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Ask These 9 Questions Before Hiring an SSD Lawyer

Ask These 9 Questions Before Hiring an SSD Lawyer

Hiring a lawyer to handle your Social Security Disability (SSD) case is a big decision. In South Carolina, most Social Security claims take more than a year to resolve, and some claims drag on for nearly a decade. During that time, you’ll need to place a lot of trust in your Social Security Disability lawyer.

Before you sign a lawyer’s fee agreement, you should take some time and evaluate their qualifications as well as their personality and temperament. The following nine questions can help you identify whether an attorney is the right fit to handle your SSD claim.  

1. Are You a Licensed Attorney? 

Under Social Security rules, non-attorney representatives can handle Social Security Disability claims. However, many of these non-attorney reps have less training and knowledge than a licensed attorney. And unfortunately, many of them also tend to hide their lack of credentials and will charge the same fee structure as a licensed Social Security Disability lawyer.

At the Law Offices of David L. Hood, Attorney David L. Hood handles all Social Security Disability claims. David L. Hood is admitted to practice law in all state and federal courts in South Carolina, and he has more than 25 years of experience handling SSD and personal injury cases.

2. Where Are Your Offices? 

Some national, high-volume Social Security firms advertise heavily on television and the internet. These national firms try to maximize their profits by hiring less-experienced lawyers or non-attorney reps, cutting costs, and handling as many cases as possible. You should always be wary of big-box Social Security firms that are willing to handle out-of-state claims.

When your lawyer or representative’s office is far from your home, it can create lots of problems. First, travel expenses are something that few disabled people can afford while appealing a Social Security claim denial. And, your long-distance lawyer might not visit your community frequently or at all, which means very little face-to-face time with the person who’s handling your claim.

At the Law Offices of David L. Hood, you can schedule face-to-face appointments at any of our four South Carolina locations, which include offices in Murrells Inlet, Georgetown, Myrtle Beach, and North Myrtle Beach.

3. How Do You Charge for Attorney Fees and Costs?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) caps attorney fees at the hearing level. As of 2017, a lawyer can charge 25% of your past-due Social Security benefits, up to a maximum fee of $6,000.

Most Social Security lawyers request direct payment from the SSA. If you win your claim, the SSA will deduct attorney fees from your benefits and send them directly to your lawyer, so you’ll never have to worry about it. However, your lawyer’s fee structure might change if your claim requires an appeal in federal court or another venue.

RELATED: 5 Reasons to Hire a Lawyer for Your SSD Claim

Most Social Security lawyers and representatives also expect you to pay legal costs related to your claim, such as the price of medical records and consultative examinations. Different lawyers treat these legal costs differently. For example, some law firms will bill you for your costs whether you win or lose.

At the Law Offices of David L. Hood, we do not charge our clients for legal costs unless we win their claim. And, we carefully explain our fee structure at each client’s first appointment.

4. How Frequently Do You Meet With Your Clients?”   

Every SSD client has different needs and expectations. Some clients want frequent briefings on the status of their claim, while others just want occasional updates. Before you meet with a Social Security Disability lawyer, ask yourself how much guidance and information you will want or need.

Some lawyers are very accommodating with client meetings. Others — especially those who have high-volume practices — try to avoid them. Your first face-to-face meeting with a high-volume lawyer might be minutes before your Social Security hearing!

When you work with the Law Offices of David L. Hood, we try to balance efficiency with compassion. We know that filing a Social Security claim is a stressful process for many people. If you ever have questions or concerns, let us know. We’ll do our best to answer them, and we’ll always meet with you in person if needed.

5Who Will Handle My Social Security Hearing? 

Sometimes, Social Security firms — especially big ones — “bait and switch” their clients. You might meet with an experienced, senior lawyer at your initial appointment, only to find a young, inexperienced associate or even a non-attorney rep at your hearing.

While emergencies do happen and can provide a valid reason for a lawyer to delegate a hearing, it’s fair to ask a lawyer about how frequently he or she delegates hearings to other lawyers or representatives. If you’re not comfortable with the lawyer’s answer, don’t sign their fee agreement.

We believe that our Social Security Disability clients deserve personalized attention and consistent advice. Attorney David L. Hood is solely responsible for his client’s Social Security claims. We rarely retain associate counsel in Social Security claims, and only when it’s absolutely necessary.

6. How Much Experience Do You Have With Social Security Claims? 

Social Security claims are highly technical. A successful claim requires:

  • A detailed analysis of your medical records
  • Knowledge about Social Security laws and regulations
  • Experience presenting testimony to an administrative law judge (ALJ)
  • The ability to cross-examine medical and vocational witnesses

If your lawyer doesn’t understand how your age, medical conditions, and work experience impact your claim, it will put you at a significant disadvantage.

Additionally, ALJs have their own unique quirks. When you work with an experienced Social Security disability lawyer, he or she should try to tailor your claim to your ALJ’s preferences. For example, some ALJs rely heavily on residual functional capacity (RFC) forms, which explain your ability to perform specific activities. A missing RFC form might result in denied disability benefits.

David L. Hood has practiced Social Security law for over 25 years. During that time, he has handled thousands of Social Security Disability claims, including Appeals Council and federal court appeals. He is very familiar with South Carolina’s ALJs and their expectations.

7Are You Familiar With My Medical Conditions? 

Some medical conditions, such as degenerative disc disease and depression, are relatively common in SSD claims. Most Social Security lawyers and judges understand these conditions, and they also understand the limitations of people who live with them.

However, if you have a relatively rare medical condition, the ALJ in your case might be unfamiliar with that condition, which means your claim might require a lot more development. For example, complicated claims, such as those involving systemic autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), can require your lawyer to sift through large volumes of medical records and interpret test results, then translate all this information for the ALJ.

No Social Security lawyer, no matter how experienced, has seen and handled every possible type of SSD claim. However, at Hood Law Offices, we have over 25 years of experience with disability-related claims. We know how to read and interpret medical records and when to seek expert advice from doctors.

8What Is Your Approach to Social Security Claims? 

Every Social Security lawyer has a different approach to filing and appealing claims. Disability lawyers have a wide array of tools available to them, including:

  • On-the-record requests: A formal request asking for a decision without an ALJ hearing
  • Expedited hearings: If you have a terminal illness or are a wounded warrior, you might be eligible for a quicker hearing date
  • Consultative examinations: A medical expert examines you, giving guidance about your diagnoses, prognosis, and limitations

An experienced Social Security Disability lawyer will use the appropriate tools for your case. At Hood Law Offices, we carefully assess our clients’ claims and craft personalized strategies that account for the facts of the claim as well as the overall likelihood of success.

9Do You Handle Appeals to the Appeals Council? 

The Charleston, South Carolina Social Security Disability hearing office denies more than 40% of the claims it reviews. Sometimes, denials happen because Social Security ALJs make mistakes. While each level of a Social Security Disability appeal becomes more challenging, your lawyer should always review your ALJ’s decision for appealable issues.

Unfortunately, some lawyers do not handle Appeals Council claims. If your lawyer or non-attorney rep does not handle appeals, you might have a hard time hiring a new, qualified lawyer who will take your case. (Many Social Security lawyers are hesitant to take on an SSD claim if they didn’t handle the initial hearing.)

At the Law Offices of David L. Hood, we carefully assess unfavorable decisions and the facts of a claim before deciding whether to appeal. Sometimes, a Request for Review by the Appeals Council is the best option. Other times, clients are better off refiling for benefits. We do our best to educate our clients about their options and empower them to make the best possible decisions.

The Law Offices of David L. Hood: Representing Social Security Disability Applicants in North Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Georgetown, and Throughout Georgetown and Horry Counties 

Social Security Disability claims are highly technical, requiring extensive medical and legal knowledge. Without help from an experienced South Carolina Social Security Disability lawyer, you can easily make mistakes that lead to a denial of benefits. But even if your claim has already been denied, don’t give up hope. Social Security frequently denies legitimate disability claims, and most claims require an appeal to succeed.

At the Law Offices of David L. Hood, we fight for the rights of the disabled. If you are considering a Social Security disability application or appeal, schedule a free consultation with us today at no risk to you. We handle all SSD cases on a contingent fee basis, which means you won’t pay attorney’s fees unless we help you receive benefits.* You can easily contact us by filling out our quick and easy online contact form or by calling (843) 491-6025.

*Clients are not liable for any expenses, unless there is a recovery in their case; however, if there is a recovery in their case, clients will be liable for expenses. Attorney’s fees are based on a percentage of the recovery, which will be computed before deducting expenses. 

References

ALJ disposition data FY 2018 (2017, November). Social Security Administration. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/03_ALJ_Disposition_Data.html.

Average wait time until hearing held report (2017, November). Social Security Administration. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/01_NetStat_Report.html.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject. 

 

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    Thanks for mentioning that you will want a licensed attorney to help you with your disability claim, as they have more knowledge and experience. One of my acquaintances suffers from chronic pain, and can’t even sit up without being in great pain. He’s been looking for an attorney to help him, so these tips will be very beneficial; I’ll make sure to share them with him.

    I like that you mentioned asking who will be handling the Social Security Hearing. I have heard stories where different people are handling the case then you expect. I never thought about actually asking to make sure that you have the best people working on your case.

    I really liked what you said about checking for the experience level of the social security attorney you hire. My youngest brother has special needs and we’re helping my mom work to get him disability benefits. Thank you for the information about how technical a social security claim is and how the attorney would need to understand how his age, medical conditions, and work experience will impact his claim.

    You give a great tip to ask about the disability attorney’s approach to social security claims. I did not know that certain people are entitled to expedited hearings. Making sure that you have a disability attorney that you can trust is very important.

    Thank you for pointing out that although non-attorneys can process the social security claim, it is still better to hire a certified lawyer because they have the knowledge and skills needed to do an excellent job. I have no intentions of hiring anyone else aside from a lawyer anyway, but I appreciate the info. This is important because I want to get the compensation I deserve because of what happened to me.

    I agree that you want to make sure you know what all the fees will be before hiring an attorney. You should talk to them beforehand about how the payments will be made too, like you said. That will prevent any miscommunication or unexpected charges.

    I like your suggestion to ask potential lawyers if they’re familiar with your specific medical conditions. My mother wants to hire a lawyer to help with her Social Security Disability claim. I’ll pass along your advice to ask about their familiarity with her conditions.

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