While Social Security disability lawyers don’t normally work pro bono, this shouldn’t deter you from seeking legal representation. Social Security disability legal fees are not due up front. Instead, they’re collected from your first disability check only if you win your claim.
Cost can be a legitimate concern for someone seeking legal representation for their disability case.
When a disability prevents you from working and earning above a certain income, paying hefty legal fees out of pocket may simply not be possible. You might naturally find yourself wondering about how to find an attorney to represent you for free.
Social Security disability lawyers don’t typically work pro bono. This means that although you should expect to pay for legal services if you win your case, there are still many advantages to hiring a lawyer to help with your disability claim.
A qualified attorney can increase your chances of winning benefits and represent you throughout the process.
Seeking Social Security benefits can be a long and difficult process. Cases can sometimes take months, or even years, to resolve. A majority of claimants are initially denied and must go through an appeals process that takes additional time.
A lawyer can be your advocate at each critical stage and prepare you for what comes next. Here’s what to expect when it comes to paying your Social Security disability lawyer, and why hiring a lawyer is worth it.
What Is Back Pay?
Your lawyers collect their fee from what is called back pay, or your first check after you win your claim.
Back pay is your total past-due benefits, based on how many months have passed from the onset of your disability to winning your claim. However, to collect benefits there is generally a five-month waiting period from the onset date of your disability, so you’ll only receive benefits for months after that period.
The monthly amount you are awarded x the months you’re eligible = your back pay amount.
For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims, back pay is typically awarded in a lump sum. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you may be paid in installments. Talk to an attorney about the specifics of your claim.
How Much Will I Have to Pay a Social Security Disability Lawyer?
Lawyers usually receive up to 25%, but no more than $6,000, from your initial disability check—called “back pay.” This rate is federally regulated and standard across the country.
However, if you don’t win your case, you won’t owe this fee.
It’s important to keep in mind that, whatever your initial disability check amount is, your lawyers will take the lowest possible amount. So if your initial check is for $3,000, a lawyer will collect $750 as a legal fee. In most circumstances, this fee will not exceed $6,000.
You may owe other costs that your attorney will discuss with you. These can include the cost of obtaining medical record copies, postage, and other administrative costs.
Note: If your lawyer petitions for a higher fee for multiple hearings, or taking your case to the Appeals Council or federal court, you may have to pay a higher fee. However, this is rare. Ask your attorney about their fee structure.
An initial consultation about your case is usually free. This is a good time to interview lawyers and see if they’re a good fit for your case.
When Should I Consult a Social Security Disability Lawyer?
When you hire an attorney, you sign a contingency fee agreement that lays out the terms for payment. This agreement must be approved by the Social Security Administration and is strictly enforced by the federal government.
What this agreement normally boils down to is that you will owe what is agreed upon only if and when you win your claim. This money will be subtracted from your initial earnings and given to the attorney, meaning you won’t have to take any additional action.
It also means that those with limited incomes can seek legal advice early in their claims without breaking the bank.
Although you can hire an attorney at any point during your claim, it’s best to do so as early as possible. Consulting an attorney in the beginning stages of your case allows them to maximize your chances of winning and build a robust strategy should you need to appeal.
What Does a Social Security Disability Lawyer Do for Me?
While the SSA will provide you information on the process and offer guidance, their decision is not based on your specific needs. A disability lawyer has the unique role of acting as your advocate and representative.
How a lawyer can help at each stage:
When you first apply for benefits, an attorney can help you gather the right kinds of medical evidence and provide insight into what the SSA looks for when approving or denying your claim. They can give you a realistic timeline and plan for any outcome.
If you’ve been initially denied your benefits, you’re not alone, and your lawyer knows this. A majority of claimants are initially denied and must appeal the decision. The first stage of appeal is to have your claim reconsidered by another person. Your attorney is aware of any technical issues with a decision that could lead to your denial being reversed.
During an appeal hearing, you’ll have a chance to prove your disability before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This is an important level of appeal because it’s your best statistical chance of winning benefits. You’ll need to prove that you can’t work in the U.S. economy for more than a year, based on medical and other evidence. Vocational and medical experts may be called to try to determine if you can work.
Your lawyer will advocate for you, can cross examine you and other witnesses, has unique insight into local judges’ expectations, and helps you prepare a strategy with the best chance of winning your benefits.
If your Supplemental Security Income claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck and Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for over 40 years. Once you have applied online for benefits, sign up for a free case evaluation here, and call us (404) 795-4978.