By Guest Blogger Samuel Packard, a San Antonio Social Security Lawyer and Partner at The Packard Law Firm
Applying for disability benefits is a complicated process, and most people are denied the first time. While hiring legal counsel is not a requirement, some people find that having a lawyer ensures they navigate the process correctly and reduces the stress caused by mountains of paperwork. In my experience, there are 10 questions you should ask a lawyer before hiring him or her for your disability case:
- What level of experience does this attorney have with Social Security Disability? You want to know how long the attorney has been helping people with disabilities. If he or she is Board Certified in Social Security Law, that’s a huge plus. Ask how many hearings he or she handles per month. Be careful of working with any attorney who handles more than 30 cases per month because he or she may not be able to spend the time you need on your case.
- Will this attorney help fill out your Social Security forms? The attorney or legal assistant should help you with this. They can’t make up the answers for you, but you should not be responsible for filling out the appeals, reports and other forms Social Security sends you. If the attorney tells you to apply on your own for benefits and call back if or when you get your denial letter, then smile and say, “OK,” but keep looking for an attorney.
- Will this attorney order your medical records? Having all the medical records available for the judge is crucial to your case. If you are responsible for gathering your own medical records, keep looking.
- Is this attorney familiar with the judges and staff at your hearing office? It helps to know the quirks and preferences of the other people who will be there for your hearing, especially the judge. There is turnover among the Social Security staff (including judges), but an attorney should be familiar with most of the people there.
- How does this attorney handle your questions or updates about your case? Who do you talk to? This is mainly to see if your communication style matches with the attorney. Some people like to talk over the phone, some like to email. Some want an attorney who answers his own phone, and some want an attorney who has legal assistants who help.
- How much does this attorney charge? What if you don’t win? Social Security regulates how attorneys get paid, and as a result, they usually charge the same: 25 percent of past due benefits. However, some attorneys require reimbursement for case expenses even if you don’t win. This might not be a deal killer, but it is something you should be aware of before signing a contract.
- How will this attorney help prepare you for the hearing? Will you be able to meet in person (and not just the day of the hearing)? You should be able to meet with your attorney several days before your hearing. Sometimes circumstances make it difficult to meet face-to-face, but doing your hearing preparation meeting over the phone should be your decision. And it should not be done by an assistant or paralegal.
- Where is this attorney located? All else being equal, you should go with a local attorney. This might be difficult if you live in a rural area, but find someone who is near your hearing office.
- Will this attorney prepare a written memorandum or brief for the judge to review prior to the hearing? This written statement from the attorney is very helpful. First, it shows that your attorney has spent time reviewing your case and preparing a legal theory for the judge. Second, it gives the judge a chance to consider the case prior to the hearing. Finally, it can also be a request for an On The Record (OTR) decision. OTR decisions are rare, but sometimes the judge will grant a claim without hearing testimony from any witnesses.
- Is this attorney familiar with your particular health problems? No attorney can know everything about every medical condition, but you should get a feel for how knowledgeable an attorney is on your conditions. If your health problems are uncommon, your attorney should be willing to get familiar with the symptoms and treatment of your particular conditions.
In the end, the most important thing your attorney can do for your case is give you peace of mind. You should look for someone who will help you with this burden. Many people are overly concerned about win percentage or the length of the process. Nobody can guarantee an outcome, and there aren’t many ways a person qualifies to have his or her case expedited.
What you should be most concerned with is finding someone you can trust. You want someone who will take care of your case so you don’t have to worry. If you don’t like the attorney, keep looking until you find someone you like.
About the Guest Blogger
Samuel Packard is a San Antonio Social Security lawyer who has handled more than a thousand disability cases. He is board certified by the National Board of Social Security Disability Advocacy. Samuel and his brother, Michael, own The Packard Law Firm and continue to help people with disabilities get the disability benefits they need.