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do i need an attorney for a social security disability appeal

You applied for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, and now you have learned that your claim was denied. You know you want to appeal this decision, but do you need an attorney for a Social Security Disability appeal?

Just as you are not mandated to have an attorney represent your SSD application, you are not required to have one for an SSD appeal at any stage. However, studies show that SSD applicants who hire attorneys to help them with their appeals are successful more than double the times of those who choose to represent themselves. If you want your appeal to have a higher chance of success, you do need to hire a lawyer for your Social Security Disability appeal.

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Explore our Social Security Disability Resource Guide to learn more.

The Benefits of Hiring an Attorney for Your Social Security Disability Appeal

It is best to hire an attorney before you file your SSD claim. By getting your application right the first time, an attorney can help you increase your chances of initial approval and decrease the amount of time it might take to receive a determination.

Even if you did not hire an attorney to help with your initial SSD application, it is not too late to hire one and benefit from their services. At the appeals stage, a Social Security Disability appeal lawyer could help you by:

  •     Preparing you for questions you may be asked by the administrative law judge (ALJ)
  •     Ensuring you meet all appeal deadlines
  •     Submitting additional medical evidence to support critical issues in your case
  •     Answering your questions and providing you with peace of mind
  •     Handling the process for you and allowing you to focus on your own health and comfort

Preparing for reconsiderations and appeals is often a complex and perplexing process that calls for the completion of several forms and an understanding and compliance with all applicable deadlines. If the reconsideration of your SSD claim is denied, you must request a hearing within 60 days of the date of denial. If your condition deteriorates and there is new medical evidence for the ALJ to consider, the evidence must be submitted no later than five business days before the hearing.  Otherwise, the ALJ may refuse to consider the evidence. If you do not request a timely appeal or submit evidence within the deadline, your SSD could be denied.

The Cost of Hiring a Social Security Disability Appeal Lawyer

The number one reason why SSD applicants do not hire a Social Security Disability appeal lawyer is financial. Although it is logical that if you’re already struggling to make ends meet without a steady income, you may not be able to afford to pay for professional legal counsel, it is not usually accurate.

In most SSD cases, your attorney will not receive payment until you do. This means if your claim is denied, your attorney will not be paid because they work on a contingency fee basis. If you don’t win and get paid, neither do they. If you do win your claim, they generally get paid directly through the SSA. They are legally allowed to collect as much as 25 percent of your SSD back pay up to $6,000. This amount is automatically deducted from your back pay and sent to your attorney as their fee. When you hire an SSD attorney, you will sign a contract agreeing to this.

It is important to note that:

  • Attorneys are allowed to charge additional fees if your case ends up in a Federal court, and some will do so
  • Some attorneys will charge for their out-of-pocket expenses like obtaining medical evidence or work records upfront, but these fees are usually not more than $400

If you have decided against hiring an attorney based on financial reasons, schedule a consultation with a seasoned Social Security Disability appeal lawyer as soon as possible. You might be surprised to learn that they can help you with very little or no money required upfront. You can move forward and focus on winning your appeal with your attorney’s assistance.

The Social Security Disability Appeals Process: Reconsideration

Waiting to find out if your SSD application is approved can make for a long and stressful several months. Finally getting your reply, only to learn that you are among the up to 70 percent of applicants that the SSD initially denies, can feel like a massive defeat. At this point, it is crucial to realize that you are not alone and that this is only the first step in the process. You have other avenues to get your claim approved, and with the help of an experienced SSD attorney, you can increase the chances that it will be accepted.

Denied applicants should always appeal their claims as many are approved at the administrative hearing level by an administrative law judge after the SSA initially denies them. Keep in mind that you only have 60 days from the date of denial to file your appeal. The sooner you hire an attorney, the sooner they can begin working on your appeal. 

If your initial application is denied, you must file a Request for Reconsideration (SSA-561) within 60 days from the date of denial. Once your request is received, the Disability Determination Services agency in your state will review the decision made in your claim.

The Social Security Disability Appeals Process: ALJ Hearing

After the Disability Determination Services agency completes its review of your reconsideration request, the SSA will issue a written decision on reconsideration. If your claim is once again denied, your attorney will formally request an administrative hearing.

To request the hearing, your attorney will file a Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge (HA-501) within 60 days of the date on your denial letter. At this point, you now have the right to have your case reviewed by an ALJ. During this administrative hearing, you can present testimony and documents regarding your disability and your inability to perform substantial gainful activity. Even though these hearings are informal, testimony is given under oath and the hearing is recorded. They are usually held in a conference room and not in a formal courtroom.

Your SSD attorney will give you advice on how you can get approved at the hearing. Examples might include submitting particular medical evidence or challenging the SSA’s description of your past jobs.

The Social Security Disability Appeals Process: Appeals Council

If the ALJ denies your claim based on the hearing, your next option is to appeal to the Appeals Council (AC). This is done by filing a Request for Review of Hearing Decision (HA-520). The focus of the AC is to review the decision made by the ALJ to determine if they committed substantial errors. Your SSD lawyer can help find any potential errors made by the ALJ and explain them in a written argument to be submitted to the AC.

There is no hearing or meeting with the AC. They review the circumstances and make a decision. If they determine that the ALJ was mistaken, they send it back to the ALJ for review. If they believe the ALJ was correct, your claim is denied, but you can appeal to Federal District Court.

The Social Security Disability Appeals Process: Federal District Court

The last avenue to get your SSD approved is at Federal District Court. Within 60 days of receiving the decision of the AC, you or your SSD lawyer must file a complaint. At the Federal court level, you cannot submit additional evidence, there is no trial, and the court simply looks at whether the ALJ made a mistake or not. An experienced attorney will be more likely to identify these mistakes than the claimant. Your SSD lawyer will need to write a brief and submit it to the federal court. Sometimes, your attorney will make an oral argument to the court on your behalf.  Unfortunately, if your SSD application is denied at this level, there are no further options.

Get Help with Your Social Security Disability Appeal

While the best outcomes occur when SSD applicants hire an attorney before they submit their SSD application, all hope is not lost if you hire one during the appeals process. Having an attorney on your side at this step can still help increase your chances of success. Our lawyers are here to help every step of the way.

Contact Joyce & Bary Law today using our convenient online contact form, and we’ll get you scheduled for a free consultation.