Home For the injured Understanding Your Chances of Winning Disability Benefits With and Without a Lawyer
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Understanding Your Chances of Winning Disability Benefits With and Without a Lawyer

If you are applying for Social Security Disability benefits, you should consider hiring an attorney to help you through the process. Your chances of winning Social Security disability with a lawyer are higher than if you try to proceed on your own. Social Security Disability claims can be a long and technically complex process, and an attorney will be able to help you navigate the system, know what documentation to send, and represent you in a Social Security Disability hearing or on a Social Security Disability appeal.

Your chances of winning a disability hearing with a lawyer are about 62% — the chance of winning a disability hearing if you are representing yourself and do not have a lawyer is only 50%. Having a Social Security Disability lawyer will help you prepare for the hearing, know what documentation to provide, know what questions to ask, and know what arguments to make. 

The Government Accountability Office, an office designed to review different governmental entities and departments and make sure that they are working as intended, found that people who had representation at a Social Security Disability claim hearing were three times more likely to be awarded disability benefits than someone who represented themselves. 

While there have been suggestions made to try to close the gap between the success of non-represented and represented persons in Social Security Disability claims, it is still hugely beneficial to you to have a lawyer to guide you through the process and to represent you at the hearing as well as any potential appeal if your claim is denied.

⚖️ PRO TIP | If the SSA denies your initial application, you will only have 60 days to file an appeal. If you fail to do so within this timeframe, you’ll need to restart the whole process.

Because a Social Security Disability determination is made by an administrative law judge (ALJ), an attorney who has argued in front of that ALJ will have an advantage in knowing what to argue and what the ALJ will be looking for in terms of argument and documentation. 

The Social Security Administration uses a blue book list of different impairments or disabilities that may make someone eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Having an attorney at the Social Security Disability hearing is critical, as this attorney is someone who should be familiar with the blue book list and what documentation – medical records, financial records, work records, and anything else required to meet the Social Security Administration’s criteria for disability benefits – is necessary to prove eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits.

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, so if you have a medical condition not listed in the blue book and yet it impacts your ability to work, you should still contact an attorney to see if you have a viable claim for Social Security Disability benefits. Similarly, just because you have a condition included in this list does not automatically mean that you will have a successful claim for Social Security Disability benefits. 

If you have any inkling that you may have a claim for Social Security Disability benefits, you should contact a lawyer that specializes in Social Security Disability claims and discuss your potential case with that attorney.

If you are denied benefits initially, you may be entitled to an appeal of the decision. Your chances of winning a disability appeal with a lawyer are higher than your chances of winning an appeal without one. Your lawyer can help you decide what the best path to appeal is, as you may have to choose between filing an appeal or filing a new claim.

When you file a reconsideration appeal, the same documentation is sent to a different claims reviewer to have a fresh set of eyes look over, or reconsider, your claim. The chances of winning a reconsideration appeal are about 15%, so it is to your benefit to have an attorney represent you initially, as you have about a 62% chance of winning Social Security Disability claim with an attorney. 

Winning Social Security Disability claim and being granted Social Security Disability benefits right off the bat is a better outcome than having to go through an appeals process. Not only are you more likely to win your disability hearing with a lawyer than you are to win a reconsideration appeal, but winning Social Security Disability claim sooner means that you will start receiving your benefits sooner.

What to Look for When Hiring a Social Security Disability Attorney 

There are some important factors to consider in choosing an attorney to represent you on your Social Security Disability claims appeal. It’s important to hire someone who is experienced in and familiar with Social Security Disability claims, as much of the benefit of having an attorney comes from their knowledge of the system, knowledge of the requirements, and potential familiarity with claims reviewers, ALJs, and the different offices. 

When hiring an attorney, you should ask questions to assess if this attorney is the best fit for you and your claim. Asking questions can help you make sure that the attorney you are hiring is one who is familiar with the Social Security Administration, Social Security Disability benefits, and knows what documentation is required to show not only disability but also eligibility in terms of citizenship and other social security requirements. 

It’s also a great way to determine if you and the attorney will be able to get along. 

This may be a long process involving you and your attorney working closely together, so it is important to hire someone who knows what they are doing and who you can get along with.

Having an attorney who is familiar with the Social Security Administration’s requirements and guidelines will be beneficial. In addition to knowing the benefits, a disability attorney will be able to help you navigate any appeals, which is especially important in Social Security Disability benefits as there are four different levels of appeals. All of these levels will have different rules and requirements for filing an appeal and what is required for a successful appeal. 

Your attorney can also help you keep track of the vast documentation required, make sure that you have everything you need, and track down or guide you in tracking down anything that is missing. Your lawyer may also do an initial review of the case with you to determine your eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits, the likelihood of success of your claim, and what documentation you need to ensure the greatest chance of success. 

Of course, having an attorney does not guarantee that you will make a successful claim for Social Security Disability benefits, but it does increase the chances of success.

READ ALSO | 11 Signs That You Will Be Approved For Disability Benefits

If you are looking for an attorney to represent you in your claim for Social Security Disability benefits, any attorney representing you will increase your chances of success; however, having an attorney specializing in Social Security Disability claims boosts your chances even further. 

Winning Social Security Disability Without a Lawyer

Granted, hiring a Social Security Disability lawyer boosts your chances of obtaining a successful outcome. However, that is not to say that you cannot obtain benefits at all without a lawyer.

Even though the chances of success are significantly lower, here’s how to go about it. 

Understand the Eligibility Criteria for Disability Benefits

It is important that you familiarize yourself with the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) eligibility criteria for disability benefits. Generally, to qualify, you must have a severe medical condition that prevents you from working for at least 12 months.

Gather Medical Evidence to Support Your Claim

Next, collect all relevant medical records, test results, doctor’s notes, and treatment history that document your condition’s severity and limitations. That’s because thorough and detailed medical evidence is crucial to prove your disability and eligibility for benefits. 

Keep Detailed Records to Substantiate Your Disability

Maintain a journal of your symptoms, pain levels, and how your condition affects your day-to-day life. This can provide a more personal perspective of your disability and how it affects your ability to work. 

Follow Treatment Plans as Recommended By Your Doctor

The SSA may question your commitment to improving your condition if you’re not actively seeking medical treatment. So, it’s important to not only seek medical treatment but also to adhere to the doctor’s instructions and treatment plan. Failure to do so could imply that you didn’t suffer an actual disability in the first place. 

Consult with Vocational Experts

Research and consult vocational experts or counselors who can help you understand how your disability affects your ability to work in various job settings. This step can help strengthen your case by providing professional opinions on your work capacity.

Review the Blue Book Listings

The SSA’s “Blue Book” outlines the impairments that qualify for disability benefits. Therefore, it is important that you review the relevant listing that corresponds to your condition to understand what the SSA is looking for.

Complete the Application for Disability Benefits Accurately

When completing your SSD application, you should provide accurate and thorough information about your disability or anything else required from you. With evidence, clearly explain your medical condition, symptoms, and how they prevent you from working.

Submit a Detailed Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) Assessment

An RFC assessment outlines your ability to perform physical and mental activities despite your impairment. Detail your limitations and explain how they affect your ability to work in different situations.

READ ALSO | What Is Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) In Workers Comp?

Be Persistent and Patient

The SSD application process can be lengthy, given that at least 2 million people apply for disability benefits every year. Don’t forget that this process may also involve appeals. For this reason, be patient and persistent throughout the process, providing any additional information or documentation that may be requested.

Seek Help from Disability Advocates or Nonprofits

Consider consulting disability advocates or nonprofit organizations specializing in helping individuals with disabilities. While they’re not licensed lawyers, they can provide guidance, review your application, and offer valuable advice.

When Should I Hire an Attorney for Social Security Disability?

The main reason you should consider hiring a Social Security Disability attorney is to improve your chances of success. Here are additional examples of situations where hiring a lawyer can be necessary and beneficial at the same time.

If Your Initial Application Has Been Denied

If your initial SSD application is denied, such a case may benefit from legal expertise. An attorney can help you understand the reasons for the denial, gather additional evidence to support your claim, and prepare a strong appeal on your behalf. 

Your Case Involves Medical Complexities

Suppose your medical condition is complex, poorly understood, or involves multiple impairments. In that case, an experienced attorney can help present it effectively, ensuring that all relevant medical evidence is properly documented and submitted.

You Have Limited Work History

If you have limited work history or have not paid enough into the Social Security system, an attorney can assess whether you might qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and guide you through the application process.

 You Need Help Navigating the Appeals Process

 The appeals process often involves multiple stages, most of which need an attorney’s intervention. Such an attorney can assist in gathering necessary evidence, preparing arguments, and representing you during hearings, administrative law judge (ALJ) hearings, and beyond.

You Need Legal Representation at a Disability Hearing

Having legal representation at an ALJ hearing can significantly improve your chances of achieving favorable results. The right attorney can help you present your case, cross-examine witnesses, and address any legal issues that may arise during the hearing.

You Need Help Fast-Tracking Your Claim

In some cases, such as terminal illnesses or severe impairments listed in the Compassionate Allowances program, you may need to begin receiving the benefits you’re entitled to much faster. An experienced attorney can help expedite the claims process.

Negotiating Backpay and Fees

If you are awarded SSD benefits, there may be discussions around backpay and attorney fees. An attorney can ensure you receive the appropriate compensation and that fees are handled correctly

What Is the Maximum Attorney Fee for Social Security Disability?

As of August 2023, attorney fees for Social Security cases are capped at 25% of your back pay, or a maximum of $7,200—whichever amount is lesser. It’s important to note that while the upper limit for attorney fees is set at $7,200, lawyers sometimes receive compensation below this threshold.

Final Thoughts

Your chances of winning Social Security Disability with a lawyer are significantly higher than when you opt for self-representation. It is also important to note that most disability benefits lawyers work on a contingency payment system, meaning they don’t get paid unless they win the case. So, if you or a loved one qualifies for benefits and has been denied the same, you should consider hiring an attorney for legal guidance and possible representation. 

Written by
Kendra Strobel

Kendra Strobel, Esq. is a 2017 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She is now a Pennsylvania based litigation attorney. During law school, she served as the President of the Pitt Law Women’s Association and class representative for various other organizations. She is a member of her local bar association, the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and the National Association of Women Lawyers.

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