There are many of us who feel as though health of Social Security as a retirement plan should take center stage in every conversation. But there is an increasing chance that you will be exposed to the other side of what the agency does before you reach retirement age. The chances that you will have to make a disability claim rise each year and the process does not come with any sort of speedy solution.
The patience it takes to get a judgment from the agency on your case has little to do with the quality of the lawyer you hire. In many instances, the time between the initial claim and your actual hearing can span almost three years, sometimes longer. But the process does require you to make some specific assumptions not only about whom you hire to represent you but how they are paid.
First, the myth of “dire need” no longer dictates who gets heard by the agency or how soon. Determining who needs more faster no longer is considered. No attorney worth her or his salt will make the suggestion that their services will get you a quicker hearing.
Second: the speed of those cases has little to do with the SSA itself. The sheer number of cases being brought to court has doubled over the last decade, making the process of reviewing each individual claim much more difficult. But ultimately, the claim must be brought to a judge. Depending on where you live, the process can take much longer. While it is true that nationwide, the number of judges hearing disability claims has dropped 10%, your state might have a larger backlog of cases than your neighboring state. While that is no consolation, it is also no reason to blame your attorney.
Third: attorneys do not get paid until the case is settled. According to Atlanta based attorney Jonathan Ginsberg “The first method is called a fee agreement process and the second is called the fee petition process. The fee agreement process is simple - if you and your lawyer enter into a contingency contract based on past due benefits that calls for payment of 25% or less of past due benefits, with a cap of $5,300, Social Security will automatically withhold and pay the lawyer 25% of past due benefits up to $5,300 without any need for the lawyer to file a detailed time and billing statement.
“On the other hand, if the fee contract does not provide for a contingency or if there are more than one lawyer claiming a fee, then any lawyer claiming a fee will have to file a detailed fee petition, setting out time records, expenses claimed and other billable time.”
Mr. Ginsberg also suggests sticking with your attorney through the whole process. If for some reason you are considering firing your original attorney, the SSA regardless of the previous attorney’s position in the case will satisfy the fees due at settlement.
He also warns that you should make your choice wisely and be patient. “Law school professors and our malpractice carriers advise us to avoid clients who have fired prior counsel because those clients are the ones who are most likely to be unhappy with a lawyer's work, regardless of the outcome,” Mr. Ginsberg writes.
“Therefore, unless your lawyer is clearly incompetent, ill or dead,” it would be best to stick with your present counsel.