Disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) are only available to individuals with severe impairments. For those who qualify though, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) afford a level of financial support and security often otherwise outside the reach of disabled persons.
These benefits, which are paid monthly, give you predictable income, easing at least some of your financial woes. Some people who wait a long time to receive benefits are also entitled to a lump sum of money to immediately lift financial strain.
SSA Regulations of Legal Counsel
Speaking with a Social Security advocate or attorney can be one of the best ways for you to maximize your chances of approval. Because of this, the SSA knows many people seek legal assistance before applying for benefits or at some stage in the disability review process. This is why the SSA has rules governing certain attorney and client interactions, like billing methods and legal fee maximums, among others.
Free Initial Consultation
Disability attorneys offer free, initial consultations to prospective clients. During this first meeting, an attorney will help you understand eligibility requirements and whether you're likely to be approved or denied benefits. You’ll also learn about the attorney’s fees for any future services and how and when fees are paid. This consultation is always free, even if you choose to hire the attorney to handle your claim for benefits.
Contingency Basis Billing
The SSA ensures legal assistance is available to any applicant by regulating how disability lawyers can bill for services. Attorneys work on contingency, which means they only get paid if their clients are granted benefits by the SSA. If you hire an attorney, you’ll receive bills every month. The grand total of your bill will grow throughout the disability review and/or appeals process. However, you won’t owe anything to the lawyer unless you get approved for disability and receive a lump-sum payment of past-due benefits.
Maximum Permitted Billing
The SSA only permits disability lawyers to charge a certain amount, no matter how complicated a claim becomes or how long it takes. An attorney can bill up to a maximum 25% of the back-pay benefits you’re due at the time of disability approval. Legal fees however cannot exceed a maximum of $6,000. In other words, if 25% of your past-due benefits is greater than $6,000, the attorney cannot receive any more than the set maximum.
It’s also important to note that an attorney is only paid from an applicant’s past-due disability payments. If the SSA does not award you back benefits, then the attorney cannot collect fees.
Legal Fee Payment Processes
Although you’ll receive copies of bills from your attorney, your lawyer files his or her claim for legal fees directly with the SSA. The SSA reviews the attorney’s bill and issues payment to the lawyer, so you don’t ever have to worry about paying legal fee bills yourself. Instead, the SSA settles legal fee claims before they send you any lump sum, past-due disability benefits you’re owed.
Getting Help with Your Social Security Claim
You can apply for disability benefits on your own without legal assistance, but you may wish to consult an attorney even before starting the application process. An attorney can help you understand the SSA’s eligibility requirements, including it may take to prove you’re entitled for SSDI and/or SSI benefits. He or she can advise you from start to finish, and if the SSA denies your claim, your lawyer can assist with filing an appeal and represent you at the appeal hearing too.