Disability Lawyer - Do You Need One?
You don't need to hire somebody to represent you when you file a claim for disability benefits. Most people applying for benefits will have plenty of time to handle their own application. However, there are cases where an claimant might prefer to have some help, such as if they don't read, write, or speak English well, or if their illness or injury incapacitates them to a large degree. Plus, some people just feel better being represented by someone else. In these cases, you can have what's referred to as an 'authorized representative' pursure your claim. You can engage either a specialist disability lawyer or a non-attorney to represent you.
If you do decide to retain an authorized representative for the initial claim, and after researching the claims process through resources such as this Website you feel that your application has a good chance of being approved, there's little reason to spend the money on hiring a lawyer. Even when it comes to a reconsideration of the initial claim (the first appeal), you may well decide that the services of a lawyer are unneccessary if you feel fairly confident of approval.
However, once past that point, when it comes to the more formal appeals before an administrative law judge or a federal district court, it now becomes much more cost-effective to consider the services of an attorney. Firstly, because your claim has already been denied a couple of times. Secondly, because now you are in a court of law, where having a lawyer with a knowledge of disability benefit law is much more of an advantage. Additionally, attorneys are paid from the proceeds of past-due benefits. If they lose the case, they don't get anything (although the contract may call for you to pay their office costs - this varies from case to case), so if one agrees to take your case, the chances are that they feel you have a pretty good chance of being successful.
There are a couple of different ways a professional representative can be paid. A 'fee agreement' is signed by you and the attorney before the appeal commences, and usually involves the SSA withholding a portion of the past-due benefits. The disability lawyer also may file a 'fee petition' with the SSA, where he states exactly how much money he expects to receive and notes all his costs in providing representation to you. This is sometimes done because the attorney prefers the petition to an agreement with the claimant, and sometimes because he has not filed the fee agreement in time.
Most attorneys these days use the services of paralegals to help them with cases. This is fine as long as the lawyer is aware of how your claim is progressing and is is in charge and representing you at hearings. A lawyer specializing in disability and similar cases should also have a good working relationship with the workers at the Disability Determination Service (DDS) which handles claims for the SSA. If he seems to speak negatively of them, they may feel the same way about him, and while this doesn't mean your claim is doomed, why make things any more difficult than they have to be?