It might be possible to get by without your usual paycheck for a while after a serious illness or injury puts you out of work. When disability becomes long-term or permanent though, you’ll need additional, regular income that you can count on to pay the bills and cover everyday living expenses.
Disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) may be the answer, and since your application is so important, you may decide to seek legal assistance with your claim by hiring a disability advocate or attorney.
Attorneys that Specialize in Disability Law
Disability attorneys work on contingency, which means they charge nothing up front. This makes it much easier for already cash-strapped disability applicants to afford the legal help they need. Disability lawyers additionally only receive payment when a client wins a disability claim, and even then, they are only entitled to a certain percentage or amount of any back or past-due benefits a client receives from the SSA.
The Contingency Fee Agreement
When you hire a disability attorney, you’ll sign a contingency fee agreement. This agreement gives the SSA permission to pay your legal counsel for his or her services, if you’re approved for disability benefits. Prior to approving any legal fees, the SSA will review the fee agreement to ensure it complies with regulations.
SSA Fee Agreement Regulations
The SSA has a set cap on legal fees that an advocate or attorney can charge. This cap is 25 percent, but no more than $6,000, of any back benefits due to the applicant at the time he or she is approved for disability. Under certain circumstances, an attorney can request additional fees and the SSA may approve them; however, there must be sufficient legal justification for any adjustments. This is rarely the case with a standard disability claim though, and the SSA ensures strict enforcement of contingency agreements.
How Legal Fees are Paid
Disability advocates and attorneys file for legal fees directly with the SSA rather than sending their clients’ bills. Fees are paid directly by the SSA as well, and only after fee agreements are thoroughly reviewed. Fees are paid out of the back benefits you’re due at the time of disability approval, so if you’re not awarded past-due benefits, then the attorney won’t be entitled to fees.
Disability attorneys are therefore highly motivated to get the SSA to accurately recognize the onset date of your disability, since the accurate assignment of onset date can influence the total amount of past-due benefits and thereby the fees the attorney will receive.
A contingency agreement may or may not cover ordinary out-of-pocket expenses an attorney may incur while taking care of your claim. These can include things like postage or fees charged for accessing your medical or other records. Before hiring an attorney, be sure to ask how out-of-pocket expenses are handled and what kinds of costs these may include.
Hiring an Attorney
Some applicants do decide to go it alone when filing a disability claim. Others only choose to hire an attorney if an appeal hearing is necessary. Having a lawyer on your side even before starting your application has its benefits though. You’ll have the answers you need, whenever you need them, since a disability attorney understands the SSA’s processes and procedures. He or she can advise you throughout filing, review, and appeals, if required, and may even increase your approval chances. You should speak with a Social Security attorney or advocate if you are thinking about filing a claim!