If you have difficulty working due to a disability or medical condition, applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits is a logical choice. SSD provides monthly benefits to individuals who, due to a disability expected to last 12 months or longer, are unable to participate in substantial gainful activity (SGA). In 2020 (the amount changes annually), the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers SGA to be the ability to earn more than $1,260 per month.
Although the SSA does not require that you hire a disability attorney or disability advocate to file for SSD benefits, doing so increases the chance that your application will be approved.
What is the difference between a disability lawyer and a disability advocate?
The primary difference between a disability lawyer and a disability advocate is a law degree. A disability attorney has one; a disability advocate does not. Although a disability advocate lacks the legal training of an attorney, they must pass a certification exam showing that they understand Social Security rules and regulations. They are also are required, just like attorneys, to complete continuing education.
Both the disability attorney and disability advocate can help you prepare and complete the initial SSD application and, if you appeal a denial, can represent you at an administrative hearing or before the appeals council. The disability advocate cannot, however, represent you if you file an appeal in federal court; in this instance, you would need to hire a disability attorney.
Though both disability attorneys and disability advocates know what information would best support your SSD application and can help you prepare for appeals, disability attorneys usually have more experience and training with trial prep, trial practice, and understanding legal precedent that could help during an appeal.
To learn more, watch this short video.
If you decide to hire a disability attorney or disability advocate, make sure it is someone you feel comfortable working with and who has experience handling SSD cases. Consider the Good Law Group for your representation – call (847) 577-4476.
When you should consult a disability attorney or advocate
The best time to hire a disability attorney or disability advocate is before you begin the SSD application process. The SSA denies the majority of the SSD claims it receives at the initial application level; the primary reason for those denials is a lack of medical evidence.
The SSA’s rules regarding disability are complex and, for people who are unfamiliar with them, can be extremely confusing. That’s because qualifying for SSD benefits means meeting specific criteria to prove you are disabled – a simple diagnosis from a doctor isn’t enough. These criteria are contained in the Blue Book, a list of more than 100 medical conditions the SSA considers disabling enough to qualify an individual for SSD benefits. An experienced disability attorney or disability advocate who deals with the SSA regulations regularly and is familiar with these criteria can help ensure that you provide the appropriate medical evidence to support your claim, which will increase the chance that your application is approved.
While hiring a disability attorney or advocate from the outset is best, you can begin working with one at any stage of the process. Many people hire an attorney or advocate to help them navigate the appeals process. If the SSA denies an application, there are four levels of appeal: reconsideration; a hearing before an administrative law judge; appeals council review, and; filing in federal district court.
Reconsideration is essentially the same as the initial application – a different disability examiner in the same SSA field office will review both your application and any additional medical records to determine if your application should have been approved. The SSA denies most of these appeals.
At that point, you may request an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Although less formal than a traditional court case, the administrative hearing is a chance to provide testimony about how your disability affects your ability to work. Both the ALJ and the SSA’s attorney can ask questions about your disability, what tasks or activities you can no longer perform, and what tasks you can still do despite your disability.
A disability lawyer or disability advocate’s experience can be extremely helpful at an administrative hearing. They can help you prepare for the types of questions the judge or SSA attorney may ask, which will help you feel more comfortable answering and ensure that you don’t inadvertently say something that can hurt your case. They also are familiar with the process and procedure and know what medical evidence should be submitted to increase the chance of your application being approved. They can similarly help you prepare if you lose at the administrative level and appeal to the Appeals Council.
The only phase of the process a disability advocate cannot help you with is if you choose to file an appeal in federal district court. In this case, you must hire a disability attorney if you want representation in court.
How are disability attorneys or advocates paid?
Disability lawyers and disability advocates both work on a contingency fee basis. That means you don’t pay for their services unless the SSA approves your claim and awards benefits. Even then, the SSA has an established fee schedule that governs payment. Under these rules, disability attorneys and disability advocates are paid 25% of your SSD backpay, with fees capped at $6,000, whichever is less. For example, if the ALJ ruled that you were eligible for SSD benefits and you received $40,000 in back pay, 25% of that award is $10,000. However, because of the payment cap, your disability attorney or advocate would only receive $6,000.
Your attorney or advocate may, however, require that you reimburse them for any costs associated with their representation. For example, doctor’s offices often charge a fee to provide photocopies of medical records, or if you hired a medical expert to review your case and provide a written opinion of your disability. Whether or not you are required to pay these costs should be included in your contract.
Obtaining disability benefits can be difficult, but an experienced SSD attorney can help you determine the best way to go about applying. Consider the Good Law Group for your representation – call (847) 577-4476.