If you have ever tried to convince someone to accept your point of view, you know that you must clearly understand what you are trying to prove, and you must have a specific outcome in mind. These principles are especially true in Social Security disability cases because the government sets out very specific requirements and procedures for proving that you are disabled.
Here is a taste of what you would have to deal with if you decide to pursue disability benefits on your own, without a lawyer:
When you apply for disability benefits, your claim will be assigned to an adjudicator employed by the state of Georgia who will evaluate your case based on something called the five step sequential evaluation process. Step one of this analysis asks if you are currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Step two asks if your impairment is severe. Step three asks if you meet a Social Security listing. Step four asks if you can return to past relevant work. And Step five changes the burden of proof to require Social Security to prove that you do not have the functional capacity to perform substantial gainful activity at any exertional or skill level.
Of course Step Five might not fully apply to you if you fit within any of the Medical Vocational Guidelines, but only if you have an exertional impairment and no transferrable skills.
20+ years ago, I started working on Social Security disability cases and none of this made any sense to me at first. I was fortunate that a thoughtful and friendly administrative law judge took an interest in me and helped me understand how the system worked. I also read hundreds of pages of practice aids, asked a lot of questions and developed expertise.
Currently I teach a course called Starting Your Social Security Disability Practice at Solo Practice University, an online learning platform for lawyers looking to add disability law to their practices. On a regular basis I see my less experienced lawyer colleagues struggle with Social Security law and Social Security’s rules and procedures.
Unfortunately it is very clear to me that a disability claimant, struggling with a painful or distracting medical problem, is going to have a very difficult time figuring out what to do.
Now there are some cases that will get approved quickly and without the need of an attorney. Devastating diseases like certain cancers, terminal diseases and incurable conditions may very well get approved by Social Security on an initial application. Social Security has published a list of these diseases and conditions – called compassionate allowance conditions – click here to see the list. And if you or a loved one has one of these diagnoses you are likely (but not always) going to be approved early.
If you have any other medical condition, however, there are no guarantees, even if your condition is severe and chronic.
You cannot assume that an overworked and underpaid Social Security claims examiner is going to read through hundreds of pages of medical records and process your case for approval. You also cannot assume that a busy and overworked disability judge is going to delay his tight hearing calendar to explain and walk you through every step of your disability hearing.
What an Experienced Lawyer Can Do for You
When clients or lawyer colleagues ask me to describe what I do for my clients, my short answer is this: I identify the work limitations that arise from medical conditions and translate my conclusions into language that Social Security decision makers can understand.
My work on your behalf includes:
- gathering and updating my client’s medical records, including the records that Social Security did not or could not get
- gathering and submitting non-medical evidence such as school records, statements from former co-workers, friends and others to support your claim
- developing one or more theories of disability that fit the facts of your case
- completing Social Security’s claim forms to speak their language and maximize your chances of recovery
- preparing you for your hearing by describing exactly what will happen, practicing your answers to likely hearing questions and advising you about mistakes to avoid
- monitoring receipt of all paperwork from Social Security to insure that no deadlines are missed
- advising you regarding medical information that is missing and helping you identify medical providers who you can see to make your record more complete
- actively representing you at your hearing by developing your case on direct examination, responding to the judges’ concerns, cross examining as necessary any vocational or medical expert witnesses the judge calls in your case
- making necessary legal arguments on your behalf at your hearing quickly and directly
- assisting the judge in completing the record post hearing
I handle Social Security disability cases using a contingency fee contract, which means that I get paid if I win your case, and my fee comes out of the lump sum of past due benefits you will be awarded if you win.
If you have questions or thoughts about how I might be able to help you win your case, please reach out to me – either by phone at 770-393-4985 or by email using the form on this page. I look forward to speaking with you.