By Melissa A. Davidson

When speaking with new clients, I often hear about bad experiences with previous representation in Social Security disability cases. Many times, these are people who have been pursuing their benefits for a number of years and end up with a denial from an Administrative Law Judge. Sometimes, these denials are inevitable and cannot be blamed on who represented the person at the hearing. However, there are some issues with representation that can have very negative consequences. Some of the same complaints come up over and over again and I would like to go over a few questions you can ask when you are deciding who will represent you in your disability claim that can help you avoid making a choice that you might later regret.

1. Will an attorney be representing me?

This seems like a very obvious question, but unfortunately, it is so obvious some people never ask it. Some people get to their hearing and learn that the person who is representing them at the hearing is not an attorney. The office they have hired has instead sent a “representative” to the hearing. Since Social Security hearings are administrative, your counsel doesn’t have to be an attorney, but they get paid the same as an attorney. However, the “representative” lacks the credentials, certification and education an attorney must get in order to carry the title of “attorney.”

2.  How long have you or your office been practicing Social Security disability law?

I find that some people hire attorneys who only do disability cases on the side or perhaps just started doing these cases and become upset by the lack of knowledge and effective representation they received from these attorneys. With experience comes specialized knowledge about the process, the people involved, and what is needed to have the best chances at a successful outcome. For example, our office has been handling Social Security disability cases for over 30 years.

3. What happens if the judge denies me? Will you appeal that denial?

This is the most common complaint that I see. A large number of attorneys out there will represent you until you are denied by the Administrative Law Judge. Once you receive that denial letter, they will then send you a letter letting you know that you are able to appeal that decision, but their office does not do such appeals, and they will advise you to seek new representation. Now you have a decision that must be appealed within 60 days and you must find a new attorney to do this appeal. Make sure the attorney you hire to represent you is capable of doing all levels of appeal, not just the Administrative Law Judge Hearing. If you are denied by the Judge you are able to appeal to the Appeals Counsel, and if you are again denied, you can appeal to the Federal Court. Here at our office we are able to do all possible levels of appeal, including the Federal Court level if needed.

4. Will I meet or speak to my attorney before the date of the hearing?

More and more I am hearing of people who talk to their attorney for the first time right before their hearing and then are unsatisfied with the representation that they receive during the hearing. It is imperative that you have a meeting prior to your hearing date, preferably in person, but if that is not possible, then at the least a phone conference. This meeting is important because it gives you and your attorney a chance to speak freely about the evidence in your case, go over your testimony, answer any questions you have. Additionally, your attorney can advise you about the Administrative Law Judge that will be presiding over your hearing. At our office, we schedule a “hearing preparation” meeting at least one month before the hearing date. If your attorney refuses to meet with you before the day of the hearing, you should reconsider who is representing you. This is an important matter and should be treated as such, as your case should get the time and attention it deserves.

If you or someone you know needs representation for a Social Security disability claim, please call Hankey Marks & Crider at (317) 634-8565.