AVVO – A national online directory of lawyers in all fields. (Hint: If you scroll to the bottom of each lawyer’s page and click on “legal answers” you may see how they have answered other people’s questions. I find this very enlightening.)
NOSSCR – National organization of disability lawyers and advocates. Contact them for names of disability lawyers and reps in your area
NADR – Another national organization of disability lawyers and advocates. Contact them for names of disability lawyers and reps in your area
ALLSUP – A national disability advocate company. They file your case from their national office. If you appeal and go to a hearing, they will contract with a local disability advocate in your area to represent you at the hearing.
SOAR for People who are Homeless or At Risk – A national program run out of various nonprofit agencies. (Hint: They are the BEST. Totally free and very high success rate and very quick approvals. Most SOAR programs require a mental health diagnosis. Mostly works with new applications.)
The Most Important Things You Need to Know
There are times when a lawyer can help a lot, and there are times when a lawyer makes no difference. There are things a lawyer can do, and there are things only you can do to help yourself. It is really really important to know what to expect from your lawyer and what to do on your own. Please take a look:
What is Better: An “Attorney” or an “Representative”?
You can hire an “attorney” or you can hire a “non-attorney representative.” These may also be called “disability advocates” or “accredited disability representatives.”
Attorneys are people who went to law school. They did not take any kind of special test about Social Security. They may specialize in Social Security, or they may work in a variety of areas.
Representatives are people who took a special test about Social Security disability. They did not go to law school. Many reps are former employees who used to work for the Social Security administration making disability decisions.
Attorneys and representatives are equally good. (Even though both sides will tell you that their way is better).
Even though it is incorrect, I tend to call both types “lawyers” because that is what everyone else does, and it makes my sentences less awkward
How Do I Find a Good One?
You can hire a small local firm or a large national firm. Both ways have advantages and disadvantages. (Once again, both groups will tell you that their way is better).
Disability applications can take 2-3 years. If you feel there is any chance you might be moving to a different area in the next few years, you might consider going with a national firm. The large national firms will be able to work with you from any location.
Some people have success finding someone good reps by asking their doctors if they can recommend a local disability lawyer. If a lawyer has taken the time to develop connections with local doctors this is sometimes a good sign.
One of our readers found a great lawyer by calling several local lawyers and requesting a free consult. At the consult she asked them each to recommend local doctors who might be willing to evaluate her for a disability claim. Three lawyers had nothing to offer, and one was able to share excellent recommendations and explain the strengths and weaknesses of each doctor. Bonus: She also found a good doctor!
You can ask for recommendations from other people on disability or you can inquire at local support groups.
I used to think asking for recommendations was a good way to find a lawyer, but I’ve changed my mind. It is a good way to tell whether the lawyer and office staff will be nice to you, answer your questions, and return your phone calls. These things will help you feel better, but they often have nothing do with how good a job the lawyer is actually doing on your case.
Sometimes you can discover things about lawyers by Google searching their name and seeing what other clients have written. I don’t pay too much attention to good reviews, since they may be fake (you can hire people to post good reviews around the internet!), but the negative reviews can be revealing. For large companies, glass door may include some reviews from people who work there.
Beware of stockpiling lawyers. Some disability lawyers and personal injury lawyers do heavy advertising and take on hundreds of clients, saying yes to nearly everyone. Then they let all the cases pile up in their file cabinet. Some cases win just win on their own, and some don’t. Even if only half the cases win, that’s still plenty of money for not too much work. Good for the lawyer; not so good for the client.
If a lawyer is a good salesperson and eager to sign everyone up, this might make me a little wary. Personally, I would prefer a lawyer who is more discerning and takes the time to carefully screen my case or review some of my medical records before agreeing to accept me as a client.
Many websites advertising lawyers are actually lawyer referral services. They will refer you to a lawyer in your area and collect a fee for recruiting you. They may not screen the lawyers or know anything about them. They may just send you to whoever pays the fee.
💠 If you are on LTD insurance through your employer, the LTD company may offer to hire a Social Security lawyer for you. You do not have to take their lawyer. Many people get confused into thinking that the LTD lawyer is “free” and choosing their own lawyer will cost money. Not true. The is no cost up front and the fees are exactly the same when you win.
Just Starting Out?
Many lawyers will not take on clients at the beginning. Don’t worry if this happens. It will be easier to find a lawyer later if you appeal.
You do not need a lawyer for an initial application. You can get one if you want one.
💠 Whether or not you hire a lawyer, your best chances for getting approved early are to take steps yourself to improve your application.
Other Kinds of Lawyers
The above lawyers are for Social Security Disability. If you are applying for disability through your employer, you will need a different kind of lawyer – one that specializes in ERISA law. From what I have heard these lawyers are often very good and super expensive. Learn more: How to Apply for Disability Through Your Employer.
💠 You may also be able to find a lawyer with knowledge of employer disability through NELA
Updated Oct 2017. Please comment below with stories, questions, input or ideas. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working.