Friday, September 14, 2007

Switching Social Security Disability Attorneys

If you're curious as to how I came up with the idea to write this post, this is how: I found an individual's complaint about her disability attorney in a forum. What follows is a paraphrased version of what she had to say.

I have had my attorney since August and he has really done almost nothing for me. My claim is at the reconsideration stage so it has been there a long time. Basically, my disability lawyer has done nothing but file the reconsideration. I have done all the rest.

This is actually a fairly common sentiment. Is it valid? In some cases, the complaint that a claimant may have about his or her disability representative may be entirely valid. However, in this instance I have to wonder and for these reasons:

1. The bulk of a disability attorney or non-attorney's work will occur in preparation for a disability hearing.

2. Prior to the hearing level, there really isn't that much for a rep to do other than file a request for reconsideration, other than to check the status of a case.

It may be that this particular claimant had the notion that, by virtue of being represented, her case would either move faster in the system, or that certain steps in the disability process could be eliminated. However, that is never the case.

Representation can certainly improve the chances of winning disability benefits at a hearing, and by a substantial margin versus non-represented claimants. But at the lower levels (application and reconsideration), cases proceed according to a "rhythmn" that reps have no control over.

Does this mean that you shouldn't consider representation prior to the hearing level? Not at all. For many claimants, having representation can make the process easier (not having to file the first appeal and not having to do status checks). And for many, turning a case over to a representative can be emotionally freeing. Also, there is the fact that claimants with psychological or psychiatric issues may really need someone to turn their cases over to (particularly if they have memory or comprehension problems).

Back to the title of this post, however. Can you switch disability attorneys whenever you choose? Yes, you may. And social security will recognize your newly designated representative as soon as a new appointment of representative form has been recieved (form SSA-1696). However, bear in mind that if your "former representative" has done a significant amount of work on your case at the time you discharge him or her, they may petition for a portion of the eventual fee which, if you think about it, may only be fair.

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