Finding a Lawyer For a Social Security Disability Case
If you are seeking legal advice on a worker's compensation
case, please see "Finding
a Lawyer for a Worker's Compensation Case." If your
case is not related to Social Security or workers comp, please
read "Finding a Lawyer"
which provides information about finding a lawyer in general.
Although not everyone needs a lawyer for a Social Security
disability case, lawyers who specialize in such cases can
be helpful, particularly if you have already applied for disability
because of complex regional
pain syndrome (CRPS) and been denied. CRPS disability
cases where the cause of disability is pain can be complicated
because pain itself is complicated-and hard to measure. Thus
a lawyer with appropriate experience can help make a clearer
case and take away complications. In addition, any disagreement
among your doctors about the effect of CRPS can make your
case even more difficult, so a knowledgeable lawyer can help
you through these difficulties. Moreover, the Social Security
Administration recently began to change the disability application
process with its Disability Service Improvement (DSI) initiative.
The DSI initiative has now been rolled out in only one region
of the country (the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts,
New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont), and it is not yet
known whether or not you are more or less likely to need a
lawyer under this new system. (See http://www.ssa.gov/disability/ for more information about the initiative.) In general, if
you are confused about the requirements or have any trouble
applying for disability - under the new system or the old - a
lawyer's advice and guidance may benefit you.
When looking for a lawyer to represent you in a disability
case related to your CRPS, first ask your friends, colleagues,
family members, fellow support group members, or neighbors
for recommendations. Word of mouth is often the best way to
find a good attorney, especially if you get the same recommendation
from more than one person. Another source of recommendations
is through an Internet chatroom or bulletin board support
If you cannot find an attorney for your case through personal
connections, several organizations have referral services. The National Organization
of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (800.431.2804)
can refer you to an attorney specifically for a disability
determination through Social Security.
Bar Association (ABA) has a referral service by state.
(On the same page, the ABA also provides several helpful publications,
such as "Hiring a Lawyer," "Paying a Lawyer,"
"Finding Free Help," and "Legal Terms.")
Some links let you search for a lawyer by specialty (such
as Social Security and disability law as well as medical malpractice,
personal injury, etc.).
In addition, there are many state
and local bar association with directories of their members,
often listed by specialty; you may contact those associations
for suggestions. To find local bar associations in your state,
see the ABA's State
and Local Bar Association Directory, or check your telephone
book for their numbers.
One commercial website, www.lawyers.com, lets you search for a lawyer by specialty and gives you information
about the firm's size and whether or not the firm offers a
free initial (or first) consultation. (Keep in mind that the
order in which the lawyers are listed on some web sites may
be due to fees the lawyers have paid to the site.) You can
also find an attorney through the listings in the business
pages of your local phone book under the subject area "lawyers"
or "attorneys." Still, remember that it is often
better to find a lawyer-like any other professional you may
hire-on the basis of a personal recommendation from someone
you trust who knows the attorney's skills and abilities.
You may end up with more than one attorney, especially if
your case is complex. Sometimes the other lawyer (the co-counsel)
is an expert in one part of your case but is not licensed
to practice law in your state and thus works with your attorney
who is licensed to practice law in your state.
If you do not have much income, LawHelp at www.lawhelp.org may be able to help you find a free or low-cost legal aid
program to help with your disability case. You may also find
a legal aid clinic in the phone book or through a bar association.
Some bar associations may be able to refer you to lawyers
who may help you for reduced fees if your income is limited.
If you decide that you definitely need an attorney for your
disability case, it is generally a good idea to speak with
a few lawyers before deciding which lawyer to hire or to retain.
You may want to have a friend or family member-someone whose
opinion you value-come to the meeting with you. Then asking
the lawyers questions, such as those below, may help you make
a good choice.
- What do you charge, if anything, for the first or
- Do you accept cases on a contingency* basis or only
on a fee basis?
- What do you estimate your fees for your services will
- What do you estimate your expenses will be?
- How long have you been practicing law and how much
success have you had with Social Security disability cases,
particularly those for CRPS?
- How much do you know about CRPS?
- Have you attended any relevant seminars or courses?
- What do you think my chances of success are?
- How long do you think it will take to resolve my case?
- What paralegals or other lawyers, if any, will work
with you on my case, and who will be my primary contact?
- Do you have malpractice insurance?
- Can I review your attorney-client contract that I would
be expected to sign? (It is a good idea to take it home with
you to review carefully before signing.)
You may also want to call the Better Business Bureau to see
if any complaints have been filed against the attorneys you
are considering. The lawyers' associations and some states
also keep a record of attorneys against whom complaints have
been filed or legal action has been taken, but these lists
vary by state. If you still are not sure about your choice
of attorneys, ask for another meeting. Make sure you feel
comfortable with your decision before you agree to hire anyone.
If you become unhappy with your attorney, you do not have
to have that person continue to represent you. You may simply
inform the lawyer, in writing if you prefer, that you wish
to hire other legal counsel. However, you should expect to
pay for the services provided up to that point and for the
time that it will take for the next attorney to become familiar
with your case. Generally, your legal file belongs to you.
RSDSA has additional resources for you on its website.
One resource on lawsuits in general is the RSDSA newsletter
article "How to Lose Your
Case in 12 Easy Steps" by R. Steven Shisler, Esq.
You might want to review The
Social Security Ruling on CRPS and an explanation
of the ruling. In addition, "Tactics
for SS Disability," a letter from someone with CRPS
who successfully applied for disability advises others about
steps to take.
If you have other concerns about a disability related to
the CRPS, before you spend any money on legal fees, keep
in mind that some government agencies may provide you with
the appropriate information and channels to resolve a problem.
For example, if you have a question about your rights at work,
you may find the answers on the Justice Department's Americans
with Disabilities Act website or on the website of the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission. The Job
Accommodation Network (JAN), part of the U.S. Department
of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, also provides
information about employment for people with disabilities
on its website. You can also call JAN at 800-526-7234 to get
advice, at no charge, about your employment situation.
* If a lawyer takes your case on a contingency basis, you
generally do not pay the lawyer anything until and unless
you win the case. Then, generally, a lawyer will be paid one-third
of your award plus expenses. (If you have switched lawyers
and then win your case, the lawyer who actually won the case
may have made an arrangement with the previous lawyer[s] to
give them a portion of what you have been awarded in the case.
In some states, a former attorney who took a contingency case
can take you to court to get reasonable compensation, i.e.,
payment, for any time and expenses the lawyer had spent. )
However, some lawyers will charge you for their expenses related
to your case even if you lose your case. The attorney-client
contract should tell you what charges you must pay.
1515 Market Street, Suite 810
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Tel: (215) 564-4080