach out again to get the details for my application. But, out of the blue I received a call from the office letting me know they were dropping my case–with no explanation!
I don’t know why they dropped me or how to find another lawyer. Atticus, help!
Disabled and Determined
Dear Disabled but Determined,
Don’t despair. If the firm dropped your case, it means they might not have been the champion you needed.
First, contact the firm and ask their reason for dismissal. If they felt the case was too complex, it’s helpful to understand why; there might be something you can do to strengthen your case before finding another lawyer. Or, perhaps it’s more simple than that, such as a heavy caseload.
Next: Think back to any paperwork you might have signed. Did you already sign a contingency fee agreement? If so, you may have agreed to pay this attorney a portion of your first check, once your disability claim is approved. You’ll want to ask them, or the law office, to waive this fee (as they should, since the decision was theirs, and you’re so early on in the process).
If your original law firm won’t waive their fee, your new lawyer can file a fee petition. This is a lot of work for your new law firm—often more work than submitting your actual disability application. It also means the second lawyer could be paid less, since the fee will be split with the first lawyer. For this reason, many lawyers are resistant to take on a case when your fee is still promised to your first firm.
Assuming the fee has been waived, your next step is to move on and find the right representation. It’s best to work with a lawyer from the very start, before you even file your application. Some lawyers may reject your case if there’s not enough time for adequate prep, so reach out as quickly as you can.
As you search, here’s a few characteristics to look for in a disability lawyer:
Experience. Look for firms that have represented (and won) many disability cases in the past. It’s best if they only practice disability law and are up-to-date with any developments at the Social Security Administration.
Access. Make sure you’re able to talk to the actual lawyer, and aren’t stuck communicating solely through a gatekeeper, like a front-office admin. And when you do speak with the lawyer, they should be respectful toward you and your loved ones. Disability cases can take months, if not years, and you’ll want a solid partner.
Follow-through. In simple terms, they should do what they say they will. If they’re late to follow-up or miss critical deadlines, that can hurt your case. Good lawyers will keep track of deadlines, reach out in a timely manner and be available to answer questions. (Though, understand they’re busy and may not be able to communicate daily.)
Responsiveness to feedback. As with most relationships, there will be times when disagreements come up. While your lawyer may not always agree with you, they should listen to your feedback and be open to honest conversation about the strategy.
Finding a lawyer isn’t always easy. Social security disability lawyers are some of the most in-demand legal professionals in the United States. But hopefully, after talking with your last firm, you'll have new insights that will make the search easier.
Thanks for writing, Disabled and Determined. Keep at it.
PS: If it feels overwhelming to start your disability lawyer search from scratch, we can help. When you call Atticus, you’ll get access to free legal advice on your case and if needed, we’ll connect you to one of the trusted lawyers in our network. Our help is always free—we’ll never send you a bill. Start here.
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Sydney Hershenhorn is an attorney on Atticus’s Client Experience team. She‘s a licensed attorney, a graduate of New York Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking disability benefits. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and spending time in nature.
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