Timing may not be everything, but it usually matters, so you will probably not be surprised to find out that timing is pretty important when it comes to seeking representation in a Social Security Disability Insurance claim.

People often ask, “When is the perfect time to call an attorney for help with a Social Security Disability Insurance Claim?” There is no simple answer to this question because there are so many different scenarios.

I thought it might be more helpful to provide examples of situations when I have decided not to get involved because of bad timing.  (For a quick overview of what happens at the different stages of the administrative process, see this earlier blog post:  I Just Filed My Social Security Disability Insurance Claim.  What Happens Now?)

1.  The Procrastinator:

“I filed my claim 2 years ago. I went to my hearing last month and decided there was just too much at stake to handle the case pro se, so I asked the judge for a continuance to allow me time to get an attorney. The judge continued my hearing for 2 months to allow me a chance to get an attorney.  Can you take my case and be ready for a hearing in 45 days?”

My answer:  NO. 

Here’s why:

  • It takes dozens of skilled staff hours to properly develop a medical record by identifying and requesting records from all medical providers that were not already obtained by DDS at the initial and reconsideration stages.
  • It generally takes 30 days to receive medical records after sending a request to a hospital or doctor.
  • The attorney needs time to get to know the client and review the medical records prior to the hearing.
  • Judges want medical evidence submitted no less than two weeks prior to the hearing.

2.  The Hedger:

“I twisted my knee at work a few weeks ago.  My doctor has ordered injections and physical therapy.  I’ve been out of work for about a month.  I’m a little better now, and I’m not sure if I’ll be out of work for 12 months, but just in case, I want to file a claim now to hedge my bets in case I can’t go back to work.  Can you take my case now?  I’ll let you know if I go back to work and need to drop my case.”

My answer:  NO.

Here’s why:

  • If the claimant drops the claim, the attorney will not get paid because the fees are a percentage of past due benefits.
  • If the claimant drops the claim, the local Social Security office has wasted its time, too.
  • See this earlier blog post that gives some statistics on the number of claimants who drop their claims: What are the odds of winning my Social Security Disability Insurance claim?

3.  The Homemaker Spouse:

“I was the homemaker while my husband worked.  I took care of the children and household.  I recently had two knee replacements and shoulder surgery.  My doctor told me I should consider filing for disability.  When I called the Social Security office, they said I was only eligible for Supplemental Security Income while my husband was out of work.  I want to file a claim anyway.  Will you take my case?

My answer:  NO.

Here’s why:

  • If the husband is working, household income and assets are probably high enough to either eliminate or reduce the Supplemental Security Income benefit for the homemaker spouse. Even if the Social Security office takes the claim and she proves she is disabled, she is not likely to receive past due benefits for the months when the spouse is working full time.  Since the attorney’s fees are a percentage of past due benefits, the attorney might not receive any fees.
  • See this eBook that explains the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance claim and Supplemental Security Income: Social Security: You worked for it. You earned it.

4.  The Change Up:

“I saw a commercial on TV and called the number and apparently hired someone from out of state to handle my Social Security claim.  I can’t get anyone to talk to me or return my call.  I’m not sure if they even know who my doctors are.  My hearing is coming up in a couple of months, and I want to get a local, Southern Illinois Disability attorney to handle my claim.  Will you take my case?”

My answer:  MAYBE.

Here’s why:

  • If the claimant is having a hard time communicating with the current representative, the new attorney surely cannot count on getting information when requested.
  • When a claimant has more than one representative, the judge will divide the authorized fee between them. Each representative will have to file a Fee Petition describing what he or she did to help the claimant.  If the first representative did not do much, and the judge splits the fee 50:50, the new attorney can end up doing all the work for half the fee.
  • Most attorneys would only accept this case if the claimant is well organized, has details about all medical care, has doctors who will provide opinion about the functional limitations, and will prepare a statement requesting that the fee for the first representative be less than 50% with an explanation of the problems the claimant had while working with them.

5.  The Rerun That Was Dropped:

“My case has been remanded by the district court, and there is going to be a hearing in the next few months.  The attorney who represented me all these years dropped my case because I forgot to tell her that I had been working for cash while my case was on appeal.  Will you take my case?”

My answer:  NO.

Here’s why:

  • Working for cash and not reporting it will destroy a claimant’s credibility because the judge will assume he or she is dishonest and that he or she is capable of working full time.
  • Accepting a case after a district court remand when the record was developed by another attorney is at least three times as much work as handling a regular claim at the first hearing.
  • Even if the case is approved, both attorneys will be awarded some of the fee based on fee petitions. It can take years to receive fees even if they are approved.

So what is the best time to contact an attorney?

My answer:  It depends.

If the claimant is organized and able to provide accurate information to the Social Security Administration when the claim is filed and while the case is being reviewed at the initial level, the best time to contact an attorney is probably immediately after the first denial, usually 3-6 months after the claim was filed.

But if the claimant is not able to provide prompt and thorough information at the initial stage it is a good idea to get an attorney at the very beginning of the claim process.  A Southern Illinois Social Security Disability attorney can even help file the Social Security Disability Insurance claim online and help the claimant avoid making mistakes at the very beginning of the case.

For most claimants, Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are the most valuable financial resource they have.  Disability benefits will be the key to maintaining the lifestyle they have worked for all their lives.  Preserving that resource involves good timing and good judgment when retaining the services of a Southern Illinois Social Security attorney.

Joni Beth Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability Representative.