Applying for social security disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA) is complex.
Even if you make it through the application process on your own, there is still a long road ahead.
If you’re on the fence about working with a disability lawyer, or want to know how a lawyer works on your behalf, you’re in the right place. We’ll explain whether or not you need a lawyer to file a claim and what they do at each step in the disability case process.
Do I need an attorney to file for disability?
The SSA doesn’t require you to have legal representation. However, a disability attorney will work with you to simplify the process and increase your chance of winning your case.
In fact, your chances of winning disability with a lawyer are three times higher than if you try to apply on your own.
You don’t have anything to lose by consulting with a lawyer because, legally, they can’t charge anything up front. If you win, they recoup their fees from your first paycheck (up to 25% of your first check, or a maximum of $7,000).
Review your case and set expectations
The first step a lawyer takes when deciding to handle a case is meeting with you to review your situation.
Whether you find a lawyer on your own or use Atticus’ free service to get connected with a vetted lawyer, you can expect them to cover the following during an initial consultation:
- Give you their honest assessment of your chances of winning. While they can’t say for sure if you will win, they will give you an educated guess on your chances of winning. They should also tell you if the SSA or a judge will deny your case based on how your condition affects your day-to-day life.
- Suggest what you can do to improve your chances of winning. Law firms and lawyers that specialize in disability law know what a judge will look for in determining whether to grant you financial support. They will suggest things you can do to increase your chances of winning. These can include obtaining specific medical records or work-related documents—or seeing a specialist for your condition.
- Explain how long the process can take. If your claim is denied and goes to a hearing, it may be a few years before you see any disability income. A lawyer will break down the legal process and explain how long each step will take.
Help you submit your application
Whether you are filing for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the government requires you to fill out an extensive application to prove that you cannot work and need financial assistance. To win your case, you have to convince the SSA, without question, that your medical condition is so severe that you cannot work even in a modified role.
Most people are unaware of the nuances and details needed to obtain disability benefits, leading the SSA to deny 80 percent of applicants.
A lawyer will submit your application, or work with you to make sure you cover all of the important bases and avoid making claim-denying mistakes.
Obtain medical records
To prove that your medical condition inhibits you from working, the government requires proof from medical experts to support your claim.
Disability lawyers know what evidence is critical for your application and how to get it quickly from your medical team. In rare cases where they can’t obtain that information themselves, they’ll work with you so that you know exactly what to request from your medical providers.
Navigate the appeals process
If the Social Security Administration wants more information from you, after you submit your application, that paperwork needs to be turned around in 10 days or less. If your claim is denied, you have 60 days to appeal it from the day you submit your application. Lawyers know the importance of filing quickly and what to include in the appeal to steer it in a positive direction.
A lawyer keeps track of the appeal deadlines, updates the appeal with new information, and keeps you informed on what’s happening throughout the process.
Prepare you for and represent you at a hearing
If the SSA denies your claim after you appeal it, your case will go to a hearing before an administrative law judge. At this hearing, the judge may ask you probing questions to determine if you really need the financial assistance you’re seeking.
Your lawyer will meet with you before this hearing to practice the answers you should give. While you may feel that you can answer easily on your own, the judge may ask questions in a way that could throw you off and cause you to say something that isn’t accurate.
It is your lawyer’s responsibility to prepare you for the array of questions you will face at the hearing.
In addition to preparing you for your hearing, your lawyer will be at the hearing to represent you and your case. They’ll cross-examine witnesses that the judge may bring forth. These witnesses may testify that you are more capable of working than you claim to be, based on their understanding of your job or medical condition.
Your lawyer has your best interest in mind during the hearing. They want you to win your case and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. If you win, they get paid for their work in supporting you through the disability claims process.
Handles post-hearing filings and appeals
The best-case scenario is that a judge determines you are unable to work and need financial help. At that point, your claim is approved and you should start to receive benefits in one to two months.
If the judge denies your case, a lawyer will either take your case to the federal appeals court or suggest a legal team that can.
How Atticus can help
Hopefully, we’ve shed some light on what a disability lawyer does behind the scenes to improve your chances of winning your case.
At Atticus, we match you with a qualified, prescreened lawyer if you’re eligible for disability benefits.
To determine your eligibility, take our brief quiz! If you qualify, a member of our legal team will connect with you within 48 hours.