TEN TIPS FOR HIRING A SOCIAL SECURITY ATTORNEY
Choosing an attorney to handle your Social Security or SSI claim is an important decision. Your financial future is riding on this. Before hiring a Social Security attorney, I would recommend meeting with your potential representative to make sure the fit is right. Here are some questions you should be certain to ask.
Are you, in fact, a lawyer? Social Security allows non-lawyers to represent claimants. Some of the big phone book ads you may see are actually for non-attorney representatives even though they are listed under "Lawyers." The same goes for television advertising. If you want to hire a lawyer, be sure that he/she is a lawyer.
Where is your office located? Some law firms and non-attorney representative firms are large national outfits with huge advertising budgets. They may not have an office in your community. Your case could be handled in an office across the country. Then your claim is transferred to a local attorney for the hearing.
At what point in the process will you accept a case? Some attorneys will take cases beginning at the initial claim level in order to get the client off to the best start. Others require a claimant to be turned down once or even twice before they will take the case.
What percentage of your caseload is made up of Social Security cases? If an attorney's practice is devoted strictly to Social Security, he/she is probably more qualified than one who dabbles in Social Security as a sideline, along with other areas such as bankruptcy, municipal court, divorce, etc.
Have you handled cases like mine before? It's helpful if your attorney has experience with your particular medical impairment. There are certain recurring issues that the experienced Social Security will see. For example, if you suffer from seizures, an experienced lawyer will know that the claimant's compliance with medications is important, as well as documenting the frequency of the seizures.
Will you meet with me before the hearing? When I am sitting in the waiting area at my local hearing office, I often see attorneys (or non-attorney representatives) who appear to be meeting their clients for the first time immediately before the hearing. This is astonishing. I couldn't imagine not sitting down with my; client a day or two before to help prepare him for what to expect.
Is the initial consultation free? All fees in Social Security cases must be approved by Social Security. In order for an attorney to charge for an initial consultation, the attorney would have to get approval of a signed fee agreement and authorization to charge a fee. Therefore, in most cases it's just not feasible to charge for an initial consultation.
What is your fee? In general, fees for Social Security disability and SSI claims are 25 percent of the claimant's (and claimant' beneficiaries') retroactive benefits, with a maximum of $6,000. As explained above all fees and fee agreements must be approved by Social Security. For matters other than disability claims, such as overpayments and continuing disability reviews, there may be other fee arrangements such as hourly or flat fee. Nevertheless, the fee still has to be approved by Social Security.
Will I have to pay for medical records in advance? It will be necessary for your attorney to obtain your medical records from doctors and hospitals. Usually the medical providers charge for those records. Some attorneys will require you to pay for records up front. Other lawyers will advance the costs and collect reimbursement from you at the end of the case.
Are you a member of NOSSCR? The National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (NOSSCR) is the leading organization for attorneys and other advocates committed to providing high quality representation to Social Security claimants.