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 group.
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.
The American 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 initial consultation? Most representatives will offer a free initial consultation.
- Do you accept cases on a contingency* basis or only on a fee basis? Social Security determines the fee that any representative or organization can charge for SSDI representation. Currently, under the SSA’s fee agreement approval process, it is 25% of the retroactive dollar amount awarded, not to exceed $6,000. You do not pay anything until you are approved for SSDI benefits. For more information on how SSDI representation works, visit bit.ly/TrueHelpAwarded
- What do you estimate your fees for your services will be?
- 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. The representative will still only be paid if the person is awarded benefits, and only if he/she does not waive his/her fee. 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.
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