Why a Lawyer Will Not Take Your Case
How to Find a Disability Attorney
If you are applying for Social Security disability benefits, then you should get an attorney to assist you. Some people attempt to apply for benefits on their own but then get a lawyer to handle the appeal. Other people hire an attorney when they first apply for benefits. In order to find a disability lawyer, you should gather referrals from a variety of sources and then look at the lawyers’ websites. Before hiring an attorney, be sure to meet for a consultation.
Ask friends or family.You can get referrals by asking anyone you know who has used a disability lawyer in the past if they would recommend their attorney.Co-workers may be a good source of information as well.
- You don’t need to rush right out and hire the person’s lawyer even if they give a glowing recommendation. People want different things from attorneys. For example, some people are pleased never to hear from the lawyer while others would feel more comfortable with regular updates. Accordingly, you should not hire someone until you meet for a consultation so that you can engage with the lawyer individually.
- Nevertheless, you should put the attorney’s name on your list of prospective lawyers.
Ask your attorney.You might have used a lawyer for a non-disability matter, such as to draft a will or to defend you in a criminal case. You should ask the lawyer if he or she knows any good disability lawyers you could contact.
- Lawyers are often excellent sources of referrals. They work in the same legal community as disability lawyers and therefore have a good idea about someone’s reputation.
- A lawyer will also be extra careful when recommending another lawyer, because they know that whoever they recommend reflects on them as well.
Contact a bar association.If you don’t have any leads, or if you want more, then get a referral from your local or state bar association.To find your local bar association, type “your state” or “your city” and “lawyer bar association.” Most should run a referral program.
- In some states, the bar association will give you the name of one attorney to call.
- In other states, however, you can search through an online directory of lawyers based on specialty. For example, in Illinois you can search specifically for disability attorneys and narrow the search based on zip code.
- If your state’s bar association is like Illinois’s, then you can get the names of several attorneys at once and research them.
Use a directory.Nolo, a website which focuses on the law, runs a directory of disability attorneys that you can use.You can click on your state and then type in your zip code.
- To help connect you with an appropriate attorney, the website will then ask you basic information about your age and when the condition began to affect you.
Look at attorney websites.After you have the name of one or more disability lawyers, you should check their websites. Most lawyers now have websites on which they list their education, experience, and sometimes their overall philosophy of how they represent clients.
- Check to see that the lawyer has handled disability cases before. Many lawyers who practice in the disability field specialize only in disability cases. If the lawyer has a more general practice, then look for information about the number of disability matters they have handled over the past few years.
- Also check the website for grammar and spelling. A hasty or error-riddled website suggests that the attorney might not be particularly interested in details and could provide careless legal assistance.
- Also look for any awards or honors the attorney has received. If the lawyer has been recognized by peers for outstanding service, then that fact should be noted on the website.
Meeting for a Consultation
Schedule a consultation.You should be able to get a free consultation with a disability attorney.It usually will last from 15-30 minutes.
- Call your top two or three lawyers and ask to schedule a consultation. Don’t be surprised if you don’t talk to the lawyer directly. Lawyers are usually at hearings during the day, so they have staff who handle their phone calls.
- The person you speak to might ask you some basic questions about your disability. The purpose of these questions is to see if your case is something that the lawyer regularly handles. For example, some lawyers do not handle children’s disability cases.
- If the lawyer does not handle disability cases like your own, then you should be told that fact. Thank the person for their time and ask if they can recommend a lawyer who does handle cases involving your disability.
Gather documents.You should pull together copies of all documents related to your case.During the consultation, you should refer to them if you need to answer a question. The attorney will probably also want to see them in order to get a good sense of your case. You should gather:
- medical records
- any communication from the Social Security Administration, such as letters or emails
- a copy of your application for disability benefits, if you have already filed one
Pay attention to how staff treat you.When you arrive for your consultation, you will be greeted by one or more employees. For example, the receptionist could greet you and then the lawyer’s personal assistant or paralegal could talk to you while you wait to meet with the lawyer. Everyone in the lawyer’s office should treat you with respect.
- If you find the support staff rude or unhelpful, then you might want to think about not hiring the lawyer. A lawyer who continues to employ rude staff might not care for the well-being of his or her clients.
Ask questions about the lawyer’s experience.During the consultation, there should be time for you to ask questions. You will want to know the following:
- has the lawyer handled a case with the same disability you are claiming
- what is the firm’s approval rate
- what is the approval rate at the disability hearings level
- what percentage of approved cases has been for partial benefits
- what percentage has been for full benefits
Ask how the lawyer staffs cases.You also will want to know how the lawyer will staff the case. Many different people work in the typical lawyer’s office—assistants, clerks, paralegals, other attorneys. You will want to know:
- Will you be assigned a case manager? If so, how many clients does the case manager serve?
- How often does the case manager keep the client up-to-date?
- Does the case manager communicate by phone or email?
- Does the form have paralegals who work on cases? Who will do most of the work on your case?
Avoiding Bad Attorneys
Read online reviews.Many websites now offer online reviews. Avvo and Yelp both contain reviews for lawyers and law firms.You can type the lawyer’s name into a search engine and look for reviews.
- Take online reviews with a grain of salt. Many websites allow people to leave reviews anonymously.Because of this, it is often difficult for lawyers to effectively respond to allegations because they do not know the identity of the person leaving the review. In fact, the person leaving the review might never have been a client.
- Also, those who are unhappy are often more motivated to leave a review than a client who is generally pleased with the lawyer’s services. For this reason, it’s not unusual to see negative reviews outnumber positive ones.
- Nevertheless, look for patterns in the reviews. If several reviewers all mention that the attorney is impossible to reach by telephone, then you might want to credit those complaints.
Look for other “red flags.” Think about your consultation with the lawyer and try to remember if you found anything unsettling about the consultation. In particular, pay attention to these common red flags:
- A messy office. A lawyer with a messy office is probably not organized. Even worse, he or she is not safeguarding the client’s confidential information if papers are all over the place.
- The lawyer is judging you. This is a sign that you will not have a productive relationship with the lawyer. When people feel like they are being judged, they tend to withhold information. This can only hurt your case.
Search for disciplinary violations.Each state has an attorney discipline and review board. The purpose of the board is to gather complaints about lawyers and then investigate them. If the attorney violated the code of ethics, then the board disciplines the attorney.
- These boards maintain a list of attorneys with active bar licenses, which you can look up. Any violations should be noted beside the lawyer’s name.
- To find your state’s disciplinary board, you can type “your state” and “attorney discipline” or “lawyer complaints” into your favorite web browser.
Avoid a lawyer who promises a specific outcome.Any attorney who promises a certain result is behaving unethically. For example, an attorney cannot promise that you will get approved for disability or that your case will go faster if you hire the lawyer.
- However, an attorney can give you an honest assessment of your case. He or she can point to the strengths or weaknesses and promise to try to find ways to improve your case.
Make a decision.After you have met with the lawyers and eliminated the bad ones, you need to make a decision. There is no one way to decide. Instead, review your notes from each consultation and pick a lawyer based on the following:
- The lawyer’s experience. Has the lawyer handled cases involving your disability? If the lawyer has, and if she has a good approval rate in disability cases, then you might want to hire her.
- How comfortable you felt talking to the lawyer. Communication is key to any attorney-client relationship. If you felt comfortable asking questions and sharing concerns, then the lawyer might be right for you.
- How well you understood the lawyer’s explanation of what the case involves. You will want to keep up on how your case is progressing. If the lawyer doesn’t know how to explain legal concepts in a way that you understand, then you might not want to hire the lawyer.
- Your gut instinct. Trust your gut. If more than one attorney seems qualified to you, then go with the one your instincts are telling you to choose.
Call the lawyers.You should contact the disability attorney you selected as soon as possible and tell him or her that you would like to hire them. The attorney can then tell you about what next steps to take.
- You should also contact the attorneys you didn’t choose. You don’t need to say much. Instead, thank them for their time and say that you have chosen a different attorney to represent you.
Sign an engagement letter.After you hire the lawyer, he or she should send you an engagement letter. This letter explains what work the lawyer will do for you. It will also explain other details, such as how you can get a copy of your case file and how much the lawyer charges to make photocopies.
- You need to sign the letter and return it to the lawyer. Keep a copy for your records.
- Before signing, be sure to read through the entire engagement letter. Essentially, this is a contract. Make sure you understand and agree to all of the provisions. If you disagree or don’t understand something, then contact the lawyer right away.
- By law, disability attorneys charge only a “contingency fee.” This means that they do not get paid unless they win the case for you. The law also limits how much disability attorneys can collect. Generally, a disability attorney can only collect as a fee 25% of your past-due benefits up to a maximum of ,000.Accordingly, if you are owed ,000 in past-due benefits, then the attorney can only be paid ,000.
- You do have to pay for typical costs related to the case. For example, the lawyer can charge you for photocopying and for requesting records (such as medical, work, or school records). It is unusual for these costs to exceed 0.
Video: When Should I Hire A Social Security Disability Attorney and How Do I pay Them
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