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Firing Your Lawyer – Proceed Slowly

Many of the questions I get from readers of this blog concern the long delays in Social Security cases, as well as complaints about lawyers who “aren’t doing anything.”  Frequently the reader asks if he should fire his lawyer.  Here are my thoughts on this important issue:

1. Delays in Social Security cases are not the lawyer’s fault and there is little, if anything that the lawyer can do about the delays.  The delays in Social Security disability cases are a function of the number of claims filed in your area.  Social Security has set up a somewhat convoluted system to evaluate disability.  The initial stages of adjudciation are handled by an agency of your State (the “State Agency”).  The Social Security Administration (a federal agency) contracts with each State to provide this service.  The State Agency handles the initial application and the reconsideration appeal.  Assuming you are turned down for reconsideration, the case is physically moved to a federal office called the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR).  Both the State Agency and the ODAR office are understaffed and overworked.  There are not enough judges or judicial assistant personnel to handle all of the cases.  Social Security is also attempting to convert from a paper based system to a paperless system, which means that all of the State Agency and ODAR offices have a new computer software system to learn and to implement.

2. Most Social Security Disability lawyers use paralegals and support staff to manage the large amounts of paperwork that are associated with your claim.  A large part of your lawyer’s job is to collect medical records and submit those records to the right place – either the State Agency office or the ODAR.  Collecting medical records is extremely time consuming.  Some doctor’s offices handle copying in house, while others use a copy service.  In addition, every time copies are requested, there is a copying cost involved.  In order to keep the cost down and to avoid making your doctor’s office angry, your lawyer has to decide how often to update your records.  In my office, for example, we know approximately how long each of our local ODAR office takes to schedule a hearing, and we wait until we are in that window before updating the records.  Requesting, copying and mailing medical records is a task best suited to a capable paralegal.  Your lawyer’s focus will be on evaluating cases, and preparing and trying cases at hearings.

3. Many Lawyers are Reluctant to Accept Cases Where There Has Been a Previous Representation.  Ethical, experienced lawyers do not want to get a reputation as “case stealers.”  Even in large cities, there is usually a small core of disability lawyers who handle most of the cases in a geographic area.   In my practice, for example, if I get an call or email from someone who wants to fire his lawyer and hire me, I will urge that claimant to stay the course with his existing lawyer and, if I know the lawyer, I may drop the lawyer a note or call him to say that he has an unhappy client.  I do this because I want my colleagues to look out for me.

There is a second reason why lawyers are reluctant to take on a case that was previously the responsibility of another lawyer.  Fees.  Social Security has two procedures for lawyers to get paid.  Option one is called a Fee Agreement, and it provides that lawyers may charge up to 25% of past due benefits with a cap of $5,300 (the cap is periodically adjusted by SSA).  In a Fee Agreement case, Social Security will withhold the 25% and forward it directly to the lawyer.  Option two is called a Fee Petition.  In a Fee Petition case, the lawyer has to submit hourly time records for work performed.  There is no 25% limit nor is there a cap on fees, and the fee is not contingent on the lawyer winning his case.  However, a Fee Petition is a lot more work for the lawyer and delays in getting paid because a judge has to review the Fee Petition.

Most lawyers take advantage of the Fee Agreement process because it saves time and work.

However, if more than one lawyer has filed an entry of appearance, Social Security will not honor a Fee Agreement.  Both the new lawyer and the old lawyer will be asked to file a Fee Petition.  In such a case, it would not be uncommon for the claimant to end up owing more than 25% of his past due benefits to the lawyers.

In my office, I rarely take on cases where there has been another lawyer unless that lawyer is willing to waive his fees (in which case I could use a Fee Agreement).  Fee Petitions are time consuming and, in my opinion, they also do not reflect the value of a good lawyer’s services.

70 thoughts on “Firing Your Lawyer – Proceed Slowly”

  1. “…I will urge that claimant to stay the course with his existing lawyer and, if I know the lawyer, I may drop the lawyer a note or call him to say that he has an unhappy client. I do this because I want my colleagues to look out for me…”

    Isn’t this a violation of an attorney-client privilege?
    Aren’t you supposed to keep this client’s visit (and even the very fact that he consulted with you) in strict confidence, even if you end up not taking the case?

  2. You are correct. I would only communicate with the current lawyer after obtaining permission from that person to speak with his existing lawyer. Most people who are unhappy with their counsel are really looking for communication from their lawyer as opposed to starting over with a new one.

  3. I fired my first atty. after she never, never returned my calls. Mths. later I signed up with another law firm and requested help with “Dire Need Letter”, to which they refused.

    After 21/2 years I am frustrated and desperate. A week later I fired (dismissed) the Law Firm and they insist holding out a ‘Fee Petition’.

    They did nothing for me. I met with a para-legal to assign them. After I wrote my State Senators and told them, they requested med. records which I ‘stopped’. So they never received or paid for them. This was at the same time I realized I did not trust them and had requested a letter of dismissal. (I fired them.)

    They never even asked what my illness is. When I spoke with the atty. and later the para-legal by phone, each gave me contradictory information.

    I realized no one knew a damn thing, or was attempting to help until the final 30 day count down to Hearing.

    How much do they think they can steal from my settlement with their Fee Petition, after doing absolutely nothing on my behalf.

    I spoke with an atty once for 3 mins. The para-legal who had me sign my life away, and a para-legal when I was stating my ‘Dire Need’ to my Senators.

    How much can they legally get with their ‘Petition Fee’???

    I read their would be a $30. fee if I withdrew their services, and never got the $30 bill.
    Now they are telling me they have a ‘Petition Fee’ and will not tell me what it is in regard too.

    Thank you any one that can offer me insight, advice, peace of mind.

    I knew after their refusal to help in my Dire Need, and then getting contradictions, that I did not want them.


  4. Alright, I see the Petition Fee is inclusive of hours worked?

    Q. Why a $30. withdrawal fee clearly stated?

    Q. Is the hourly fee different for time with a ‘Para-legal
    having me fill out an inch of their papers & agreement?

    Q. Am I also charge the time preparing a, ‘Petition Fee’, as in their time checking their own ‘phone-logs’?

    Q. Am I charged by the minute speaking with a ‘Para-Legal’ by phone and for minutes speaking to an attorney?
    I called to ask about the process, that was never explained for me.

    I knew this firm was a slum-one. Come to learn they are in the same building where the ‘Hearings’ take place.

    How can I argue this? Why aren’t they supplying me with their time calculations, and cost?

    I look forward to your reply. Thank you. Should you find time to reply it will be just in time for my 53rd birthday.


  5. My attorney couldnt even tell the judge what medication i was taking. He had to ask me. I have memory problems since my brain tumor was removed. I was embarressed. He is not a good attorney. He never returns my phone calls. Im very ill and not able to work. It has been almost 5 years. His parraleagel tells me to call the appeals boared. I ask him what i should do about income. His reply is do like everyone else and apply for assistance.

  6. if i fire my current att. would the next att. have to start my diss. case over from scratch even though it is in the appeals before a judge the date for the appeal has not been set yet but i hired my lawyer 18 months ago after my letter of denial

  7. I had my first attorney tell me to ‘lie’ before my deposition – I should say that he prepped me for an hour, when it was 3 minutes. I’ve never been in a depo before and did ask him what to expect. “Oh, it’s routine, nothing to worry about”. I left him as I felt he was unethical.

    Attorney #2 says he did not have a conflict of interest with the plaintiff’s attorney, although he used to work for them. So I trusted that he would do right by me. He also said he would split the fee with the first attorney. For 2 years of this workman comp case, he did very little When I did have two major problems with the adjuster and asked for help, he did nothing. I threatened to take this to the bar as it affected my state disability payments, and then he moved on one of the issues and got it resolved. Issue #2 occurred and was affecting my SSDI payments and again he did nothing. Again, I said I was unhappy with how he was dealing with that firm and a day later I got a request from him to be dismissed from the case; he thought we had a breakdown in communication.

    So I had to seek out a 3rd attorney, who only took this case because he knew the lady who recommended him and did a courtesy for her.

    Now we’ve been to court twice, and finally got it worked out, I thought. July 1, I received a letter for continuance from the 2nd attorney to appear at court again in August to discuss ‘workman comp offsets’ and ‘fee entitlements’. He called my current attorney and found out his fee is the full 15%. Now he wants his third. My question – he LEFT this case in the middle, with no resolution of issues – why should he get anything?

  8. After working for SSA and Office of Hearings & Appeals (ODAR) for 25 years, it is my “opinion” that getting an attorney is not worth the 25% of the back due payments you and your children will receive from SSA if approved. I worked in both agencies and it is SSA’s job to get your medical records; you just need to follow up with them to ensure everything has been received. To the individual with regards to his having to start over if he releases his attorney – this is not true to my knowledge. In my opinion, go it alone. One point i would make to you is to tell SSA every little thing that is wrong with you including if you have depression and suicidal thoughts. It also helps speed up your claim if you contact you congressman/senator and to make sure you are the squeaking wheel. Again, make sure you tell the SSA representative everything that is wrong with you, even if it happened 10 years ago, has healed, but still bothers you. Be honest and tell all. Again, this is my opinion based upon what I have seen, heard, and experienced.

    1. hi there
      i have a question~
      i was awarded ssdi last week and i have 2 teenagers,iv’e been on ltd for 3 years ( the last year with cigna). I signed a document at the social security office stating I would be the payee for my children and I must only use their backpay or future allotments for them. if cign asks for all of my backpay, how could i give them my backpay including the kids??

      Please advise

  9. With all due respect to ES, I disagree with her conclusion. First, Social Security only collects records until the reconsideration decision is issued. Since your hearing may not be scheduled for another 12 to 18 months, there is no one to obtain and submit records. Once your case leaves the district office and is transferred to the hearing office, the claimant (and his attorney) are responsible for obtaining and submitting records. I would submit that if you show up for your hearing and the last medical record in the file dates back two years, your odds of winning are not great.
    Second, I think it would be a mistake to appear before a judge on your own. Social Security judges are busy and pro se cases take a lot more time because most unrepresented claimants do not have the experience to know how to present a case. Moreover, would you feel comfortable cross examining a vocational witness and/or a medical witness?
    I would agree with ES that an intelligent and diligent claimant could file a claim and file a reconsideration appeal without a lawyer – I have even written a “how to” manual about how to do this – see
    Once the reconsideration denial is issued, however, I do not think it is a good idea to go it alone.

  10. I just went to my hearing with the alj in march 09 just got my letter sept 09 and i was denied. i have been devistated because my lawyer i feel didnt represt me he didnt even have my medication list or even my employment dates and i didnt get to me with him until 5 min before the hearing and during my hearing i had to excuse my self because i started blacking out i dont remember to much about the hearing but the judge ask the voc rehab if the was any jobs i could do he said there was no jobs i could do but i got aletter of denial and i am wondering if i should fire my lawyer they want me to appeal and also refile a second claim i feel that the judge was bias and he said in my letter that my doctors rfc wasnt good enough and when the judge ask me if i had anything to say i couldnt think i was in a daze and confused just like someone feels after they have a seizer so if anyone has a sugestion please feel free to let me know
    it about killed me when i was denied so do i fire my lawyer or stay i read were alot of attorneys dont want to take a case that has allready had a lawyer.and i am wonder can you receive money until your appeal is done please email me at I am confused on what to do my lawyer has never answered a call from me or return a call its allways his paralegal and i would like to know if this has happened to anyone before Thanks Tinab

  11. i was diagnosed paranoiac, maniac depressive, schizophrenic and bipolar and in psychiatric wards for two months. why is social security sending me to a psycologist instead of a psychiatrist. marilyn bloch please explain since psychologists cannot treat mental illness.

  12. hi ive been in the process of getting a hearing for just about 1 year and 3 months this week im getting one and now my lawyer magically isnt calling me to get me ready or briefing me on what will go down so im a little worried ill show up and have to do this alone what should i do? im diagnosed add/bipolar,post traumatic stress syndrome

  13. I just won my SS case last week after 32 months since the initial application (13 months since the request for a hearing). I hired my lawyer approximately 1 year ago. The great thing is I never even had a hearing. My lawyer called last week to tell me my case had been reviewed by social security’s lawyers and they had decided to approve my application. Not only did I not have to go to a hearing, I actually never even met my attorney. I had a couple phone meetings with his support staff and one in house meeting early on with a paralegal to go over the case to see if they were willing to even take the case.

    When I had my initial phone interview with SS back at the beginning of the application process the lady told me at the end of the conversation that “no matter what happens, make sure you take it ALL THE WAY”. I didn’t quite know what she meant at the time, but I eventually learned.

    Trust me, lawyers don’t take SSDI cases unless they’re confident they can win so don’t get disheartened by all the rejection and denials from the SSDI people. I got the feeling they are paid to make sure as many people are denied as possible. If a lawyer takes your case then personally I think you generally have a good chance at winning. And just know that once the lawyer takes your case there’s going to be LONG periods when you don’t hear from them other than getting copies of correspondence they send to SS. Once they get all the information they need it’s a waiting game. You’re either wating for a hearing or your waiting to see if the SS lawyers review your case and decide to recommend your case be approved without a hearing (even though it’s possible the judge may disagree – although I think that’s less than likely).

    Another thing I learned is that your local SS staff are behind you 100% and want you to win the case. They don’t have the same attitude the people who approve or deny the applications have. So far they couldn’t be any nicer and more happy for me.

    Trust me, there is a light at the end to the SSDI application tunnel and once you get there you’ll never know such relief.

  14. It’s been a year since I’ve filed for my SS. I know there is a backlog, but I’ve never met my attorney. I’ve only went to his office and spoke to a “case manager” and signed papers. They would not give me any copies of the papers I signed because they said they were saving on paper. I was denied my original application for SS. I’ve had the lawyer appeal for me. He’s never sent me any paperwork where he has filed for the appeal. I’ve called him twice over this last year and he said he would send a request for a status. I’ve never heard from him since.

    This Friday I received a message on my phone from his assistant/or whomever and asking me where I was on the SS case and if I wanted them to still handle it for me. I thought it was their responsibility, since I signed the forms, to handle my case. I’ve gotten them all the medical reports and anything else they need. They’ve done no leg work at all. They’re supposed to be handling my case and have done nothing. I know they filed the appeal because I’ve called the SS office and they stated it was still pending.

    I’m at a loss for what to do now. I don’t feel they have my best interest at heart since it is also a bankruptcy law firm. My case seems to be just sitting there.

    I would like to fire the attorney for non-communication and get another one, but don’t know how to proceed. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

  15. I have applied for social security disability and my attorney has filed for a hearing. I requested my senator lobby on my behalf with a dire needs letter to try and expedite the hearing. I recently received a letter from the Senator that told me they have received word back from the Hearing and Appeals office and will let me know when they know more. What does this mean? Does this mean that I won’t have to wait the 14 months or so extra that was initially told to me when the hearing was requested? I tried to ask my attorney, but all I was able to talk to were front desk people and they gave me general explanations that didn’t answer my question. Is it possibe that all the Office of hearings and appeals were doing were acknowledging the Senator’s request on my behalf, or does it mean my file is on someones desk? How long does it typically take for a hearing if the office of hearings and appeals actually honors a dire needs letter and a Senator’s plea for help etc???

  16. I am devastated. Judge told me SSDI pymt. would start in 60 days. Instead, without identifying their self it was SSI who was rushed to send pymt. Because it went direct to bank, I am being forced to accept 3 installments over 18 months. Even though my SSDI pymt. from the beginning of back pay is higher than the SSI cut-off. PLUS, I hand carried 2 years of Tax Returns the IRS lost and SSDI by law must consider years of previous income to accept these returns, and are refusing to do so.

    My lawyer is useless. He appeared only as a stand-in, and wrote a letter telling the Judge & SSDI he waived them withholding his payment as he will wait and collect from me.

    No one knows anything about all the submissions sent repeatedly for stopping this screw job of my full back pay, and dependent pay.

    What can I do, when the attorney I had does not know or normally work with applications, so he knows less than me.

    Desperately, looking for support and direct answers.

  17. Hi,
    My SS (SSD) case had been closed so i had to file for a hearing. I got an attorney who did that.. and it was well over a year until we went to the Administrative hearing. However-from the day i was informed that my case (of which i’d been receiving benefits for several years)was closed… i was told both in person- and over the phone- hundreds of times that my “case” information was not available- and it appeared the the whole entire case just vanished.This is when i obtained a lawyer so specializes in this area.. and explained what obstacles i had been going through.
    When my attorney called about my ‘case’.. he too was told the same thing.. and ‘assumed’ that the entire file was “LOST-MISPLACED”.. But he said that was “OK”.
    I was uneasy.. with such an explanation.. and didn’t believe that SS would or could “LOSE” or “MISPLACE” a persons entire life.
    Then my attorney ‘instructed’ me to give him copies of all i had.. and get whatever other records i could get.. from whomever.. or where ever… (not exactly in those words.. but pretty close to the same idea)

    So “I” had to pretty much start all over again obtaining all medical (etc) records . My attorney was of little to no assistance in obtaining anything except the date for My hearing. When the day came and we got to the hearing and were called upon..-it was ‘revealed’ that my entire records were “Pulled” for investigation and submitted to another agency. I find it absolutely unbelievable to accept.. that an attorney representing their client.. would not be entitled to have that information prior to the hearing before the admin. judge..
    What would -should a client expect of THEIR attorney once they have ‘hired’ them. (agreement of payment was $5300 if the case was won.. like contingency). I’m sure this is a question many others will benefit from.
    My ‘attorney’ had me doing all the phone calls, obtaining all medical records etc.. even though i signed a form giving him permission to access my records etc.
    many thanks

  18. @Jonathon
    I checked out your site. Your book looks like it’s worth the trade off for a lawyer-but there are a couple of questions i’ve seen posted that i don’t see mentioned on your site (re: in your book).

    One person above (in this forum) asked what what documents a person/claimant is entitled to ask for FROM Social Security.. to prepare for their hearing.

    I’m more than familiar with ordering records from dr’s, hosptials etc… BUT- what if SSA has records i don’t have -and need… Can an claimant (whose benefits have been stopped and is ready to file for a hearing).. order or obtain records All of their records FROM the SSA?
    Are their limitations to what i can ask for,what forms are needed (pre hearing)-in order to be able to go over exactly what is in the records, can the claimant ask or motion for them-or does it have to be someone in a legal capacity .

    Is the SSA required to release copies of all of my information, or do i have to be specific or is that information limited or priviledged only for attornies?

    Your book is a small investment as compared to hiring an attorney’s,yet I want to make sure the information i need is in the book. Thank you.

  19. SSA recently provided me with a disc with all my submitted paperwork for an upcoming admin. judge hearing. This includes all my related medical records and lots of other personal info. I dropped off the CD in the package that SSA sent me, along with the letter to my lawyer’s office, at his/her request and stated clearly that I had NO OTHER COPIES. I said I’d be back in about a week to pick it up.

    Well, I have memory issues due to my disability and managed to pick up my package with the CD and the papers over 2 weeks later. It’s been a week since then and I just took out the the paperwork and then the CD. The package envelope and letter were mine/the same, but the CD was some one elses! This is inexcusable; And my hearing is less than a month from now. Please advise.

  20. I have a questions regarding the medical records from the the social security doctors. The social security sent me to several doctors. The doctors told me up front that they were not there for me. Well, it has been 2 years since I saw these doctors and I am still fighting for my disability. I received a denial 2 months after my hearing and in the denial letter I saw that the social security doctor listed I had cardiomegaly and paratracheal density. I have been to see a doctor 3 times in the last 4 years and I have never been diagnosed with this before. Can I get or my doctor get a copy of those medical records. The social security doctors knew I was not under a doctors care even though I had high blood pressure and was a diabetic. Should the doctor who found the medical conditions alerted me so I could follow up with a doctor. It has been 2 years and since the doctor noted my medical problems and I just now am aware of a potential problem. My doctor wants me to have a ultrasound of my heart and hopefully lack of medical care has not made the cardiomegaly worse.

    Thanks for answering my question

    1. Sue, it is my understanding that the physicians who evaluate you for consultative examinations take the position that no doctor-patient relationship exists and, as such, they generally do not assume any responsibility for treating you or even recommending specific treatment. I do not know if either the Social Security Administration or the consultative examination doctor has any obligation to advise you of any specific diagnosis. I suspect that SSA and the doctor ask you to sign something that relieves them from liability; I do not know how a judge in a state or federal court would rule on such a liability issue.

      As far as getting copies of documents, I believe that you have a right to review the contents of your file – this information is usually provided as a hearing exhibit CD, or if the file is still in the District Office, you can make an appointment to go review the file.

  21. Mr Ginsberg

    It is kind of you to take the time to answer all these e: mails.
    My lawyer has recently requested a hearing before an ALJ.
    I realize it could take up to 1 year to have a hearing here in Ohio.
    After speaking with my family, I have decided that my health has improved well enough for me to go back to work. I plan to call my lawyer In the morning. Will he charge me anything for the paperwork? Ps, he told me the maximum for the lawyers fee in Ohio is now $6000.00



  22. I have a question you probably don’t get very often. I have been on SSI for a little over 2 years. When I originally applied I was into 4 years of mental health issues including pill after pill being prescribed and 2 stints in a mental hospital. I was awarded SSI, and over the last 24 months I feel I have pulled my life together, have stopped taking the anti depressants and other related pills and no longer go to a psychatrist because all they want to do is fill me with more pills. While I am not at 100%,(I have scoliosis and have constant pain and numbness in my right side) I feel that I want to go off of SSI and have control of my life back. If I notify SS that I feel I am better and want to discontinue my benefits, what can I expect? Will it just be a clean cut based on my decision, or will ‘I have to meet with their drs and have them decide? Will they want a record of any psychiatrist visits in the last 2 years (there weren’t very many); and could they penalize me because I decided to stop seeing the shrinks? I believe that I was originally awarded SSI due to my mental health as my scoliosis pain and diagnosis and dr visits for those issues didn’t start until a few months after I applied for SSI. Thank you.

  23. I filed for social security disability on Oct. 21, 2007. I have been turned down at my hearing back in November,2010. My lawyer I had never met talked to until 15 minutes before we went in front of the judge. I understand they are busy and that’s why they have asst. I phoned her asst. 3 weeks prior to the hearing to ask if all dr. reports were in. I was told yes. Well they weren’t. The first thing the Judge ask her was why she had not submitted some paper her answer I did. I don’t think so. When the Doctor took me off work I was making $48,000 a year have worked since I was 16 I am now 46. Worked as a General Manager so my work week usually consisted of 60 plus hours. I have fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, rhumatoid and ostio arthuritis, mri of spine shows several disc protrusions with C6-C7 having a large broad based left paracentral disc protrusion and it gets worse, compression on my spinal cord, memory loss, depression, numbness, so severe neck and back pain. But they say I can do sedentary work. well if I could I would. I am not satisfied with my lawyer but I guess I am stuck with her. My question is how many years if I get it will they go back to determen my back pay

    1. @vicki:
      I hired a disability group that I’m not too happy with either. Since hiring them, I have obtained my own medical records, have been the one to contact my own doctors. I even asked them if they would call my doctor because he requested to speak with them. It was like pulling teeth. In 4 months, they have yet to tell me (after multiple requests) what they have submitted to SSA on my behalf. I understand they receive up to $6000 of your back pay, but it seems to me that would have to substantiate their costs, especially if you get disability without a hearing.

    2. @vicki: Many hospitals have workers like me to screen patients for programs, especially if the patient is unfunded. Your best bet would to check out the hospitals in your area, if you aren’t getting anywhere, and see what type of financial counselors they have, because then the worker would assist on your case without the attorney fees for you. They do this because the hospital doesn’t want the bills going to bad debt if it can be avoided. I copy medical records and fax, call SSA, DARS, doctors, etc, to expedite the cases so the hospital can get paid. Different hospitals may have more than one Vendor Company that specializes in Government programs.

  24. I got a lawyer back in Aug. 06 and he is still fighting my case. I got a call about 2 months ago frm one of the parralegals stateing that my case was goin before the federal judge. can anyone tell me if my lawyer would still be fighting if he didn’t think he could win this long drug out battle for me. I mean its going on 5 years…..

    1. @scared: There is always a chance you have new medical problems that came up after he started on your case. They charge for every call they make to follow up monthly, etc, every letter, even one page, every time they answer your calls. It all adds uo, so they will bill in the end, and get the fee out of it…

    1. @tony: If you think you can do better, by all means fire your lawyer! I found out that my lawyer NEVER looked at my files. He was looking at what SS said they had, reading the index and asking me what each medical file had in it (over a relay service on the telephone – I have a hearing loss), and I told him. Well, then it took over 3 years to get a hearing and when we got to hearing I was denied for lack of medical records. I requested a copy of what SS had – my “medical records” were a paper that said “no records found” and some other lady’s very thin medical record (and she was 75 at that). SS had requested records in wrong name (married and divorced), I had also given all my names, dates of marriage, birth date and of course my SSN, but they didn’t use anything to request the records but my name at the time I filed for SSDI (thus getting the wrong and none found records. I then tried myself to obtain my medical records and found out that they had been destroyed since it took so long for SS to give me a hearing. It took three hearing dates before I actually had a hearing, at the first one the interpreter asked me is that your lawyer and I said no, she tells me that he said he is your lawyer – what fun to find out on hearing day some one you’ve never met before is representing you. Then the judge said he didn’t have records that were supposedly faxed in, so it was rescheduled and judge asked the lawyer for a brief (he apparently forgot to tell my lawyer so none was sent). Second hearing interpreter had cancelled but no one checked the phone messages and my judge was by video, so after much craziness again rescheduled and judge again asked for a bried so it might be settled without us all having to show up again. Brief sent was a piece of junk, a few lines that said in a general way what my issues are (multiple). So, yeah, you bet I fired my lawyer. I filed my own appeal with the appeals council and plan to represent myself in the hearing that has been ordered (based solely on my work.) I plan to ask the judge not to allow any payment to my previous lawyer based on his total failure.

  25. I have had a open workers comp case for 15 years. For the last 6 years my workers comp attorney has done nothing. My workers comp check gets sent to her and she takes $600 dollars before I ever see the check. Since my case is so old and I dont need her and havent for quite awhile now I told her that I wanted to end our contract. She told me I couldnt . For the last 5 years now if I need a surgery to get approved I follow up on it with workers comp. I called the attorneys office this last week and she went on a leave of abscence and I wasnt even aware of this. Has anyone else went through this?

  26. My “lawyer” has broken (with no otice or reason) the only three appointments we ever had to go to SSA to contest a termination of benefits (for non-medical reasons no less!), and failed to take or return *hundreds* of phone calls in the over one year I’ve been “represented” by her (Margaret Fenlon – “aggressive representation” – yeah, right). Now I’ve been told that my appeal time has run out – without so much as a peep from her at all! Clearly I’m going to fire her (and complain to the local bar [and maybe file a suit for failure to maintain her fiduciary duty]), but I’m stuck now as well: I’m told the only way out of this is now a federal suit, and not a single SSA lawyer I can find will sue in federal court: they all want to stay in the ALJ system!

    Any thoughts would be VERY appreciated!

  27. @Lynne: A person can make a trial atttempt once to go back to work, but you need to discuss it with your SSA Worker first, so you get the correct instructions from him/ her. You can alway request to be reinstated within a certain time period if it doesnt work out. Best Wishes!

  28. Hello,

    If I get an attorney for SSD and I loose the case, do I have to pay out of pocket, and is there a maximum ? I live in California.

    Thank you

  29. My Ginsberg,

    I have a lawyer, and have been denied in appeals. Now we are waiting for the case to be reviewed. My lawyer said that while waiting for the review (which could take up to two years) I should go ahead and file another claim. The way my lawyer explained it is that if this second filing gets approved, then the two filings get “merged”. What my lawyer isn’t saying is if I get approved, do my payments go back to the original date my claim was filed, or to the second date it was filed.

    For my lawyer this wouldn’t matter (they’ll get paid the same), but for me that would be a difference of eighteen months worth of payments, which, of course, is a big deal to me.

  30. I need an honest answer. I fired my attorney without knowing better simply because I recieved a partial favorable decision at the hearing level and my old attorney was paid $6000, she didnt want to appeal but I insisted, well after her legal aid couldnt call me back and I had an ethical issue with her highly publicized criminal case (CASEY ATHONY) I fired her. Well now I cant find an attorney to handle the appeal and its crutcial for my LTD for me to have the appeal. They just want to representate me in my new application for SSD since its easier they say. Even if my appeal is denied, and I can strongly prove on my new application is a direct result from the old issue (therefore able to back date benefits possibly). Will it affect my new application if the appeal is turned down? Is it about the money and easier approval? I was just told by SSA that a new attorney could file another fee agreement as get awarded another 6000 as eash appeal is looked at as a new case. I dont care if I pay or they get paid by SSD but these attorneys arent understanding my LTD could end if I dont appeal my case. If I dont recieve current benefits from LTD, we will suffer horribly, loose our place and animals and have my disabled children homeless. Why are these attorneys not wanting to handle my appeal and just jump on the new case even in the intial application process?! I am so distraught, please help.

  31. My wife hires this layer a year 1/2 ago we understood SS claim does take some time. a hearing was set 2 months ago and now we are 18 day to the hearing my wife call the lawyer to get some information in regard the claim , they told my wife that she need to ask the DR.’s for her medial files , and last Monday she got some medical assessment form. My wife now needs to go to all her Dr. and have them to complete the form, so what is the lawyer function. So far no communication has been established my wife has sent updated information of any new Dr. by email. My wife is sick and now have to deal with more none sense. Please let me know what can be done we 18 days from the hearing. No communication with the lawyer at all.

    1. @Edwin:

      The key to any Social Security Disability or SSI claim is a form called the Residual Functional Capacity or Ability to do Work Related Activity form.

      These are also known as RFC forms. Whether you are trying to get Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income, The SSDI RFC forms and SSI RFC forms are the same. Treating doctor Residual Functional Capacity forms are the most affective RFC forms to use.

      and This is from “Why does Representation increase the win ratio at a Social Sec. Disablity Hearing?”

      Why does representation result in a higher win ratio at a hearing? The answer is fairly simple. Disability hearings are similar to various types of court proceedings in which A) solid case preparation and B) a proper presentation of the relevant arguments and positions–specifically, pertaining to why the individual should be approved to receive disability benefits–are both necessary in order to win the case.

      To explain, we should sum up what a disability attorney or non-attorney actually does to prepare for a hearing.

      1. Before the hearing, the representative will begin to gather updated medical records. These updates will be reviewed and evaluated to see if the case can be strengthened. They will also be sent to the administrative law judge (ALJ) who has been assigned to hear the case.

      Make sure that any new or updated medical evidence you want considered has been submitted before the date of the hearing by either you or your representative (the earlier the better). It may result in an early favorable decision for you, eliminating the need for a hearing. If a hearing is necessary, it will eliminate the delays caused because additional evidence has not yet been received.

      *You should bring any and all pertinent medical information to your ALJ hearing. The day of court is too late for review, just in case your attorney forgets anything pertinent to your case; lack of information can make or break a disablity hearing. Be Prepared!

      Getting medical record updates is crucial because, by the time a case gets to a hearing, there will be no recent medical records in the file. To see what we mean by recent records and to learn why this is so important, you may wish to read the following page: Recent Medical Records for a Social Security Disability or SSI case.

      Why will there be a lack of recent medical evidence in the file? Because the case development that is done on a disability claim (such as getting the records together, obtaining information on the claimant’s work history, contacting individuals who are knowledgable as to the claimant’s condition and daily activities, etc) STOPS AFTER THE RECONSIDERATION PHASE IS COMPLETED.

      To reiterate, once a case has been denied on a reconsideration appeal, the social security administration will no longer do any work on the case. Which means that when a case gets to the hearing level, the only records that will be in the case file will be many months old, making the chance of getting an approval very slim to nonexistent.”

      I found that here:–win-ratio—Social-Sec-Disabl

      If you know any vets send them there also.


  32. My attorney has been paid by SSD, why havent I received my check yet? Also, how far back will I receive benefits? From the time I became disabled? The court papers say Aug. 2008 as date of disability. Please advise. Thank you

  33. Please please answer this question for me. i have a lawyer. I filed for disability were are about 6 to 7 months away from the hearing.
    should I be sending medical records over to the judges office or wait for the lawyer to tell me what to do. I have heard and read that alot of people with lawyers still send there updated medical records themselves to ssa or to the judges office. I know that ssa will not go after any new records, they just stick with the records they got when you first applied about 2 yrs ago. Is this correct? should I be getting my own records and sending them myself?

  34. How many times of being denied SSDI benifits is usual? My husband applied for benifits over 3 yrs ago. Has been denied 3 times. He has very little communication with his lawyer…He calls the lawyer, but he does not return his phone calls. Very frustrated, when our government website states benifits should be approved if your disability keeps you from working more than one year! Thank you for reading my question. If you respond, It would be greatly appreciated.
    in Minnesota.

  35. I want to first say good luck to all of you that continue in your fight for your ssdi/ssi.
    I don’t know if my situation is an attorney issue, however I am looking for an answer if there is someone that may know the answer. I applied for my SSDI in March of 2011 and was approved on 10/04/11 which was very quick, however it is now almost 12/11 and yet have I received my backpay nor have I ever received any contact from my Attorney since the filing of my claim.
    My whole reason for hiring an Attorney, is because I don’t know nor understand, all of the ends an outs when dealing with the Social Security Admin, however a few days ago a family member of mine who worked for the department of social security for over 35 years was reading all of my paper work from social security, and took notice that I am being paid based on my work history/credits when in fact she said I should be receiving my pay based on my deceased husbands work history/credits which is close to 3 times higher than my own. My family member said that my attorney filed the wrong paperwork, and did not file based on disabled widow. I am now scared because it has already been a process getting what I am suppose to begin receiving next month 12/11 and I fear this will just be another long delay in me receiving my money, my attorney received his payment over 3 weeks ago, and I am also wondering if in fact there is more money owed to me based on the wrong paper work being filed, does that mean that I would have to pay him another large lump sum.. I Thank You In Advance for any and all insight you may have regarding this matter.

  36. With all due respect Mr. Ginsberg I completely relate to people who are unhappy with their (our) SSDI attorneys. I saw the legal assistant once and signed up with an attorney who had been recommended just over a month ago. When I received the reams of paperwork from Social Security I experienced horrible panic attacks. I’ve called the office several times but they refuse to help walk me through it. It seems as though this man I’ve NEVER MET is doing NOTHING unless and until I reach the appeal phase. That’s UNacceptable. My disabilities are PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder, I’m overwhelmed and need help. I’m facing eviction and homelessness but they refuse to file an urgent need letter on my behalf. I’ll kill myself before becoming homeless AGAIN. When I WAS able to function I WAS ALSO AN ATTORNEY! I NEVER left my clients high and dry like this. And some people wonder why attorneys have bad reputations….THEY EARN THEM. I’ve left my soon to be former lawyer messages over the weekend, phone and email, if they refuse to assist me as I’ve asked I intend to deliver my “you’re fired” letter in person. I’ve been using my research skills, clients deserve BETTER.

    1. WLW, there are good lawyers and bad lawyers in every area of practice. I am seeing a trend where more and more national disability law firms are handling more and more cases. Some of these firms do good work where as others have problems managing case loads that number in the thousands and cover hundreds of hearing offices in multiple states. Because the Social Security process takes so long and because fees are capped, lawyers in this area do rely on legal assistants do handle much of the day to day case management. I think that the most effective lawyers find a way to maintain communication with their clients without getting bogged down in administrative and clerical work that is more efficiently handled by a qualified secretary or paralegal.

      1. @jginsberg:
        Mr. Ginsberg, I wasn’t aware that you replied to me until yesterday. If I received a notification it became lost in all of the “crap” email I receive each day. A few months ago, when I believed I had terminated my relationship with my SS attorney, the office wouldn’t provide me with any proof that they notified SS to waive their fee. They did send ME a letter confirming that they no longer represent me. Fasting forward to this week; I FINALLY got through to speak with a disability determination caseworker. I’ve left four messages, trying not to be a nuisance, since January with the person my paperwork says is my assigned caseworker and he never returned my calls. I filed in early December. The caseworker with whom I spoke was assigned my case on APRIL 30th! I feel as though I’m back to square one because clearly the first caseworker DID NOTHING. I also learned that they still have my FORMER attorney listed as attorney of record. I just received my work history paperwork to complete and return to disability determination and it clearly indicates that they are cc-ing my FORMER attorney. I don’t know what to do to “get him off the case” because, I’ve been advised, it was HIS responsibility to notify SS that he doesn’t represent me any longer. His office flatly refused to provide me with my file or a copy of my file. They said it doesn’t contain anything and that’s a lie. I’ve provided them with volumes of paperwork including the RFC my psychiatrist completed. I have no idea what, if anything, they sent to SS. I’m an attorney myself and find this morass completely confusing. I have learned that applicants seeking representation for mental disabilities need to verify that the SS attorney has experience with mental disabilities; clearly my former attorney doesn’t have a clue how to deal with a bipolar/PTSD client. My brain has become my enemy and that requires that an attorney actually meet with me in person and get to know me and my limitations.

        Bassie, I completely agree. I was referred to my FORMER attorney and heard glowing things about him. When I met with the paralegal for my initial consultation I was not advised that I would not meet or speak with the attorney unless and until my case reached the appeals stage. That is not acceptable. I’ve spoken with another attorney, recommended by a friend from law school, in person. She advised me that there isn’t much she can do at this stage. She doesn’t want to sign up now and take a fee if I’m approved at the outset. I don’t know what to do. When I finally spoke with the disability determination specialist I learned that they haven’t request records from all of my providers even though I gave my FORMER attorney a list in chronological order with addresses and phone numbers. Obviously, my FORMER attorney didn’t bother to read anything I gave him and neglected to obtain my medical records himself. Should I go ahead and hire another attorney or wait until my application is denied? I am not equipped to represent myself, this isn’t my area of legal expertise, and I feel completely inept. I wish one of you, Mr. Ginsberg & Bassie, could represent me because you CARE.

  37. As a SS lawyer, I am amazed at the individuals that state they have never met their lawyer. Why hire someone you have not had a consultation with. You need to meet with your lawyer before you hire him or her. You then can ask all the questions about costs, fees, length of time. If a law office is too busy to offer a consultation then go elsewhere. I agree with Attorney Ginsberg- statistics show people with lawyers receive more favorable decisions-but not all lawyers are created equal. Be a good consumer-make sure the lawyer you hire has handled cases in YOUR area. All ALJs are not the same and many have preferences that are best to know before the hearing. I continue to be baffled why anyone would hire a lawyer over the phone so I am reluctant to ever recommend National Disability firms. For the post where the lawyer does not prepare the client before the hearing-again shocks me. It is imperative to meet with the lawyer before the hearing to review the testimony. I practice, not to rehearse, but when people are calm they feed me more information which I can ask during the hearing-it also gives a client some confidence if they know the questions that may likely be asked. My heart goes out to those disabled -I know the process is long and frustrating.I recollect one case where the poor man had a brain tumor and we won his case and he waited a year to be paid (after winning)-I had to threaten a lawsuit due to this outrageous delay (he already waited over 1 year for a hearing).

  38. im debating on whether or not to fire attorney,my dr wont fill out my form,my attorney screamed at me when i asked a few ?s about things that have happened since origanal i left her office quite upset an my disabilitys are maentally an physically im at wits end about which way to go ,stay with this 1 or change to another 1

    1. Richard, I always advise people to try to work out any misunderstandings with your current lawyer. It can be difficult to get a second lawyer since having 2 lawyers on your file can make it difficult for lawyer #2 to get paid for his representation.

  39. I was wondering how will I know if the lawyer is good? Anyone can lie about their experience and training. I spoke with an assistant to a firm asking about my case. They said they would like represent me and would send me some info about their lawyers. I asked for references and he said no problem. That was 2 weeks ago.

    1. Maggie, it can be difficult to know who is good and who is not. One place to look is – NOSSCR is the National Association of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives. While I can’t vouch for every lawyer who belongs to NOSSCR, my sense is that people who just dabble in this area are probably not going to spend the money to join.

  40. I have recently been denied at the reconsideration level. After looking at the documents used, I found out my attorney DID NOT send in a IME exam that was a 19 page report showing all my past back surgeries( 3 of them) bilateral shoulder replacements ( 3 surgeries) with nerve damage complications on one of them. The report shows I have a PPI rating of 65% I also found out that they didn’t send any type of letter or functional cap form to my personal Dr who has read the IME and is in total aggreance with the IME report and has been waiting to hear from my attorney but is still waiting to hear from him. He is a workmans comp attorney and has not done many SSD cases. He only has 1 secretary working for him, no paralegals. At this point I have 60 days to file for a hearing with a ALJ. My depression is getting worse because not only am I depressed I cannot work anymore, I am depressed because I have an attorney that doesnt seem to be capable of giving me proper representation and a secretary that keeps making mistakes that is jepordising my chances of winning. The carpenters union has granted me disability pension based on the same info that was supposed to be sent to SSD. This is because I personally sent the Carpenters Union all the info, NOT my attorney. Also I have a dr that the SSD sent me to that also says I’m disablled If I offer him 500-1000 dollars for him to release me so I can get an attorney that does ONLY SSD cases, do I have to start the process all over again? I have been reading and watching your blogs and you have given me more information that my attorney could think of. In fact, when I asked him who all he would be sending RFC forms to, he had no idea what I was talking about untill I had to explain it to him! I have been bascially putting my case together myself using all your tips and info that you have on your website. Please help me with any advise. Thank you

    1. TRC, if your lawyer does not regularly handle SSDI cases then it might be wise to seek a second opinion from a lawyer who does this type of work. It is not a good sign that your current lawyer did not know what RFC (residual functional capacity) means.

  41. my company hired a company to handle my ssdi after working for 13 years and 2 years into the process the company told me that my company has taken the stance to no longer handle my case which was devastating and didnt know why but fast forward 1 year i finally get my hearing date and when i went in the assistant to the judge took me to the side and said that i really really wnt to delay the hearing and get representation that doing it alone will almost guarentee a result in non favorable decision so i delayed it and hired a lawyer who was a complete spaz… i was rescheduled 2 months later and i tried to keep in touch with lawyer asking him if i need to prepare for hearing nope everything is set according to him anyway the day of hearing i was a nervous wreck and when we got into the hearing the judge asks such a basic question about my case and hospital stay and judge tells him exaclty what part (1f) and he “i am not familiar with what section that is” followed by his cellphone going off and judge asks me question after question and i answer best i can then judge asks lawyer if he has any quesitons and he asks me the same exact question the judge asks like really wtf? anyway judge looked pissed asked me to see another one of there dr’s and then she will make the decision. 2 months later i get fully awarded favorable letter only if i agree to take benifits 3 months after my actual onstart of my disability which i of course snap accepted because its been over 3 years already so now here i sit lawyer gets 6k for maybe 3 hours of work and i still dont have my back pay and according to lawyer he already got paid so i should get it any day… i didnt receive ssi. Also lawyer really thought he was getting 25 percent of my entire back pay which would be more then double the 6k i just laughed at his ignorance in my head and didnt correct him but still feel that he shouldnt even be entitled to 6k as he literally did max 3 hours of work and the company my company hired did most of the work…
    so i received the fully favorable letter last month and my first monthly payment should be in 2 weeks but what about the back pay? this is needed to pay back generous family members and friends that have shopped and paid my bills for the past years

  42. i went to hearing 3/22/12 my attorney used the 50 year old deal an i cant go back to my former work as a truck driver because i cant pass physical.i have a ged education an my primary care dr said in a letter i could do sedentary work,during my hearing my attorney asked all the questions an she asked what my dr said and i said nothingthen she repeated the ? an i gave her same answer because she didnt specify which dr .ive been diagnosed with severe deppresion,have had two back surgerys an a ulnar nerve transposition which articles an dr said it was to prevent further damage,an some poeple get better an some dont i had that surgery 3/1/12 .the adj didnt ask me a single question she just sworeid me in and said this hearing is ajourned.what do u think my chances are my attoney said she didnt have a clue,and the grid from my understanding is a coin toss.

  43. I’ve applied for disability. I don’t have alot of medical ‘backing’ as the majority of my life I haven’t had insurance, nor been able to afford it. I do have past records verifying my mental incapacities as brain damage and ADHD. My issues include arthritis in my knees and hands, back problems that are getting worse that may be contributed to RA (Havent been diagnosed with it, but it is a major hereditary problem), memory issues and concentration issues. I was curious as to the latter, whether the fact I haven’t been able to hold a job for more than 3 months in the past 10 years would be a benefit for my case or if it would hamper it.

  44. My mother had an attorney, and now has a new one. She has been going through bs for four and half years. Her case should of been appealed in feb. They called this morning and said we have a 11,000$ check up here with your name on it and need you to sign it over to us. Keep in mind she has not gotten a dime. What the heck? Her Fybromyalgia and Depression is in full gear since the phone call this morning. But this is her “caring concerned attorney” The lady specifiacally told her and my father they wouldn’t recieve a dime unless she did. Why does this not seem right?

    1. This doesn’t seem right to me either. I would not sign anything without a full explanation and documentation. I would also contact a local lawyer for guidance about this.

  45. I had my ssdi hearing on July 23rd. I am 57 years old. My attorney asked the alj to consider grid rule 201.14. This is for someone in the 50-54 age range. I was 53 when I was disabled. I am confused about this.

    1. If you were 53 as of your onset, a grid rule considering a 50-54 age range would be appropriate. A different grid (more favorable to you) would apply as of your 55th birthday.

  46. When I became disabled, I went to an attorney for assistance in filing my paperwork. I was told that he didn’t fill out the paperwork, I was to fill it out and when I was denied, then his office would step in. I filled out the paperwork and my application was granted, not denied. I was informed that $6,000.00 was withheld from my back pay to pay the attorney. Do I have to pay him since he did not do any of the work. He apparently notified Social Security that he represented me.

    1. Your payment notice should have included a statement that you can object to a fee if you feel it was not earned. You only have a limited time to file this objection, however.

  47. Mr. Ginsberg,  I retired July7, 2011  due to stress, fibromyalgia, and depression. I worked 16 years on noc. and walked on the average of at least 3 miles a nite. I hired a law firm in april 2012, to file a claim for disability. I called three times to see how the process is going and was told not to call and they would contact me when I need to prepare for the court date.  We'll I have no income and the creditors have been very busy on our phones.  My husband has been worried and stressed about bills. He mentioned having to file for bankruptcy, if things don't change.  Mr. Ginsberg I had to apply for a job.As of tommorow Dec. 11, I will be working as a nanny/housekeeper. My question is can I get disability for the time from July 7. 2011 to December 10, 2012.      Thank you for your time on the problem .

    1. Kathy, you can recover for a closed period of disability as long as that closed period includes at least 12 consecutive months.   You can make the decision about the closed period when your hearing is scheduled.  If it turns out that you cannot remain at the job you are now taking (generally any work attempt of less than 3 months is considered unsuccessful), then you  may be able to continue to pursue on-going, rather than closed period benefits.

  48. Hi! I just recieved a diagnosis that I have scoliosis and detration of my corigd the stuff make your move easy. Okay since I already recieve SSI for mental issues can I apply for SSD so I can recieve Medicare benifits?

    1. Juanita, you would only be eligible for SSDI if you have enough earnings credits. An additional diagnosis will not make you eligible.

  49. Hello,
    I just received the denial letter from the hearing with the ALJ. I had hired an attorney off of a website and they did not do a very good job at all. They wouldn’t return my phone calls, as far as them practicing with me to prepare me for the hearing, an “attorney ” called me one time while she was driving down the road, ran through some quick questions in what the ALJ would ask me in about 10 minutes and hung up. I never saw or spoke to another attorney until the day of my hearing. I was basically denied due to lack of medical evidence. My doctor gave diagnosis’ but nothing to back it up with. This attorney did nothing to help me. I have DDD, spinal stenosis, fibromyalgia, have had one Lumbar spine surgery, depression along with bi-polar and anxiety. I am so heavily medicated that I can’t function. I also was involved in a very bad car accident which causes me to have major panic attacks if I’m in heavy traffic or out of my “comfort zone” here at home. The driver hit a guardrail on my side and there was no airbag on my side, I had to be cut out and flown to a hospital an hr and a 1/2 away. I have a huge scar on my head, a plate and screws on my right shoulder, fully thickened rotator cuff tear in my left shoulder, arthritis in my knees and hands, and am now obese because I can’t physically do anything. I tried to work numerous times because I live alone and I am the only one that can pay my bills, yet I could only last about three months and I would freak out and just not go to work. It’s gotten worse since the accident. I tried to work one job since my accident because I was told I could work when I wanted to. I couldn’t do it for longer than three months because I had to drive to the city, I would black out and get tunnel vision almost causing accidents. I don’t know where to go from here. I can’t borrow any money from my father anymore. His last words to me the last time I borrowed money from him were, ” that should hold you over until you get a job!” After paying two bills it left me with $27. How can I make it if I appeal? Can I get a new very reliable attorney or will he even take me case? Everyone I’ve spoken to, except my father, tells me to appeal because they say ” I can not work.” I even asked my two best friends if they thought I was bi-polar, which one doesn’t even really know what it is, and they both said, ” YES!” I asked them why they thought that and they said, ” because you go up and down One day you’re happy and want to do things with us, then the next day you’re so sad you don’t shower for days or even come out of your apartment.”

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