To wrap up my series on choosing a social security disability lawyer, I have urged you to consider the main features of disability representatives: big or small, national or local, and disability-only or multipractice firms. Deciding on these key features will then “narrow the field” of choice and make it easier to pick who will be right for you.
I then suggest that you interview the attorney or firm representatives. Ask about how they would approach your case, what suggestions they might have for strengthening your claim, how often could you expect communication (and how), and who will handle your ALJ hearing.
Be open about your expectations, and pick the lawyer you feel most closely matches your needs and give you the best chance of victory.
An important dimension of choosing a social security disability attorney is to determine how much of that lawyer’s practice is social security disability: does she handle only social security disability or is social security disability only a small part of the firm’s practice.
Traditionally, many social security disability attorneys are also personal injury/trial lawyers. Many experienced and competent social security disability lawyers across the nation fit in to this category.
But the financial pressures on personal injury lawyers cause by “Tort Reform”, particularly in the state of Texas, have been substantial. There are now several “Personal Injury Practice Management” type seminars being marketed to lawyers that encourage personal injury lawyers to supplement their injury practice income with a social security disability practice. Now in North Texas we are seeing two major, heavy (and cheesy) TV advertising car wreck lawyers starting to handle social security disability cases (hint: think”Hammer” and “Strong Arm”).
In my opinion you need a social security disability lawyer who devotes most or all of his or her practice to Social Security disability claims. Be careful with a lawyer or lawfirm that”wears too many hats”. Look for an attorney who has conducted hundreds of administrative law judge hearings, not a firm that had decided of late to “test the waters” in social security disability representation.
National vs. Local
Social security disability laws and regulations are the same in Georgia as they are in Texas so social security disability attorneys and representives are not bound by State or regional laws and constraints. If you are looking for a social security disability lawyer in Dallas Texas, you will have the opporunity to hire a national firm from California or New Jersey. “Big” and “national” tend to go together: big social security disability firms are almost always “National” in scope. There are, on the other hand, solo or small attorney firms that will take a social security disability case anywhere.
So if social security disability laws and regulations are the same nation wide, what difference does it make whether your hire a local vs national social security disability attorney? In my opinion, A LOT. Though the rules governing your claim are the same nationwide, all the critical aspects of your disability case are local: your doctors, medical treatment sources, and the state agency that handles the initial and reconsideration. Most importantly, the Administrative Law Judge who will decide your social security disability case is based in your community. Local social security disability attorneys who handle only disability cases become very familiar with the individual judges. This is a very significant advantage.
Its not that local social security disability attorneys and the Administrative Law Judges socialize or play golf together – they do not. Rather the local social security disability lawyer comes to understand the unique case approach of each particular judge as well as what information that judge want in order to approve a disability claim.
Big or Small: What Social Security Disability Firm Fits You?
Social security representation runs the gamut from solo lawyers to meg-firms like Binder and Binder, Citizen’s Disability and the Disability Group. This is a fundamental question you have to ask yourself: do I want to deal one-on-one with the attorney who will represent me in the Administrative Law Judge hearing, or do I want deal with a large organization? With a large firm you will deal with many different persons, and will not likely have much interaction with the attorney or representative who steps into the all important ALJ hearing with you. Some of our clients formerly with large disability representation groups report having to “retell” their story to each new person, or getting hopelessly stuck in “call tree hell”. On the other hand, if a large group has a good data management system, the continual “hand offs” need not be a problem. Several persons represented by large groups over the years have reported many an excellent contact person in the big group who was sympathetic and helpful.
The big problem, however, is that when you pick a “big box” disability representation firm you have no way to know whether you are going to be assigned to a representative who is a superstar or a dud. You are trusting the organization, rather than an individual attorney.
Smaller firms or solo social security disability lawyers offer you the significant advantage that you can meet and assess the lawyer and staff who will be handling your case. In most cases (certainly for me) the firm name attorney is the lawyer who will be appearing with you in the ALJ hearing.
In the “Big vs Small” debate, I think there is one big issue folks do not consider: what is the nature of the financial incentive for this representative/attorney to win my disability case? All attorney and representatives are paid the same way: no fee is payable unless they win social security disability back benefits for you. But it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that losing your case for a solo attorney or small firm is going to “hurt the bottom Line” alot more than if the largest social security disability advocate firm loses your case. Don’t get me wrong: Binder and Binder wants to, and does win, social security disability cases. What you need to consider is “how hungry” is your disability representative or attorney for a victory on your behalf. To my knowledge, big firms like Binder and Binder and Freedom Disability employ salaried attorneys or representatives, so their personal incentive to win your case is not as great as the solo or small attorney who knows their income will suffer if they don’t win for you.
There is no sense that you need a big organization to fight for your social security disability benefits. Moreover, no one at social security is intimidated or impressed that Binder and Binder is on your case any more than they are going to be impressed that I am your lawyer.
Good representation wins cases, not size.
Finding the right representation in a social security disability claim is not easy. Most people that are disabled and unable to continue to work have little experience with hiring attorneys. More importantly, most disabled people are under great stress, and usually make the decision to hire a social security disability lawyer when under the added stress of having just received a social security disability denial letter.
Too many people select a social security disability attorney impulsively as if gulping down an unpleasant medication just to get it over with. Attorneys do not help with advertising slogans that mean next to nothing. Social Security disability attorneys with several lawyers routinely add the years of experience for all the attorneys and, for example, boast “20 years of experience” when they have 10 lawyers with 2 years of experience each! One national firm crows that they “are the most successful social security disability advocates” when all that really means is that they are the biggest social security disability representative firm in the country.
You need to cut through the marketing slogans and streamline the decision-making process to make a wise choice that is right for you. This is the first in five posts on how to simplify the decision making process and pick a social security disability attorney you will be happy with. Now you may be thinking, five articles to “simplify” the decision making? Fair point, but sometimes it takes a bit of planning to simply matters, so stay with me through all 5 posts.
To simplify the process, you need to consider the primary types or “flavors” of social security disability representatives. I find there are 3 critical “dimensions” of social security disability attorneys and representatives available in Texas and throughout the United States. Understanding each can help you make a better choice. I will address each in the coming weeks. For now, consider these:
Big vs. Small
Social security representation runs the gamut from solo lawyers to meg-firms like Binder and Binder, Freedom Disability and the Disability Group. If you will pardon the phrase, “size matters” not in the sense that big is best, but in the sense that the size of the organization you deal with in your claim for social security disability is a critical factor for you to consider.
National vs. Local
Social security disability laws and regulations are the same in Georgia as they are in Texas so social security disability attorneys and representives are not bound by State or regional laws and constraints. If you are looking for a social security disability lawyer in Dallas Texas, you will have the opportunity to hire a national firm from California or New Jersey. “Big” and “national” tend to go together: big social security disability firms are almost always “National” in scope. There are, on the other hand, solo or small attorney firms that will take a social security disability case anywhere.
So if social security disability laws and regulations are the same nationwide, what difference does it make whether your hire a local vs. national social security disability attorney? In my opinion, A LOT. Details are in Part 3 of this post.
Specialized in Social Security Disability vs. Not
Many personal injury law firms are adding social security disability representation to their practices, while other attorneys (like me) do only social security disability. Is this important? See Part 3 and we will consider this issue.
In Part 4 I will put it all together with hopefully solid advice.