If you have recently become disabled and are unable to continue working, you may be eligible to earn Social Security disability benefits from either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While it is highly recommended you seek the help from a professional Social Security disability lawyer, they still need to be paid. So how much does a Social Security disability attorney usually cost? Continue reading to learn about where the costs of an attorney come from and how much you should pay.
What Are Disability Lawyers’ Fees?
In practically all instances, disability lawyers work under what is called a “contingency fee” which means they only get paid if they win your case. If the SSA decides that you are not eligible to earn Social Security disability benefits, then you do not have to pay your attorney. However, if the Social Security Administration (SSA) decides that you qualify for SSD benefits, they will award your lawyer a percentage of your past-due benefits or what’s known as backpay. There is a maximum limit on the lawyer’s fee: 25% of the backpay, up to to a cap of $6,000.
What Was The Average Payout For Disability Lawyers?
Although the lawyer fees are set to a maximum of $6,000, 68% of those who participated in a recent survey reported that their lawyer received less than $6,000. When a disability application was approved after the initial stage, the average fee came to half of the maximum: $3,000. When an application proceeded to the appeal stage, the average fees were increased. Around 50% of participants who received disability benefits after an appeal hearing reported that their attorneys were paid the cap of $6,000, with an average take of $4,600.
The difference in awards from the application and appeal stages is not a mystery considering that a disability lawyer’s amount received is dependent on the amount of the applicant’s backpay. These awards are typically larger if an application has reached the hearing stage because it takes a considerable amount of time to get to that stage, resulting in increased backpay from the extended wait. Keep in mind, most applicants hire an attorney during the hearing stage (70% of participants), and lawyers could potentially increase the amount of backpay for clients by making sure the SSA does not set a later date for when the disability began.
If you’re applying for SSI benefits, keep in mind that fees for disability attorneys are commonly lower than SSDI applicants. The survey revealed that the average lawyer’s fee was $2,950 in SSI cases.
Some Lawyers Didn’t Take A Fee
Besides the fact that most attorneys work under a contingency basis and won’t receive payment if their client does not become approved for SSD benefits, some attorneys didn’t ask for any payment even after their client’s application was approved. This typically occurred during the initial application stage, where about 20% of participants said that their lawyers received no payment. However, only 5% of lawyers didn’t take payment during the appeals stage. This is because it takes much more time to prepare for the hearing since additional documents are required.
There are some attorneys who spend part of their time completing “pro bono” work which is work without payment. Lawyers will typically complete pro bono work for disability applicants who suffer from extremely severe medical conditions and who are in critical financial need. These clients usually have blatantly eligible claims and are approved quickly during the initial application phase, and a lawyer doesn’t need to dedicate much effort to assist in the claim. Likewise, legal aid clinics, disability rights clinics, law school clinics, and nonprofit law firms that possess staff attorneys or students who will aid in the submission of a disability application. While some clinics will waive their fee, don’t automatically expect them to. Several legal assistance clinics quit helping with disability claims when the SSA began awarding payments directly to attorneys via SSI backpay. This caused more attorneys to begin taking on SSI cases and less availability to complete pro bono work.
Disability applicants can also expect to pay out of pocket expenses of pursuing their case, such as any costs for copying medical and work records, to their attorneys. However, these expenses usually do not exceed a total of $200 (excluding the expenses of any required medical examinations since applicants would pay to the medical professionals themselves instead of their attorneys).
Should I Hire A Lawyer?
The Social Security disability application process is notoriously known to be confusing, difficult, and rather time-consuming. However, the Martindale-Nolo’s 2017 survey revealed that hiring a lawyer resulted in almost double the chance of an applicant being approved for disability benefits. Of the participants who hired an attorney to aid in the application submission and/or represent them during a court hearing, 60% ended up receiving benefits, whereas 34% of those who didn’t hire a lawyer.