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How to Get a Lawyer for a Social Security Disability Appeal

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
January 23, 2024  ·  1 min read
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The Social Security Administration denies 70% of initial disability applications. If you receive a denial letter, you can and should appeal the SSA’s decision about your disability case.

Working with a disability lawyer on your appeal increases your chances of winning benefits by three times. In this article, learn how a lawyer can help at every stage of the appeal process, and how to find a good lawyer.


Do I need a lawyer for a Social Security disability appeal?

No, the Social Security Administration does not require disability applicants to have a lawyer to file an appeal. However, working with a lawyer on an appeal greatly improves your chances of winning benefits. More than 80% of applicants have a lawyer for their disability hearing. Whether the SSA denied your application for medical or technical reasons, a lawyer can help you collect additional medical records, prepare for a hearing, and build a strong case for your appeal. 

4 levels of disability appeals

The Social Security Administration’s disability appeal process has four stages, though most applicants only go through the initial two stages. The four levels include:

  1. Reconsideration: If the SSA denies your initial disability application, you can request a reconsideration through your online Social Security account. You have 60 days from the date of your denial to file for reconsideration. 
  2. Administrative Law Judge hearing: If the SSA denies your reconsideration, you can appeal again, and your case will go on to a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Scheduling a hearing can take several months.
  3. Appeals Council review: If the ALJ does not decide in your favor, you can appeal. The Appeals Council reviews the ALJ hearing for any potential legal errors. At this stage, the chances of winning benefits are low. 
  4. Federal District Court. Finally, if the Appeals Council does not provide a favorable response, you can file a civil suit in a Federal district court. The odds of winning benefits here are extremely low. 
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How can a lawyer help with my disability appeal?

Working with a lawyer on your disability appeal has several advantages. If the SSA denies your initial application or appeal, a lawyer can:

  • Help collect up-to-date medical records to prove your disability
  • Ensure the information about work history and income on your application is accurate
  • Prepare for a judge’s questions at a disability hearing
  • Represent you at a disability hearing and cross-examine the vocational expert

What are the odds of winning an SSDI appeal?

The odds of winning benefits are greater in the reconsideration and hearing stages. In 2022, just 20.7% of applicants received disability benefits with their initial disability application. On the other hand, 54% of applicants won benefits at the hearing stage.

You can read details on disability approval rates for initial applications, reconsiderations, and hearings in each state in our breakdown.


How to get a lawyer for an appeal

Bottom line: Your chances of winning disability benefits increase after the initial application stage, and a lawyer is your best bet to build a strong case as you prepare to file an appeal. You can find a lawyer through word-of-mouth recommendations and online searches — or you can call Atticus.

At Atticus, we work with professional, qualified lawyers with extensive disability experience. Take our 2-minute disability quiz and a team member will reach out to learn more about your case. If you are interested, Atticus can match you with a disability lawyer at no upfront cost — you only pay if you win benefits.

Frequently asked questions about disability appeals

Can you appeal if your SSI or SSDI claim is denied?

Yes, you can appeal if your disability benefits claim is denied. There are two types of denials: technical and medical. Technical denials are harder to appeal than medical denials, but both kinds of denials can be appealed. Learn more about denial letters.

What’s the deadline to file a disability appeal?

You have 60 days to file an appeal, starting from the day you receive your denial letter. The SSA assumes that you will receive your denial letter five days after it was mailed. You may be able to request longer to appeal, but it’s uncommon. If you miss this window, you’ll have to start your application all over again — so make sure you submit your appeal for reconsideration on time.

How long does a disability appeal take?

Based on SSA data, a disability appeal takes an average of 22 months. That’s just under two years from the time you appeal an initial denial until you get a final decision. Getting an initial SSDI or SSI decision takes about six months, on average.

How long does a disability appeal take with a lawyer?

Your disability appeal likely won’t take much or any longer with a lawyer. If you signed with your lawyer right before your hearing, they may request a delay so they have time to go over your case and prepare for your hearing. Otherwise, having a disability lawyer won’t make your case take longer.

How long does an SSDI reconsideration appeal take?

As of early 2024, the most recent data from the SSA shows that it takes an average of about six months to get a decision on a reconsideration. For more help, we’ve covered some tips for winning at reconsideration.

How long does it take to get a disability hearing?

As of early 2024, the average wait time for a disability hearing is 9.6 months, though the average wait at your local SSA hearing office could range from eight months to three years.

What’s the wait time for a disability hearing decision?

After your disability hearing, you should expect to wait an additional 1-3 months to get the judge’s decision. Though you could get a decision sooner. In some cases, you could even get a decision right after your hearing.

Related resources:

How to Find the Best Disability Lawyer (4 Questions You Should Ask Them)

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By Jackie Jakab

How to Write a Disability Appeal Letter: 8 Tips and Sample Letter

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By Jackie Jakab

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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