Do you go with the familiarity with your specific [and perhaps rare] disease, the years of experience in the field, the proximity to the Social Security Office that handled your case, the proximity to the main Boston courts, lawyer in a big firm [with a reputation] dealing with Social Security cases versus an individual attorney who specializes in Social Security cases, the fee % structure, the Avvo rating [or the feedback on Avvo], social worker or insurance firm's suggestion, someone close to your home, etc. What's the best way to select a legal counsel? Thank you.
The most important thing in selecting an attorney to represent you in your disability claim is that you are comfortable with them and are confident in them to do a good job. Obviously experience and reputation are important too as the disability process is complex and confusing and you will want someone that has experience and knowledge of the social security regulations and process. Unfortunately, even the best attorneys can not always be successful 100% of the time at getting awards. It depends on the facts of your case and whether there is enough evidence to prove your disability pursuant to the Social Security Disability requirements. It is a good idea to go with someone close to you and it is always beneficial to have personal contact with the attorney and not just assistants, even though that is not always possible in some of the nationwide firms. Some places you can look are here on Avvo and also the National Organization of Social Security Claimant Representatives (nosscr.org) which should get you headed in the right direction. Also if you have friends or family that have been through the disability process, they may be able to steer you to someone that treated them well and did a good job for them. Best of luck!
The proximity to the Social Security offices and/or Boston courts has absolutely no bearing on your decision. There are cars, trains, and planes that lawyers can use today for transportation. Federal Courts allow online filing from the comfort of an attorney's office. I'm not sure why this would ever be a factor in your decision. Also, unless you get an unfavorable final agency decision, it's rare that you would have to resort to the courts.
Lastly, the Avvo rating means absolutely zero in my opinion. I've seen great lawyers score virtually "0" and not-so-great lawyers score a 10. It's a marketing tool, just like anything else. So weigh it accordingly. Best of luck.
You can find a Board certified specialist in Social Security by contacting the National Board of Trial Advocacy. They evaluate lawyers (independently) in many types of claims and require extensive experience and testing before a lawyer is certified. They have a section specifically for Social Security: The National Board of Social Security Disability Advocacy, Divisions of the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification.
Their link is: http://www.nblsc.us/
You may also contact your local city, county or state bar association to see if they have a lawyer referral program, or you may contact your local legal aid office if you cannot afford an attorney. If there is a law school in your area, you may contact their legal clinic as well. Or, use the “Attorney Finder” feature of Avvo for help with that.
Finally, you may also contact the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (NOSSCR) for the name and email address or telephone number of attorneys in your area. The telephone number for the lawyer referral service of NOSSCR is 1-800-431-2804. NOSSCR's website is www.nosscr.org.
I hope this information helps. Good luck to you!
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You've listed a number of possible criteria. I'd like to take them one at a time, but before I do, I always recommend that you find someone local. When a case is at hearing (and I assume that this case is at hearing or earlier), it is very important to have an attorney who knows the local administrative law judges as well as the local vocational experts. Like all of us, they have individual preferences and concerns; knowing these ahead of time can help an attorney prepare you better. Now as to the potential criteria you've listed:
1) familiarity with a specific and rare disease: I think this would be helpful but not significantly so. Any competent social security attorney knows what the key evidence should be...or should be willing to find that out.
2) proximity to the local field offce: not important at all
3) proximity to Boston courts: not important; when or if you are in an appeal to Federal Court, your attorney may not even have an opportunity for oral argument. However, experience in appellate work including social security appellate work is very important. I am a hearings attorney; I don't do the appellate work even though I understand the law and process well because I recognize that that takes specialized skills.
4) Big firm vs. small firm: Not important; what matters is the skill and empathy of your attorney
5) AVVO rating: Not important.
6) Social worker recommendation: Important. Useful, especially if the social worker has had experience with this attorney
7) Someone close to your home: You won't meet with your lawyer in person many times. But you should expect and insist on a thorough initial meeting and a thorough meeting to prepare you for the hearing. Ask if your lawyer will be doing a consult with your treating doctor, whether your lawyer will prepare an on-the record request if warranted, and whether your lawyer files pre-hearing briefs. These are the hallmarks you should look for.
Select a local lawyer, not someone from out of state, who represents individuals applying for Social Security benefits. Don't worry about how close they are to a Social Security office. Call or meet with that lawyer. Talking or meeting the lawyer will help you understand the process and to determine if you are comfortable with that lawyer. Also, consider lawyer's who belong to organizations that advocate for disabled individuals. One example is NOSSCR.
It is best to choose someone you trust. If you go online and check out the multitude of review websites, you will notice that the mega firms, such as "Morgan and Morgan," or "Binder and Binder" tend to have a strong amount of unhappy customers. Also, at times the preparation pre ALJ for the hearing is lacking, whereby the mega firm attorney will show up, read your file, and do your case. Obviously, most individuals want someone who has been working with them for a while so that they can add all the little details that bolster the paper evidence. It is not really a geographic question, because we all drive, but I would recommend you choosing someone who is first and foremost an attorney, and someone who will really sit there with you and work through the problems as they come up. Keep in mind, in Florida, the "SSD Attorneys" do not know who the Judge is until that morning. The reason they did this is because attorneys were choosing what days they could go to court, in order to get more lenient judges. Bottom line, this creates a more fair across the board...you get who you get approach. Another thing, don't just choose a guy... as in the non-legal representative. The didn't go to law school, they likely do not understand the evidentiary requirements, and simply put, they neither have an academic background of writing briefs, nor have an advantage in framing their arguments to the attorney sitting across from you...being the Administrative Law Judge. Lawyers speak a funny legal language, and it does at times help to have two people who fluently speak it conversing on the issues. So...pick a lawyer.
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