Skills to Look for In A Social Security Lawyer
Yesterday, I spoke with a woman who received an unfavorable decision from the Administrative law judge on her Social Security Claim. She called her lawyer and was shocked to find out that this lawyer would not pursue her claim in the next step in the appeals process. A little background might be in order here. The steps in a social security claim are 1. Application, 2. Request for Reconsideration, 3. Request for hearing Before Administrative Law Judge, 4. Appeal to the Appeals Council, 5. Appeal to Federal District Court, 6 Appeal to Federal Court Of Appeals, 7. Appeal to Supreme Court of United States. The lawyer did not refuse to file the appeal before the Appeals Council based on the merits of the client’s case. He refused because that is not a part of his practice. In other words he either does not know how to file such an appeal or is too lazy to properly represent his client. In either event, he should have told the client that he was only willing to go half way in representing her at the start.
You might say that she could always get a second lawyer to finish the appeal, and you might be right. However, there are many issues which attach to the case that make it more difficult for the client because of the lawyers refusal to fully represent her. First, when the Administrative Law Judge issues an opinion, the client has 65 days from the date on that letter to file their appeal with the Appeals Council. This means that the client has to spend several days, probably weeks, trying to find a second lawyer. That lawyer has to review the decision of the ALJ and the file and make a decision whether there are good reasons for an appeal. This delay is nerve racking for the client. They have pinned their hopes on receiving the benefits they believe they are due, and being turned down is bad enough without learning at the last moment that the representative they trusted is not going to help them any further. Second, in many instances the first lawyer has not done all that should have been done to help the client. In other words, he has made a mess of the case. It is difficult to follow a lawyer who has made a mess of the case in the first place. It is difficult because the burden of proof is different at the Appeals Council, and it is difficult to please somebody who has already been poorly represented in the first place.
To avoid these potential problems, ask your lawyer, up front, “Are you willing to represent me all the way through this process?” If they say anything other than an unequivocal yes, find a lawyer who will.