These days there no shortages of marketing lawyers. Whether on TV, radio, billboards, buses, etc., you will almost assuredly see or hear attorneys advertising their services. Social Security disability lawyers are no different. The sheer number of attorneys and law firms offering their services can leave anyone thinking about hiring a representative for a Social Security disability claim thoroughly confused. So many alternatives to choose from. Is there anything that can set some attorneys apart from others? Well, yes, there is. But first, I will address reasons NOT to hire a representative.
At the outset, it is important to point out that Social Security disability contracts are based on a contingent fee agreement. This means that your representative only gets paid a fee (and in most cases, costs) if you are successful in winning your case.
Although it is usual to see attorneys advertising their contingency fee representation as some sort of “guarantee,” or honorable “pledge” to you, that you will never have to pay them unless you win your claim, these types of arrangements are not only run-of-the-mill, but mandatory.
This is different from other areas of law where attorneys get to charge hourly rates and retainers. It is not uncommon to find very experienced attorneys in the areas of family or criminal law charging their clients fees as high as $500 an hour just to be involved in their representation. Their charges are not subject to change based on the outcome of a case. Their fees are their fees. Well, these types of financial agreements are not found in Social Security Disability cases.
If you do not win your case, your representative cannot charge you a fee. It is that simple. Thus, a promise not to charge you a fee if you do not win your case is no reason to select one representative over another; they all get paid only if they win.
One standard and common consideration that most would-be claimants look at to decide who to hire to handle their disability claim, is (no surprise) price. How much would this lawyer charge me to take my case? As pointed out above, representatives in areas other than Social Security disability can charge a wide array of fees to their clients. For obvious reasons, the amounts that representatives in these areas seek to collect becomes a significant, and often times determinative, consideration in their selection.
This, in turn, results in individuals not hiring attorneys that are best qualified to provide them with the most effective representation, but attorneys who they feel are the most affordable. On the other hand, in Social Security disability cases, the answer to the question of how much is very easy: Social Security regulations provide that a representative that successfully prosecutes a disability claim is entitled to collect either 25% of the claimant’s past due (i.e., retroactive/back) benefits, or $6,000, whatever is less. Attorneys can have a different fee schedule for cases that go beyond a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge.
However, most Social Security disability claimants that are approved for benefits get their approvals at the hearing level. Accordingly, price should not be a deciding factor to hire a Social Security representative.
So now that you know that you will pay all Social Security representatives the same fee, and only if you win, another question comes up: Where do you get the money to pay your representative if you do win your case? The answer is found in your past due benefits, also known as back or retroactive benefits. The Social Security disability process can be quite long. It is not uncommon for claimants to spend over two years fighting to get their benefits.
More likely than not, those are over two years of significant emotional and financial stress. Yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
If you win your case, not only is Social Security under a legal obligation to provide you monthly benefits in the form of checks and medical coverage, but they will also owe you for every single month that they failed to pay you benefits.
These past-due benefits (or overdue benefits as I often call them) are paid to you in a lump sum amount.
Your representative is paid directly from those benefits by the Social Security Administration. This means that you do not have to ever pay your representative out of pocket for having assisted you in winning your case.
 These payments do not include attorney costs.
How do you know that the individual that you are thinking about hiring to handle your case truly has the skills, experience, and qualifications to provide you the best representation possible? Although it is truly impossible to know the answer to this question to a certainty, there is one specific factor that can be considered as objective as any other: Board Certification. To be clear, an attorney does not have to be board certified to represent a client in a Social Security disability setting. Board certification does not make attorneys “better” or more competent than others.
However, when an attorney is board certified in the area of Social Security law, a prospective client can objectively verify that the attorney
1) is committed to the area of Social Security disability by demonstrating that a significant portion of his/her caseload involves disability cases, and is not just handling cases that fall within that area “on the side”
2) he/she has substantial experience in the practice of Social Security disability law (i.e., no less than 5 years)
3) has provided references of individuals that are familiar with the attorney’s practice, including Federal Administrative Law Judges
4) has passed a written exam which tests his or her enhanced level of skill, expertise and knowledge in Social Security disability law
5) has provided evidence that he/she is good standing and has completed all admission requirements to the State Bar to which he or she belongs.
What this means is that prospective clients do not have to guess whether a board-certified attorney has the knowledge, experience, and expertise to handle their case. The board certification confirms those matters.
Here are your choices: You can hire a representative that simply handles Social Security disability cases, or you can hire an attorney that not only handles disability cases but is also board certified in Social Security disability law. They will both only charge you if you win your case. They will both charge you the same fees if you win your case.
They will both be paid directly by the Social Security Administration from your past-due benefits, so you will never have to pay either one out of your pocket if you win. The difference? In one attorney, you hope you have found someone who is very committed to the area of Social Security law and has the knowledge and experience to provide you the best representation possible. In the other, you can objectively verify that those two factors are true.
So, the question is, who is providing you the best “bang for your buck?” The answer seems to be clear. For the same price that you would pay to hire an average lawyer, you get a certified expert in Social Security disability law. So yes, the board-certified lawyer gives you more bang for your buck.