Do I need to have an attorney?
No. No legal case "requires" you to have an attorney. However, Social Security claimants who are represented stand a better chance of obtaining benefits.
When should I get an attorney?
That is a difficult question. Generally, an attorney will help to present the case in its strongest light. You can file the claim online, or go into your local Social Security office. They will be sure to file a case under every Social Security program for which you may be eligible. Once your claim is filed, it is best to speak with an attorney as early in the case as possible. Some attorneys will even help you to file your initial application.
But what if I cannot afford an attorney?
The Social Security Act dictates when and how much an attorney may charge a fee for her services. The fee for representation in a Social Security disability insurance matter is 25% of your "past due benefits" when the case is won, or $6,000 -- whichever is less. Like any other legal matter, costs and expenses are separate from the attorney's fee and you may be charged for those, usually at the end of your case. See below.
Are there other costs involved?
Like most legal matters, there may be costs and expenses involved in order to present your case in the best possible light. In Social Security cases, costs are typically incurred for obtaining medical records. Some attorneys may also ask you to go for an evaluation if they believe it will help to prove your disability. A good attorney will work hard to win your case and sometimes it costs a little extra. Reimbursement is typically expected at the end of your case.