Does Hiring a Lawyer Actually Help a New Disability Application?

If you are starting a new disability application, or you are in the reconsideration stage, you may be wondering: Should you hire a lawyer now or wait until a hearing appeal? Should you leave everything up to the lawyer or try improve your case yourself? What does a lawyer actually do?

Let’s take a look.

Insider’s Tip: Magnolia Works as a Disability Examiner

Magnolia worked as a Social Security Disability Examiner, where she reviewed cases and made decisions on approvals and denials. Later she became disabled herself. She was kind enough to share her experiences with readers here:

“In my experience as a Disability Examiner, attorneys rarely do anything on your case until after you are denied twice (once at initial application and then again at the reconsideration level). You are essentially paying them for doing nothing.

“They never called us about cases to make sure we had all the evidence. Occasionally one would send us medical records that we already had in the file. That’s it.

“I always felt bad when I approved someone who had a lawyer. One woman comes to mind: She had Rheumatoid Arthritis in both hands completely ankylosed, she used a wheelchair, and she was legally blind from prolonged steroid use. All of these conditions met listings in the Social Security Blue Book, but she had hired an attorney who did nothing on her case, and then she had to pay that attorney out of her disability checks.”

Should I Hire a Lawyer? Can a Lawyer Help Me?

Many people find that hiring a lawyer early on in the disability process can help with their mental health and emotional stress level (especially for anyone who feels confused or intimidated by the application form). This is a very valid reason to hire an attorney.

However, if you are hiring a lawyer, it may be helpful to be know what to expect. Our readers report that in the first 1-2 years, most attorneys just complete the basic forms and may do little or nothing to actually increase your chances of approval. Luckily, there are many things you can do to increase your chances yourself. 10 Steps To Improve a New Disability Application

If you reach the hearing stage, some attorneys do a lot more to help at this point.

Why Do Lawyers Wait Until Hearings Before They Spend More Time on My Case? 

Lawyers get paid a percent of your backpay. If you are approved right away, there is less backpay. The lawyer makes less money. Sometimes no money. During appeals and hearings, lawyers can offer more help without going broke themselves.

Where Do I Find a Good Lawyer? 

You can start here: How and Where To Find a Good Lawyer or Representative

But wait! Are you sure a good lawyer is what you need the most?

The single most important thing that can help any disability application is the right kind of medical documentation. You know who creates medical documentation? It’s not lawyers. It’s doctors! How to Find a Doctor to Help With Disability Documentation

When Should I Hire A Lawyer?

You should hire a lawyer when you want one. You can also hire a non-attorney representative or advocate (they can represent your case in a similar way to a lawyer).  There is no charge upfront.

Some of our readers report that hiring a lawyer from the very beginning helped the process feel less stressful for them. Other readers decided to wait and then hired lawyers if they needed to appeal. Some lawyers will not take clients until the appeal stage.

Five Things You Might Not Know About Lawyers for New Applications

1. Lawyers may not be collecting your medical records. Many lawyers do not collect any records at this point. Instead, they write down your doctors information on the application forms and then hope that Social Security will collect everything.

2. Lawyers can’t see your Social Security file. At this point in the process, lawyers, do not have electronic access to your file and if there is anything lost or missing, they will not know. Later on, during hearing appeals, they can start to see your file.

3. Lawyers may not be reading your medical records. Many lawyers do not begin reviewing your medical records until it is close to the time for your hearing. If there is a problem in your records, you might not find out until it is too late to make a change.

4. Lawyers probably won’t contact your doctor. In most cases, lawyers will not contact, write or speak with your doctor during the initial stages. When getting ready for the hearing, they may send a form to your doctor to fill out.

5. Lawyers may not improve your chances during reconsideration. After your initial application is denied, you will have a chance for a short appeal step called a reconsideration. As with new applications, most readers report that during reconsideration lawyers filled out the basic paperwork but did not take extra steps to improve their case. Happily, there are many extra steps you can take yourself: How To Improve Your Reconsideration Request

How Do I Know if My Lawyer Has Looked at My Medical Records?

If you believe that your lawyer is collecting and reading your records, ask for a copy of your file on CD. If they cannot give you copies, they probably do not have them.

Is It Even Possible to Get Approved for a New Application?

There are no guarantees, but you can certainly improve your chances. Tips from the pros: How I Got Approved for Disability QUICKLY

Thanks for Reading

🌷 This page is part of the free online guide: The Sleepy Girl Guide to Social Security Disability 

🌷 Learn more about this topic here: How To Apply For Disability Without a Lawyer

🌷 Art on this page by Robin Mead and Elizabeth D’Angelo.

🌷 Page Updated: 8/1/19

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9 thoughts on “Does Hiring a Lawyer Actually Help a New Disability Application?”

  1. Question… When I went to my disability interview (2019) at the SSA office when I was approved for SSI they told me that I was approved back in 2011 which would have made me 21 years old. I have struggled with mental illness my whole life and have had gastric issues including ulcerative colitis I was diagnosed when I was six years old. I then tried to reach out to a disability lawyer and I told them that the reason why I was denied for disability SSDI for 2019 that’s because I did not have enough work credits, the man was very rude to me and preceded by saying oh sorry I can’t help you there’s nothing I can do and hung up. What my question is do you think I could appeal my case 9 years later even though I was approved and I was told I was approved in 2011, do you think my case is good cause for reopening the 2011 case?? Any references on great lawyer would be most appreciated!


    1. Hi Jessica,

      I’m not quite sure the answer here.

      One thing that might help is to try to find out why you never started getting a check in 2011 if you were approved then.

      If you find out the reason you didn’t get the check, you might be able to appeal or take steps. I haven’t heard from someone else in this situation so not sure.

      Did they tell you why you never got a check then? You could try contacting your local office (not the national number). Ask to speak to supervisors there until you can find someone who can provide you with some kind of written information on what happened in 2011. If that doesn’t work, you could also try contacting congressperson’s office to see if they can request this information for you:

      Also, are either of your parents retired, disabled or deceased? That might allow you to apply for disabled adult child benefits based on the determination at age 21

      I’m not quite sure how to request your case be reopened at this point. You would need to get denied something to appeal. You could try appealing the onset date in your current approval? Have you gone back to work in the years between 2011 and 2019?


  2. What if the SSA AND the attorney didn’t obtain all of the records? The DDS sent a records request to Baylor Psychiatry 3 times requesting my records. However, my psychiatrist was clearly entered in the second entry as Doctor Lagrone on Bisonette. I was denied and my letter stated “claimant has not been diagnosed by an MD for the issues listed, anxiety and depression.
    Well, had they ordered my records, they’d have seen that even in my first visit with my new doctor, she notes I’m receiving meds for ADD, anxiety and depression from Doctor Lagrone. Still I was denied. I was the. Reading the online rules and found a little clause that says you HCSO syc.


    1. We have not heard from anyone who said their attorney requested records for an initial application.

      You can try following up with your attorney, disability examiner, and the doctor’s office to make sure they get in this time. I hope it goes well.


  3. My issue – my attorney never told me about auxiliary benefits – apparently attorneys do not receive monetary reward from auxiliary benefits


  4. Please note, in many parts of the country disability backlogs are shrinking and many claimants are receiving hearings about a year after application, thus the timelines above may be significantly longer than you experience. Don’t sit on your case because you expect a long wait.


    1. Thanks so much, Ellie. Great advice.

      I’ve noticed a pattern of it being quicker in states that eliminated the reconsideration stage. I’ve read SSA has recently brought back reconsideration in nearly all states and will be back everywhere by end of 2019. I’m not sure how this will impact things.

      Please keep posting here, would value your input.


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