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When should I get an attorney?

My office gets calls from people wanting disability benefits at all different levels of the process. When the individual has a hearing scheduled in a few weeks, we scramble to amass medical evidence supporting disability, but this isn’t easy. Ideally, you should consult with an attorney before you begin the application process.

Your attorney can advise you as to what you must prove and what tests need to be done in order to prove your case to SSA. Approaching it like this from the very beginning not only increases the chance that you’ll get benefits sooner, but that you’ll get benefits at all.

Usually, people are still in the gathering/collecting phase when they first file for benefits. Getting tests done and referrals to specialists takes time. Sometimes just getting the right diagnoses and course of treatment takes some time. SSA awards 23% of Initial claims filed. The case not being fully developed is the most common reason. Not all of the 77% of applicants who are denied the first time appeal, but out of those that do, only 12% get a different (award) outcome at the first stage of appeal. (Reconsideration) The reasons are the same, whatever flaws your claim had initially are generally still being sorted out. Having an attorney guide you through this will increase your chances of being one of the lucky individuals to get an award at these levels.

The Hearing level is where you really need to have everything ready to go. The Judge is the final decision maker regarding whether or not you are disabled.* SSA is reporting that the award rate at the hearing level has drastically increased from 44% the past year to 62% currently. This means that over ½ of people who go to the hearings are getting awarded. These numbers vary by State and even area because of the political climate of the Judges, but the hearing is by far your best chance to get an award. Have an attorney with you who has had the time to prepare.

* There are Appeals Council and Federal Appeals post-hearing, but these Courts are restricted to reviewing legal issues/errors rather than determining whether or not your conditions cause you to be disabled.