• Resources
  •   >  Getting started
Getting started

How Much Does a Disability Lawyer Cost?

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
June 23, 2022  ·  4 min read

If you know you need to act, but you keep putting off filing for disability, you’re not alone.

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the average applicant waits nearly eight months after becoming disabled before seeking benefits. 

Maybe you’re having trouble filling out the application. Or you applied before, and the SSA denied your claim.

If you’re thinking a Social Security disability attorney would improve your chances of winning benefits — you’re likely right. If you’re wondering if you can afford one — you almost definitely can. 

Let’s break down how much a disability lawyer costs.


Get paired with a top lawyer. Pay nothing until you win your case.

How much do disability lawyers charge?

A disability lawyer costs nothing upfront. You only pay if your lawyer wins your case and the SSA approves your claim.

You start with a free consultation. Then, if you decide to move forward, you sign a contingency fee agreement. Next, your lawyer submits documentation to the SSA for approval.

If the SSA signs off on the agreement, and your claim is approved, your lawyer collects the contingency fee. The industry standard is 25% of your first check. By law, the maximum a disability attorney can receive is $7,200.

What they’ll actually receive depends on the size of that first benefit payment, which is determined by your “back pay.” We’ll dive into back pay more below, but generally speaking: The longer your case goes on, the more the government “owes” you for all the time you should have received benefits but didn’t.

You’ll get paid all those past-due benefits, once you’re finally approved — and your lawyer will get 25% of that, up to $7,200.

The exception is if your case goes beyond the administrative law judge (ALJ) and into federal appeals, then the lawyer’s fee is 25% with no cap. Most disability claims don’t go past the ALJ because few people appeal after that stage.

This contingency fee doesn’t vary among Social Security disability lawyers because the law limits the amount. Plus, your lawyer doesn’t get any compensation from your future checks.


What is back pay?

Back pay accumulates while the SSA reviews your claim. The SSA determines your monthly benefit amount and then compensates you for the months between the onset of your disability and your approval.

Determining back pay is all about dates. Here’s how Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) figure it out:

  • SSI dates back to the application date or the date you became disabled, whichever is later.
  • SSDI dates back to the application date (plus 5 months) or the date you became disabled. With SSDI, if you became disabled before you applied, you can receive back pay for the time between your disability’s onset date and your application date. Back pay is capped at a maximum of one year.

Why does back pay start five months after your application date? The SSA considers five months a reasonable processing time for social security disability claims. You’re not “owed” anything for that stretch of time, and so you don’t receive that back pay.

For example, let’s say the SSA awards you $500 a month in SSDI benefits, one year after you filed your claim. Your first back paycheck comes to $3,500.

You’ll receive $3,500 because it’s $500 x 7 months, not 12 months.

As a contingent fee, your lawyer gets 25% of your back-pay check, or $875. This deduction means you’ll see $2,625 on your first check, then $500 a month going forward.


What else could you be charged for?

You may be charged to copy medical records that verify your disability. Depending on your state, costs may include search fees, page fees, evidence fees, certification fees, and fees for X-rays, microfilm, and other media.

Some states, like Alaska, Idaho, and South Dakota, don’t allow health care providers to charge for copying medical documents. Others have a maximum fee of up to $250. Most lawyers won’t ask clients to pay this expense until they win their disability cases.

If your disability lawyer does ask you to pay in advance for expenses like copying documents, they must put your money in a trust account. Then, they have to tell you when they take out cash and return what’s left after your case is over.

Disability lawyers may also include travel costs, such as going to hearings, in their fees. However, they will likely seek reimbursement for those expenses from the SSA directly.

In addition, your disability lawyer can seek Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJ) fees if you appeal your claim. The government pays for that expense, too.


Conclusion

You don’t have to pay upfront for a lawyer to fight for your disability benefits. They work on a contingency fee basis and receive payment after the SSA approves your claim.

If a disability lawyer tries to get you to pay anything in advance other than document expenses, they may not have your best interests in mind.

At Atticus, we vet law firms in your area and match you for free with the lawyer who best fits your case.

Get started by finding out if you qualify for benefits (many conditions qualify for benefits), how much you’ll get, and the best way to begin the application process.

Get free legal help (and a lawyer — only if you want one)

Frequently asked questions about lawyer fees

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.

Attorney fees 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.

What else could a disability lawyer charge you for?

Rarely, you may be charged to copy medical records that verify your disability. Depending on your state, costs may include search fees, page fees, evidence fees, certification fees, and fees for X-rays, microfilm, and other media.

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.

What is back pay?

Back pay is the disability benefits you haven’t received yet but you’re entitled to based on when your disability started and how long the SSA took to process your application.

Why do you subtract five months when calculating back pay?

The SSA considers five months a reasonable processing time for Social Security disability claims. You’re not “owed” anything for that stretch of time, and so you don’t receive that back pay.


Find disability help in your state

Alabama

Arizona

California

Colorado

Florida

Georgia

Hawaii

Idaho

Illinois

Indiana

Kentucky

Louisiana

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

South Carolina

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Virginia

Washington

Wisconsin

Other regions


Related resources:

How to Find a Workers’ Comp Lawyer

A hand draw portrait of a smiling, helpful lawyer.
By Victoria Muñoz

What Does a Workers’ Comp Lawyer Do That I Can’t?

A hand draw portrait of a smiling, helpful lawyer.
By Victoria Muñoz

See what you qualify for

How long has your condition made it hard to work?

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.
About Us
  • Mission
  • Careers

At the bottom of many websites, you'll find a small disclaimer: "We are not a law firm and are not qualified to give legal advice." If you see this, run the other way. These people can't help you: they're prohibited by law from giving meaningful advice, recommending specific lawyers, or even telling you whether you need a lawyer at all.

There’s no disclaimer here: Atticus is a law firm, and we are qualified to give legal advice. We can answer your most pressing questions, make clear recommendations, and search far and wide to find the right lawyer for you.

Two important things to note: If we give you legal advice, it will be through a lawyer on our staff communicating with you directly. (Don't make important decisions about your case based solely on this or any other website.) And if we take you on as a client, it will be through a document you sign. (No attorney-client relationship arises from using this site or calling us.)

  • This website is lawyer advertising.
  • Cal. Bar #23984
  • © 2024 Atticus Law, P.C.

Terms | Privacy | Disclaimer