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When (and How) To Fire Your Disability Lawyer

Jackie Jakab, Attorney
By Jackie Jakab, Attorney

If you’re unhappy with your disability lawyer, you can fire them at any time — but that doesn’t mean you should. 

Let’s take a look at when it’s in your best interest to fire your current legal representation, a few reasons to stick with your lawyer, and how to fire your disability lawyer if you decide it’s necessary. 

When should you fire your disability lawyer?

Like any other profession, there are unscrupulous disability lawyers. A really bad disability lawyer can leave your application in a precarious place, and it’s stressful to be paying for services you aren’t receiving. 

You don’t need to be best friends with your lawyer, but they are working for you. Here’s a quick “do or don’t” rubric for evaluating whether or not you

DO fire your disability lawyer if:

The social security disability claim process is long, so it’s important to have a good lawyer in your corner. Consider firing your disability lawyer in these circumstances: 

  • Lack of communication should be a red flag. Your lawyer should contact you regularly — especially when important deadlines are approaching. A bad lawyer won’t try very hard to reach you. Keep in mind, though, that the disability benefits process can take up to two years. It's normal to go long stretches without hearing from your attorney while SSA is processing your application. You should, however, have regular contact when something is happening. That means you should talk to an attorney regularly (or someone on their team) when filing your application, and as your hearing comes up. And you definitely should not be talking to your attorney for the first time a day before your hearing.
  • Don’t put up with someone who’s disrespectful toward you. Let go of a lawyer if they’re condescending or rude to you or anyone in your support system. 👋🏻
  • Gatekeeping can also be an issue. If you’re only able to chat with the receptionist (never the lawyer), that’s troublesome, especially if they don't know the answers to your question. Note: This doesn’t mean you should expect to speak to the lawyer every time you have a question. If you have a simple question such as "What's the deadline for this appeal?" and the receptionist can answer you, that’s great. With some firms, you’ll speak with a knowledgable case manager, and only really need to engage with your lawyer at the hearing stage.
  • Missing a deadline is a huge problem. If you have a deadline, and you can’t get a hold of your lawyer, it’s time to consider looking for help elsewhere.

DON’T fire your disability lawyer if:

Most disability lawyers are super busy and have a lot of clients, so it’s important to be realistic with your expectations. 

You might want to keep your lawyer if: 

  • They’re communicating when it’s important to do so.If it takes a day or two for your disability lawyer to return your call or email, that’s probably fine. For example, your lawyer might be in hearings for two days straight and can’t return your message. That's a good sign that they’re spending so much time going to the hearings.
  • They’ve been keeping track of deadlines. If your disability lawyer is staying on top of important dates, there’s probably no reason to worry.
  • You’ve spoken to them about a concern, and they’ve improved. If you have been frustrated about part of the process, discussed it with your lawyer, and the situation has been remedied, that’s a good reason to stick with them. That lawyer is attentive and cares about the service they’re providing.
  • They’re an experienced firm that’s still capable of representing you well. If the people you’re working with are extremely experienced, only practice disability law, and are up-to-date with the developments within the Social Security administration, they still might be working with. Consider it as you would a doctor: A fantastic surgeon with terrible bedside manner may be a better choice than an inferior surgeon who’s a better communicator. The same is true with your disability lawyer. 

A lot of people, understandably, get frustrated with how long the disability claims process takes. Lawyers aren’t there to speed things up; unless there are extreme circumstances (e.g., a terminal illness), the time frame is not something within their control. 

What are the risks of firing your lawyer? Is it hard to find a new one?

There are some rare cases in which you might want to fire your lawyer. But generally, it should be a last resort.

If you still have some relationship with the lawyer but don't think that they're the right fit for you, you can ask them, "I'm considering going in a different direction. Would you waive my fee?" 

Good lawyers are likely to waive the fee—or are at least upfront about why they won’t waive the fee (for instance, they’ve already invested a lot of time and resources into the case). But it’s much rarer to want to fire a good lawyer. Bad lawyers are less likely to waive their fee.

If they don't waive their fee, it can be hard to find another lawyer because that means that the first lawyer is entitled to the fee. Then, the second lawyer has to file something called a fee petition. A fee petition can take more work than the actual application does.(And the second lawyer will get less money because it's split with the first lawyer). This makes it very hard to find a new attorney to take your case. 

Social security disability lawyers are some of the most commonly needed lawyers in North America, so it might be hard to find a new disability lawyer, especially if the old one won’t waive their fee. 

It’s worth repeating: Whatever the problem is with your original lawyer, try one more time to fix it before firing them and finding a new lawyer. Almost always, it’s better to head to a hearing with a lawyer than without one. So unless the situation is dire, if your lawyer won’t waive their fee, it might be better to continue working with them.

How do you go about firing your lawyer?

If you’ve tried to mediate the situation, and it still doesn’t seem to be going well, contact a few other disability lawyers to see if they’ll take on your case. 

If you do fire your disability lawyer, notify them in writing that you’ll be terminating your contract with them. Send a copy of that letter directly to the Social Security Administration as well. It’s a good idea to follow up with the Social Security Administration a few weeks after sending the letter to ensure that your old lawyer was taken off of your claim.

Finding a good disability lawyer

Atticus helps hundreds of people a day find the right lawyer for their case. If you’re looking for advice or new representation, reach out. Our services are always free, and we’re happy to match you with a lawyer you can trust.

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Jackie Jakab, Attorney
Jackie Jakab, AttorneyJackie 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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