Many applicants for Social Security Disability benefits find the application process to be frustrating and overwhelming, especially when they are initially denied. If you have filed a claim for benefits, you have the right to counsel under the Administrative Procedure Act §6(a), 5 U.S.C. §1005(a). Hiring an attorney can help demystify the process, ensure fairness, and even improve your chances of approval at the hearing level.
Social Security Disability attorneys (or non-attorney representatives) will typically charge 25% of what you receive in back payments, but are not paid unless you win your case. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §406(a)(2)(A), the maximum fee they can charge is $6,000. Many claimants find representation to be well worth the fee, though the right to counsel may be voluntarily waived in certain circumstances (See for example, HALLEX I-2-6-98 – Waiver of Representation by Claimant).
If you present at a hearing without counsel, the administrative law judge may call a pre-hearing conference to advise you of your right to representation (HALLEX I-2-1-75). On the record, the administrative law judge must ensure that an unrepresented claimant has been advised of his or her right to counsel, and is also capable of making an informed choice about representation (HALLEX I-2-6-52B). The hearing office can provide the unrepresented applicant with one or more lists of representative referral services (HALLEX I-1-1-3). Upon request, the administrative law judge should also grant a one-time postponement of hearing for you to obtain representation (HALLEX I-2-6C). However, as a matter of policy, Social Security Administration will neither encourage nor discourage representation (POMS GN 03910.010; see also HALLEX I-2-1-75D).
Whether you choose to hire a representative or waive your right to counsel, the choice of an attorney is an important decision which should be given ample consideration.