Important Considerations in choosing representation
The process established for making a claim for Social Security disability benefits can seem complex and convoluted.
SSA does not require that the person representing the claimant be a lawyer as long as the case is in the administrative process. So along with lawyers you will find vocational rehab people, former SSA bureaucrats and paralegals providing representation. Some of the nonlawyers do a very competent job. However, novel legal issues can arise at any stage. Points of law are often briefed at the ALJ stage and certainly an appeal to the Appeal Council stands a much smaller chance of success without a well reasoned and argued legal brief.
If your case would unfortunately need to be appealed in federal court your representation needs to be by an attorney licensed to practice law before that court or admitted by special permission of the court.
The odds of success are greatest for the claimant at the ALJ hearing. We represent most of our clients at this stage on a 25% contingency fee basis. We can't offer the contingency fee contract in all cases but it is the contract most commonly used. We will not take over a case at the Appeals Council stage or later on a contingency fee basis. If we did not provide representation when the odds were best, we are not going to jump in with a contingency contract when the odds lengthen.
In the last several years we have seen the rise of so called national firms. These firms spend great sums of money advertising their services on TV. Their physical offices are often times located thousands of miles from the upper midwest. They are from New York, Boston, San Diego, Kansas City, and many cities in between. Sometimes they fly in to represent the client on the day of the hearing, sometimes they prevail upon a local attorney to appear for them. They rarely meet with the client in person before the hearing.
We do an extensive preparation conference two weeks before the hearing. Many clients have told me they think that was one of the most valuable services I provided them. In developing the documentary record we do more than obtain the most recent medical records.
In most cases by the time we are preparing for the hearing we have known you for many months. We've discussed your case with you on a number of occasions to let you know what evidence is being collected, and we've listened to you describe new developments. While it is necessary to represent a number of new clients each year to have a successful practice I do not want to get to the point where our personal service to you is compromised because we are trying to represent too many clients at the same time.