Should You Take an Long Term Disability Carrier's Choice of SS Appointed Representative? Or Cho
I am on Long Term Disability, via employer-provided disability benefit, the LTD policy typically requires that I files for SSD within a certain period of time. [Attorney note: There are reasons for that, we can cover in a different blog post.] What are the pros and cons of going with an attorney prescribed by the LTD Carrier versus finding my own.?
Many LTD carriers will direct you to: a) a non-law firm (non-lawyers are allowed to be Appointed Representatives at the early levels) or b) a large law firm that may or may not farm out work to others. There can often be negatives to both. So the short answer? I'd prefer to see you use your due diligence and pick your own.
Non-Lawyer vs. Attorney Representative:
Although I know some wonderful non-lawyer representative with extraordinary experience and success, because non-lawyer representatives do not have the legal training a lawyer is required to go through for YEARS before even being a lawyer, much less an SSD lawyer, I believe you will be much better off, generally speaking, hiring a lawyer of your choice to represent you. You have no idea whether a non-lawyer "advocate" has any real training in Social Security law.
Local Lawyer vs. Non-Local (this may surprise you!):
Then, once you decide you want an actual lawyer (they generally get paid the same amount, so why not go with the licensed lawyer), you have SO many choices. Many lawyers, possibly those that don't exclusively do SSD law or lack substantial experience, will tell you you should use a "local" lawyer - note that those lawyers often happen to be those that can only DO local work, for whateve reason (by choice or force, I know not which). In reality, SSD is a FEDERAL legal field, not a state court field - and so you have the FEDERAL right to pick a lawyer from any state - and realize that the State makes NO difference.
What makes a difference is the lawyer's competence in this particular field! If a local lawyer is uncomfortable taking cases far from his location, there is probably a reason for that. He may not even know enough about the law to realize he CAN take cases across the plains - and that is telling. He could be uncertain of how to navigate SSA offices, only comfy with his own - maybe he feels he is unable to proficiently deal with offices other than his own. Maybe his mom works at the local office ;) But the fact remains, the local office does NOT decide your case at all - it merely collects your paper work and processes it so it can then move up the chain to the adjudicator. The adjudicator will be from your state, by and large, location wise, but will be doing the federal work - the federal government outsources the federal work to your area - but it remains federal law. And, if your lawyer is across the country, your case stays IN your area - it follows YOU, not your lawyer. And, the SSA or its delegates is REQUIRED to work with your chosen appointed representative, regardless of his or her location.
In person office visit vs lengthy phone interview:
Also, a lawyer that requires you visit his office, may be one that is not experienced enough to evaluate your case without eyeballing you - and that can be detrimental. A competent SSD lawyer knows the intricate set of questions and tangential concerns that must reviewed with you, verbally, to get the full information needed to move your claim forward in the strongest manner. Often a lawyer's who forces a client into an in person appointment has visual biases that result in that lawyer focusing on the visual of you, (which will not be considered by the first and or second level adjudicator) and missing the real evidence and what should be developed. This can result in refusing your case, inapproriately or taking your case and failing to do the work on some details that result in the strongest case - ie. he can not see the forest through the trees, so to speak. I can not emphasize how dangerous that can be to your success. The SSA, additionally, works on a technology basis. Those of us that have been doing this for some time, have access to the electronic file retained by the judge - we "upload" our correspondence and evidence, we avoid snail mail because it drags our your case processing, we use fax, email, text, skype, etc. The lawyers that can't or won't offer that sybiotic use of the technology that the SSA prefers, may be doing you an injustice. If he needs you to make an in person appointment with him, trek to his office - it is an unnecessary step for you that h emay need because he is not adept at the SSA laws, rules, regs AND technology processes. For this reason, as a general rule, we do NOT have in person physical "interviews" - we do them by phone. We are very confident that our honed practice in this regard, while less taxing and stressful on our clients, has also contributed to our level of success in this field.
Focused/dedicated SSD lawyer vs. Jack of all Trades General Practitioner:
Hands down - you want a lawyer that either exclusively practices SSD/SSI or NEARLY does. If you use a firm that has its fingers in many areas, SSD is typically NOT its bread and butter, and we get complaints that little attention is provided those clients. If that firm does billable hour work, it may typically call back a billable client (who it can charge for the call), and not the SSD client (who likely won't be charged for the call, and the attorney makes nothing for providing the time for they call). Dedicated SSD lawyers understanding the contingency arrangment does not negate the obligation to keep appropriate and reasonable communications with clients, even if doing so unpaid. Equally important, the area of Social Security is very complicated and detail oriented, with much behind the scenes evidence development that can change on a dime due to factual changes with the client OR, changes in the rules and regulations. It is virtually impossible for a human to be top in his field of knowledge if he seeks to be so in more than 1 area (or 2 closely related areas). There are not that many hours in the day, and if one seeks to rule the world in multiple legal fields, something tends to give - and too often it is the SSD client, be it weak evidence development, lack of submission of a case position, or lack of communication with a client - or all three.
A responsive attorney:
A key question when retaining a law firm, vs. a concentrating solo practitioner, is to ask directly whether your case will be assigned to a licensed attorney or not. Ask if there is a firm policy regarding ability to receive a call back or an email back if you want to hear from your lawyer. That leads to a second point, which is the importance of finding someone who will be responsive to you during what can often be a very lengthy process. If you hire the lawyer and communicate with him/her personally, (not just a secretary, paralegal or associate) then you will at least have some level of confidence that you can get hold of the attorney when you really need to talk about the case. If your would-be lawyer doesn't call you back personally if you have asked to specifically speak with her or him personally, and you haven't even retained her yet, this may not bode well for responsiveness later when he has already clinched your business. There is nothing wrong with an associate or assistant getting back to you to answer your question, but if you need to speak to your lawyer, there are many times when that should happen.
There are, of course, undoubtedly some great large firms, but I've also seen a lot of the big firms operating on a volume business model and not really giving much effort to win cases because they hit their minimum need of wins that year to bring in their threshold of fees income, and/or dropping clients' cases when a hearing gets close... simply because they haven't developed the available evidence enough and they don't want to get caught with their pants down in front of the judge.
To sum up: Pick your own lawyer, the USA is your oyster and you need not stay local, and a large firm may be contrary to the needs of an SSD/SSI claimant.