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4 Reasons a Disability Lawyer Won’t Drag Out Your Case

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
November 8, 2022  ·  4 min read

If you’re thinking about hiring a lawyer for your Social Security disability case, no doubt you have a lot of questions about how they get paid and whether they’ll truly be on your side. Lawyers often get a bad rap but a good lawyer has your interests in mind and can make your disability application and appeal go much more smoothly. Below are four reasons why disability lawyers are motivated to help you win your case as quickly as possible.

1. Lawyers must act in a client's best interest

A disability lawyer is required by law to act in the best interests of their clients. Extending a disability case for months just to increase their own pay would not be in a client's best interests. If a lawyer were to do that, they could face disciplinary action and a client could possibly sue them for malpractice.

Related: What do disability lawyers do that I can't?

2. Disability lawyers only get paid when you win

Understanding how lawyers get paid is the useful for understanding their motivations. Disability lawyers are paid a contingency fee, which means you only pay them if they win your case. Dragging out your case would only force a lawyer to wait longer to get paid. And if they do anything that could make your case harder to win, they're decreasing their own chances of getting paid.

3. A lawyer’s fee is capped by law

If you win your benefits claim, your disability lawyer will receive 25% of your first paycheck and their fee is also capped at $7,200, by law, in 2023. So even if your case takes years, your lawyer can only earn up to the same maximum amount.

A disability lawyer’s payment structure can’t change either. So if you’re referred to your lawyer by another law firm — like when Atticus matches you with a disability attorney — both get some of the fee, but your lawyer can’t charge you a higher rate because of it.

More context: How a disability lawyer’s fee works

Remember, you only pay a fee to your disability lawyer if you win your case. The SSA then automatically takes their fee out of your first disability check. That’s usually your biggest check since it includes back pay. Back pay is the money you were owed during all the time it took from your initial application until your approval — minus five months that the SSA doesn’t pay you for because it’s considered the reasonable processing time for an application.

As an example, if it takes 18 months from the time you submitted your disability application until you win your claim, your first benefits check will include back pay worth 13 months of benefits. Any lawyer fee you owe will come directly out of that check. Then your monthly payments will arrive according to the regular SSI and SSDI payment schedules.

Still have questions? Try our guide on how much disability lawyers cost.

4. Longer cases mean more work and higher risk

Since the lawyer’s fee comes out of your back pay and a longer case means more back pay, you may be asking why a lawyer wouldn’t try to drag out your case to get a bigger cut. But dragging out a case unnecessarily increases the risk that your claim is denied. Lawyers won’t make that gamble because it could result in a lost payment and an unhappy customer — a lose-lose outcome.

Here are a few specific reasons why a lawyer won’t benefit from a longer case:

  • The longer the case, the more work for the lawyer. Longer cases tend to have multiple appeals or court hearings. This takes work for the lawyer’s office — work they may not get paid for until a year or more after you hire them. (Remember, it can take over two years to get SSDI benefits after applying.)

  • Longer cases can mean losing clients. The most effective way for lawyers to earn more is to help more clients win their disability claims. Dragging out one person’s case can prevent them from having the time and resources to take on additional clients.

  • Slightly increasing their payment isn't worth the risk. A lawyer can’t purposely drag out a case for as long as they want, but let’s say a lawyer was able to extend a case by three months. That extra time might increase their payment by a few hundred dollars, but forcing a case to take longer will unnecessarily increase the risk of getting a denial. Since a denial means the lawyer won’t get paid, trying to delay for a slightly higher payout isn’t worth it for the lawyer.

How a good disability lawyer helps your case

While a lawyer can’t make the Social Security Administration move any faster, they can help you build a stronger case that’s more likely to get approved. By working with a lawyer on your disability case, your chance of winning will be three times higher than applying by yourself. 

Here are five benefits you gain from having a lawyer help you:

  • Guidance on your case and how to improve your chance of winning. Lawyers understand what the SSA looks for when granting your claim. They’ve seen hundreds or even thousands of cases and can apply lessons learned to help you win.

  • Management of your application, paperwork and deadlines. The disability application is comprehensive and lengthy, with many legal nuances that are hard to decipher. A lawyer will submit this application for you, making sure no mistakes are made that slow down the process from the get-go.

  • Obtaining the right medical records and documentation. A lawyer will know what type of supporting evidence you need for your claim. They might suggest you see a specialist or obtain specific records.

  • Navigating appeals. Things get more complicated if you’re rejected and enter the appeals process. If more information is needed from the SSA, you only have 10 days to turn this paperwork around. A lawyer can help make the appeal process run smoothly.

  • Representation at your hearing. Your appeal process may include a legal hearing. A lawyer will help present your case to the judge and help the hearing go successfully.

Where to find a good disability lawyer

Finding the right lawyer can take time and know-how. At Atticus, we’ve built a trusted network of lawyers so you don’t have to do the research. To get started, fill out our free 2-minute disability quiz. Then we’ll reach out to learn more about your situation and connect you to a lawyer who’ll be by your side the whole way.

Triple your chances of getting approved. Get matched with a top disability lawyer 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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