An individual facing a social security or disability case can handle the matter on his or her own, but it is almost always recommended an attorney be consulted and even hired to assist him or her through the process. However, what fees does that individual receive for his or her services?
We have asked attorney, Alaina Sullivan, and here is what she had to say:
The Basic Legal Fee Arrangement
Social security disability cases can often require many hearings, as well as appeals to the SSA Appeals Council. In extreme situations, the case can even require a trip to federal district court.
The cases do not tend to resolve themselves quickly and can last years and require a lot of work for social security disability attorneys. However, the federal law limits the fees that can be charged by Social Security disability attorneys.
This limit is at 25 percent of the client’s back pay or $6,000, whichever amount is lowest.
How Is the Fee Determined?
The attorney’s fee comes directly out of back pay from the client’s case, which includes the benefits that are accrued while waiting for Social Security to approve the client’s case or request.
How much back pay a client receives depends on what the onset date is for the disability, as well as when the client filed for benefits and whether he or she is applying for SSDI or SSI benefits. Normally, SSA will withhold one-fourth of the client’s past-due benefits and will pay legal fees directly to the attorney.
This direct payment allows the attorney to be paid quickly and avoids the hassle of having to pay the attorney separately. The most an attorney will receive from the SSA for legal fees is $6,000.
Fees normally are much less, and the $6,000 figure is the extreme for cases that involve a number of hearings and go on for years. If the attorney has the client signed a contingency fee agreement, however, if the case is not successful, the attorney may never be paid.
Can the Attorney Charge a Higher Fee?
This brings the question of whether an attorney can charge more than the $6,000 maximum. It is possible, but the situations are very rare. For instance, if the client had to fire a previous attorney and hire a second one, the SSA may have to pay more than the $6,000.
A higher fee could be paid, as well, if the client was denied benefits at the disability hearing, and the lawyer had to appeal to the Appeals Council or federal court.
Another situation exists where the client had a previous disability attorney who did not waive his or her fee once the client hired a new attorney. The new attorney will have to file a fee petition with the SSA so that the fee that is paid is divided appropriately between the two attorneys.
If both attorneys had to do a great deal of work, it is possible that the SSA will approve a total fee amount higher than $6,000. However, the only way an attorney will receive more than the maximum fee is for a fee petition to be submitted to the SSA, and the agency must approve it before the lawyer can ask for additional fees.
What Is Included in a Fee Petition?
In a fee petition, the attorney will need to include an itemized list of what the attorney’s activities were on the case. This petition is sent directly to the SSA once the case is completed, and the attorney is required to send a petition to the client, as well.
The SSA will approve the attorney’s fee petition only if the fees are considered reasonable. They will take into consideration how much work needed to be performed by the attorney, how complex the case was, the attorney’s background and experience and how far the appeal needed to go before approval was received. If the client objects to the fees, he or she is entitled to do so directly to the SSA.
What Happens if the Disability Claim Is Denied?
If the disability or social security claim is denied, the attorney can request a fee under the fee petition process, as well. However, if the client and attorney began the case by signing a contingency fee agreement, this may not be the case.
Contingency fees are only paid if the attorney is successful. The SSA will take this into consideration and will likely deny a fee petition if the case was not successful and a contingency agreement was signed beforehand.
What About Extra Expenses Related to the Case?
Keep in mind that the fee cap does not apply to out-of-pocket expenses paid. Many times, the attorney will have to incur costs in preparing the case, usually from needing to obtain medical records and to hire expert witnesses.
The attorney will likely charge these costs directly to the client to ensure they are covered. The attorney may also charge the client for the cost of postage, printing, and travel expenses.
All of these costs will be dealt with upfront before representation begins and should be described in the attorney fee agreement. However, they must be “reasonable” for the case and a client can dispute them if the costs run any higher than what is considered reasonable in a same or similar situation.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you are in the middle of a complicated social security disability dispute and have questions about how much representation will cost, it is recommended that you contact a social security attorney to discuss your options.
An attorney can listen to the facts of the case and can best advise you on how to proceed. Contact an attorney experienced in social security disability to schedule a consultation today.