How do you Pick a Social Security Disability Representative?
There's a blog out there (I should say "there used to be" a blog out there, as it's been abandoned) by a social security disability attorney. And on it is compiled a short list of attributes that you don't want in your chosen disability representative.
I'm going to paraphrase the list, which as I indicated, is one person's opinion of the attributes of a disability representative that you don't want in your representative.
1. Does very little work on your disability case.
2. Doesn't speak with you when you call them, and always uses an assistant to speak with you.
3. Appears at your hearing only just before your disability hearing starts and, typically, this is the first time you've met him.
It's hard to argue with this sort of list. After all, why would you want someone who does next to nothing on your case, doesn't communicate directly with you, and has never bothered to meet you even once prior to the hearing?
The truth is, though, one of the reasons its hard to debate this list is because these characteristics can be seen, or I should "are perceived", to some extent, in a large number of disability representatives. Even the very good ones.
I'll address them each in order.
1. "Does very little work on your case". Regarding this, I'll state that many claimants may not think that adequate preparation is being conducted with regard to their case when, in fact, it is. To be blunt, how would most claimants even know what's being done, assuming that they understood what needed to be done to prepare a case for hearing in the first place? My point in making this statement is: be careful about some of your assumptions as they may not be accurate.
Are there attorneys and non-attorney reps who do next to nothing and provide 3rd-rate representation? Yes, there are. I've heard many reports from claimants I've worked with myself and my spouse who is a field office claims rep has many stories regarding slipshod work. Such representatives, ideally, are to be avoided. However, most claimants are hardly in a position to know in advance whether their representative is "good" or "bad". This is why, to my mind, its a very good idea to get a representative based on someone's recommendation. Think of it this way. Would you rather use a furniture upholsterer that you found in the adpack mailer, or someone that your friend or relative recommended? It's the same with disability representatives.
Recommendations based on someone else's actual experience with a representative will be more predictive of a representative-client relationship than some slick television commerical that gets aired twenty-five times a day, usually during one of the garbage talk shows or numerous court programs.
2. "Doesn't speak with you when you call them, and always uses an assistant to speak with you". On this one, let me point out a very basic fact. Most disability attorneys who specialize in social security disability claims have sizeable caseloads. They have to because the maximum fee per case (at the moment $5300.00) is simply not that large compared to other types of cases (attorneys who specialize in traffic cases are in a similar situation). How large a caseload are we talking about? Three hundred to four hundred cases (or more) is not unusual. And what that means is that, with so many cases pending, and of that total, a fair number going to hearing each month---time is somewhat at a premium.
Quite honestly, for attorneys running caseloads of this size, it would be very difficult to get anything done (filing appeals, making copies for the resident file, sending copies to the hearing office, fielding followup calls to DDS and to the hearing office, requesting records, doing followup calls on record requests, interviewing new clients and sending out new client paperwork, etc, etc, etc), there simply isn't a lot of time left over for regularly communicating with clients without the use of an assistant. Let me say that, in many cases, it would be close to impossible. Consider also the fact that going to hearings not only means preparing for hearings, but also travel time to hearings and back, particularly for hearing sites that are more than an hour away.
Now, having said all this, a client who is represented should always be available to speak with their attorney (or non-attorney rep if the case may be) if they insist, meaning that if the assistant cannot satisfactorily answer a certain question or the client simply insists on speaking with the actual representative, this should be possible. One of the worst situations is when a client repeatedly attempts to contact their representative, leaving multiple messages over a protracted period of time, and never gets a single response. I would have to say, in such situations, a client will be well-justified in seeking new disability representation. I would simply caution claimants not to react negatively too quickly if their representative does not call them back the same day, or even the next day. It could simply be that the rep has a very busy hearing schedule that week. Or maybe they have the flu and are out. Anything's possible.
3. "Appears at your hearing only just before your disability hearing starts and, typically, this is the first time you've met him." This happens quite a bit. More than most claimants could ever know. And this becomes a good argument for having local representation. Because when your representation is local, there should be no excuse for not having met your rep if you truly want to. But...let me point out that in most cases, it is not essential to actually meet the rep.
Why do I say this? Because, quite honestly, there are no questions that the rep can answer in person that cannot be answered over the phone. Meeting in person makes no substantial difference to the case or its preparation. Case preparation, in most respects, occurs largely independent of the claimant's involvement (gathering records, getting an RFC form, reviewing the file, sending updates to the hearing office, doing followups, etc, etc). But certainly, any client that wants to physicially meet their rep should have the option. And this may be impossible in situations other than those in which local representation is obtained.
Now what about situations in which reps appear at hearings just barely before the disability hearing starts.
Well, sometimes things happen. Traffic problems, car problems, unforseen events. People are human and some scenarios cannot be planned for. However, we're really not talking about that, are we? We're talking about reps who never seem to be prepared, who don't do their legwork for preparing a case.
Reps like these should be avoided like the plague. How do you avoid them? Again, that same old problem in that you can't know in advance how your rep will be. Which is, of course, another argument for obtaining your representation locally.
Return to the Social Security Disability SSI Benefits Blog
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Appealing a denial of Social Security Disability Benefits
If you lose your disability case (what happens next)
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Decision - is it the end?
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