When you need representation fighting on behalf of your claim, understand the importance of hiring a social security disability lawyer over an advocate.
While millions of Americans apply for social security disability benefits each year, only 30% receive approval after their initial application.
Individuals who are in need of social security disability benefits are already under a great deal of strain. Whether they’re suffering from a recent accident or a worsening existing condition, managing a modified workload is difficult enough. Sifting through the many requirements and mountains of paperwork to apply for social security only serves to make things harder.
With the help of a disability lawyer, your adds of receiving approval upon appeal go up significantly. Plus, some of the stress is alleviated when you hire a professional who knows the process well.
Read on to find out more about why you should hire a disability lawyer and why they are a better option than a disability advocate.
Why Do Applications Get Denied?
There are five main reasons that an application for social security disability benefits are denied.
The first is that you are lacking enough medical evidence. In other words, you need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your medical condition is preventing you from working enough hours to make a living wage (or to work at all).
The second is prior denials. Resist the urge to file a whole new application after the first one is denied. It is better to make an appeal for the first.
The third is that you are receiving $910 or more a month from work. Given that the lowest living wage in the country is around $20,000 a year (and this is only enough to get by in seven states), it can be hard to accept that you can’t make more than $910 a month on your own to still qualify. Unfortunately, this is still the rule.
The fourth and fifth are somewhat similar. The fourth is a failure to follow medical treatment as advised by a doctor. The fifth is a failure to cooperate with the court as you move through the application process.
The Difference Between a Disability Lawyer and a Disability Advocate
You make encounter disability lawyers referring to themselves as disability advocates. However, non-attorney disability advocates cannot claim to be disability lawyers.
Disability lawyers must complete a four-year degree as well as graduate from law school. They must pass their state bar exam and continue with their education in order to stay up to date with changing laws.
Disability advocates are required to have either a four-year degree or equivalent work experience and training. They must have liability insurance. They must also pass an exam on the rules and regulations of social security and take continuing education classes.
When you’re working with a disability lawyer, you have the right to file complaints to the state bar association should you see fit. In other words, your disability lawyer is accountable to the law and, in turn, accountable to you. They are required to provide the best legal counsel they can, keep you up to date on any changes in your case, and charge a reasonable fee.
While a moral disability advocate would also provide the best counsel they can and keep you up to date, they are not bound by law to do so. If you felt that they did not keep up their end of the bargain in any way, there would be very little that you could do about it.
Finally, disability lawyers are bound by attorney-client privilege, meaning that your information is, as required by law, safe with them. Once again, a moral disability advocate would operate on similar grounds, but they are not bound by law to do so.
The Social Security Application and Appeal Process
A great deal of paperwork is required to apply for social security disability. You will be required to provide clear documentation of your disability from start to finish. It must be plainly stated that you have been unable to work fulltime for 12 months or will be unable to work fulltime for 12 months.
If the initial social security application is denied, your next step is to file an appeal, also known as a request for reconsideration. This must be done within 60 days. If you do not already have a disability lawyer at this time, it is recommended that you get one.
If the request for reconsideration is also denied, it is time to file a request for a hearing within 60 days of receiving the denial. An Administrative Law Judge will oversee the hearing. This is a good opportunity to make your case in person rather than on paper, but at this phase, it is crucial that you have a disability lawyer.
Many people choose to go on to an Appeals Council if the hearing is also denied. However, it is not uncommon for the Appeals Council to hold up the decision made by an Administrative Law Judge. Your options, at this point, are to file a new initial application, give up on the process, or take your case to the Federal District Court.
Why Disability Lawyers are Better Advocates Than Non-Attorneys
While it is true that disability advocates have knowledge of and experience with the social security disability application process, their expertise does not compare to a lawyer’s.
Disability lawyers have unique training in cross-examination. When it comes time to cross-examine expert medical and vocational witnesses, lawyers will be able to spot weak points in their testimony.
This is important because by the time you’ve reached the hearing level, most of your personal documentation will already be on the table. Your case comes down to what those expert witnesses do with that documentation and how your disability lawyer challenges them.
Disability lawyers are also more up to date on relevant case law. Pointing to previous court rulings regarding social security disability could make or break your case. In many cases, this could be the one missing puzzle piece that a disability advocate cannot bring to the table to solidify a ruling in your favor.
From the moment of the initial application to later appeals processes, making a persuasive argument is the difference between approval and denial. This is especially the case if all of your paperwork was filled out properly and the correct documentation was provided for the initial application. Bringing in new evidence isn’t possible at that point but citing that evidence in a persuasive manner is.
Finally, non-attorney disability advocates cannot file an appeal in Federal District Court. If and when you reach this step in the process, it will be crucial that your case is supported by compelling evidence and that successful cross-examinations are on the record in your case file.
Can You Hire Both a Disability Advocate and a Disability Lawyer?
In the event that you’ve already begun the appeals process with a disability advocate representing your case, you may have a difficult time moving forward.
Most disability lawyers want to work with you from the early stages. That way, they know your case inside and out and know that your case file is bolstered by the best legal support that they could provide. This includes proper documentation, strong persuasive arguments, and strong cross-examination tactics.
If you reach the stage that you wish to file an appeal in Federal District Court but have yet to hire a disability lawyer, there is a chance that you will have to start the process over. Why? Because disability lawyers will be reluctant to take your case so late in the game.
In other words, it is in your best interest to hire a disability lawyer from the beginning.
What About Compensation?
Many people think that because disability advocates have less training and lack a degree in law, they’ll require less compensation. However, that isn’t true. Both disability lawyers and disability advocates require a comparable amount of compensation.
The amount that you will be required to pay them depends both on the success of your case and the amount of social security disability benefits you are granted.
Because it can take months or even years to get through the social security process, you will likely be entitled to back due payments. These are social security payments that you would have received from the moment your initial application was reviewed had it been approved in the first place.
Both disability lawyers and disability advocates will often receive payment in the form of 25% of those back due payments, up to a legal limit.
How to Hire a Disability Lawyer
When you’re looking for the right disability lawyer to represent your case, look for law firms that have filed successful appeals in the past. Check their reviews from previous clients. Talk to people who have already been through the process and find out who represented them and how they felt they did.
If you’re ready to start your application for social security disability benefits, start with a free consultation with our firm. We’re glad to discuss your case with you free of charge before you make any commitments.