1. Should I hire an attorney or someone to represent me to handle my Social Security Disability claim?
As a general rule, a person does not need a lawyer to help to file an initial application. After the initial application is filed, however, an experienced lawyer’s or licensed representative’s help may make the difference between winning and losing your case. This is true even at the initial application stage.
1a. Does the SSA allow claimants to be represented by people who are not attorneys?
The SSA allows non-attorneys to represent claimants. These non-attorneys are also regulated and subject to Professional and Disciplinary Standards just as Licensed Attorneys are and can represent you through the Appeals Council stage. Thereafter only a properly licensed attorney can handle your case from initial filing through hearing and appeal into Federal District Court and Circuit Courts of Appeal and into the United States Supreme Court if necessary.
2. What can an attorney or representative do for me?
Once you appoint a licensed attorney or representative, he or she can act on your behalf in most Social Security matters by:
- Getting information from your Social Security file;
- Helping you get medical records or information to support your claim;
- Coming with you, or for you, to any interview, conference, or hearing you have with SSA;
- Requesting a reconsideration, hearing or Appeals Council review; and
- Helping you and your witness prepare for a hearing and questioning any witnesses.
Your representative also will receive a copy of the decision(s) SSA makes on your claim.
3. How much can my attorney/representative charge me?
Attorney’s fees are limited to 25% of the award of your past due benefits. That is one-fourth of those benefits that build up by the time you are found disabled, and benefits are paid. Fees are also capped administratively, presently at $6,000.00 with the Social Security Administration, so the cap can be even less than 25% of past due benefits or the statutory cap, whichever is the lesser of the two.
3a. Is there an exception to the statutory cap?
Yes, but only in special exceptions like when your attorney has to try your case and appeal it beyond the trial level to Appeals Council and/or retry the case. Then the 25% maximum would apply.
4. What about costs?
In addition to the fee, your representative may charge you for the expenses of gathering medical records, obtaining medical opinion letters, etc. Costs rarely run over $450.00, and if we at the Law Offices of Mike Murburg, P.A. are unsuccessful in obtaining your disability benefits for you, you will not owe us for either costs or fees for the time we spend on your behalf.
5. Can you tell me more about the costs of prosecuting my claim and how I may pay?
The amount of the fee the SSA decides your representative may charge is the most you owe for his or her services, even if you agreed to pay your representative more. However, your representative can charge you for out-of-pocket expenses, such as the medical report, without your approval. These expenses are not paid to your attorney by the SSA or deducted from your reward. Think of it as a car repair parts and labor. The SSA will deduct your attorney’s fees from your award (labor) but you have to pay out of pocket when you get your award (parts).
5a. Do I pay the fee myself or does the SSA deduct it?
If an attorney or non-attorney whom Social Security has found eligible for direct payment represents you, the SSA usually withholds 25% (but never more) of your past-due benefits to pay towards the fee. The SSA pays all or part of the representative’s fee from this money and sends you any money left over.
5b. Are there times when I must pay my attorney directly?
Sometimes you must pay your representative directly:
- Your representative is not eligible for direct payment;
- The SSA did not withhold 25% from your past-due Social Security or Supplemental Security Income Benefits or both; or
- Your representative made a timely request for a fee, and the SSA sent you the money that the SSA should have withheld.
5c. Must I advance money to my representative first?
You must pay for the out-of-pocket expenses that your representative incurs or expect(s) to incur (for example, the cost of getting your doctor’s or hospital records, etc.). At the Law Offices of Mike Murburg P.A., we will pay these reasonable costs in advance for you. We ask for reimbursement only if you win.
6. Can someone else pay my attorney?
Yes, however, Even when someone else will pay the fee for you (for example, an insurance company or your family), the SSA must approve the fees unless:
- It is a nonprofit organization or federal, state, county, or city agency that will pay the fee and any expenses from government funds; and
- Your representative gives the SSA a written statement that you will not have to pay any fee or expenses. At our Law Offices at Mike Murburg P.A., we work for the disabled client, not the government or insurance company, and no fee or expense is due while your case is pending. Your costs are payable only if you win.
7. How does my representative or attorney get to charge me?
To charge you a fee for services, your attorney or representative first must file either a fee agreement signed by you or a fee petition with the SSA.
7a. Can my representative legally charge me more than the SSA approves?
No. If he or she does he must return the overage to the SSA.
7b. If I disagree with a fee, what can I do?
Your representative cannot charge you more than the fee amount the SSA approves. If you or your representative disagree with the fee the SSA approves, either of you can ask the SSA to look at it again.
7c. What can happen to an attorney representative who charges too much?
A representative who charges or collects a fee without the SSA’s approval or charges or collects too much, may be suspended or disqualified from representing anyone before the Social Security Administration and also may face criminal prosecution.
8. Does the fee for my representative have to be in writing and approved by the Social Security Administration?
Yes. The fee agreement must be in writing and the contract of the agreement must be approved by the Social Security Administration. For your protection, your representative cannot charge or collect a fee from you without first getting written approval for SSA. However, your representative may accept money from you in advance as long as it is held in a trust or escrow account and not used for any other reason than on costs in your case and a fee if subsequently approved by the SSA. Our sample fee is included here: MMPA Fee Agreement.
9. What do I do about getting a fee agreement?
If retained, your attorney will file all the necessary paperwork for you. If you and your attorney/representative have a written fee agreement, your representative may ask the SSA to approve it any time before SSA decides your claim. Usually, the SSA will approve the agreement and tell you in writing how much your representative may charge as long as:
- You both signed the agreement;
- Your claim was approved and resulted in past due benefits; and
- The fee you agreed on is no more than 25% of past-due benefits or $6000.00, whichever is less.
If the SSA does not approve the fee agreement as in cases taken beyond the initial hearing level, the SSA will notify you and your representative in writing that your representative must file a fee petition.
10. What is a fee petition?
A Fee Petition is a Formal Legal Document wherein an attorney or representative asks the court/SSA to approve a Fee justified by law and circumstance. Your representative may give the SSA a fee petition after completing the work on your claim(s). This written request should describe in detail the amount of time spent on each service your representative provided. Your representative must give you a copy of the fee petition and each attachment. If you disagree with the fee requested or the information shown, contact the SSA within 20 days. The SSA will consider the reasonable value of representative’s services and tell you in writing the amount of the fee the SSA will approve.
11. Will the fee come out of my future monthly benefits?
Absolutely not; unless the fee go unpaid by you or some SSA mistake. Fees are paid based on past benefits won for a claimant unless the Social Security Administration does not deduct them, and you receive them and spend the fees that were to be sent to your attorney. Otherwise under no circumstances do fees come out of current monthly benefits.
12. How should I choose an attorney or somebody to represent me?
You can choose an attorney or other qualified person to represent you.
12a. Can I have more than one representative?
You can get a local referral from NOSSCR (the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives) Tel.: 201-57-4228 or NOSSCR@att.net. You also can have more than one representative. However, you cannot have someone who has been suspended or disqualified from representing others before the Social Security Administration or who may not, by law, act as a representative. Attorneys who have active licenses can represent you but check on their experience and record. Some organizations can help you find an attorney or give your free legal services if you qualify.
13. What can I do if I want to obtain a private attorney to represent me but I have been unable to find one?
If you do not choose to have us represent you or you want to find another attorney or representative, a private attorney may be obtained by contacting the organization shown below. You will be referred to a private practicing lawyer who is familiar with representing claimants before the Social Security Administration, like we do at Mike Murburg P.A.. Some private attorneys may be willing to take your case under a fee agreement whereby no fee will be charged unless your claim is allowed. For help in obtaining a social security attorney in your area contact the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), 6 Prospect Street, Midland Park, NJ 07432, tel. 800-431-2804, or contact your local or county Bar Association.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Mike Murburg P.A. are members of NOSSCR.
14. Can I have a firm to be my representative?
You can appoint one or more people in a firm, corporation, or other organization as your representative, but you may not appoint the firm, corporation, or organization itself.
15. When should I contact an attorney or someone to represent me?
As a general rule it is better to contact an attorney earlier rather than later. The earlier the better, in other words.
16. How will Social Security know if I am being represented or not?
After you choose a representative and sign a contract and 1696 Form, you or your attorney must tell SSA in writing as soon as possible. To do this, get Form SSA-1696-U4, Appointment of Representative, from the SSA website (www.socialsecurity.gov) or from any Social Security office. We take care of this detail for you once we are retained, otherwise you must give the name of the person you are appointing and sign your name. If the person is not an attorney, he or she must give his or her name in writing and state that he or she accepts the appointment by signing the form.
17. How often should I meet with my attorney or representative during my case?
For example, each case is different but at least once to prepare for your hearing and at the hearing office ODAR well before the hearing. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Mike Murburg, P.A. are all well seasoned trial attorneys whose skills, much like those of a skilled surgeon, are honed by trying numerous cases on a weekly basis. Like a heart, eye, or neurosurgeon, you will meet your attorney initially, then for a pretrial (surgical) preparation, and then just before and during the trial (surgery).
At the Law Offices of Mike Murburg, P.A. you will be interviewed by staff and have your case reviewed by an attorney at the onset of your case. That attorney will be the one whose staff will be in charge of your file.
When your case gets to the hearing stage, our staff will send you an extensive questionnaire that you must complete for us. These questions are the ones whose answers your attorney will be reviewing with you when you meet with him or her for your pre-hearing work-up. The one we use is included here: Trial WOR-UP.
The questionnaire you will complete for us was developed by the attorneys at Mike Murburg, P.A. to be extremely comprehensive and has taken over 20 years to develop. It literally contains every question and area of inquiry your Social Security judge can or will normally ask. It is absolutely necessary that you complete and answer all questions and return it to our office prior to your second meeting with your attorney at your pre-trial work-up. Your attorney will talk to you about the hearing process, procedures, protocol, and judge that will hear your case.
Please note that if you have moved or your hearing is outside the Tampa Bay – West Coast of Florida area, your meeting will be telephone or done via Skype or computer-telecamera over the internet. At your second meeting, your attorney will review your answers with you, make his own notes, and highlight the important facts and issues in your case. The third time you see your attorney will be the Social Security Administration office where your case will be tried. We usually arrive about an hour early for your hearing. The attorney will review the judge’s file to make sure all exhibits are in your Social Security Administration file and have copies made to supplement your file if necessary. Then your attorney will meet with you to review any last minute facts and issues and answer any of your remaining questions prior to the hearing. The judge will ask your attorney if she/he has personally reviewed your file that morning and to let the court know of any objections. The judge will confirm that your attorney has received the file and all pertinent issues with you, so we are very careful that this is all done.
The hearing is generally informal (only you, the judge, assistant and a medical or vocational evaluator will be in the hearing room), and you will be seated before the judge with your attorney. Your attorney, the judge, or both will direct questions to you and any subsequent medical or vocational witnesses who may testify after you.
When your hearing is over, the Court will “close the record,” and your attorney will let you and the Court know that the attorney and you are getting up to leave by asking, “May we be excused now?” When the Court acknowledges this, you both may get up and leave the hearing room.
Just like a surgeon after surgery, your attorney will discuss any questions you may have subsequent to the hearing and await your favorable decision. If the decision is fully favorable, as is in the vast majority of the cases we accept, you will not need to meet with your attorney again. If your decision is partially favorable or unfavorable, a fourth meeting with him or her will be scheduled to discuss the trial record and appeal to the next level and into Federal District Court. If your case is reversed and remanded, you will see your attorney once again for another pre-trial work-up and at your rehearing should your case be remanded for trial by the Federal District Court Magistrate or judge who reversed the Social Security Administration judge’s unfavorable decision.
Ultimately, if you obtain a favorable disability ruling, you will not need or want to see your attorney, unless you just want to stop by and say thank you.
18. If I appeal my claim to the federal court what happens to attorneys’ fees?
The court can allow a reasonable fee for your attorney. The fee usually will not exceed 25% of all past-due benefits that result from the court’s decision. Your attorney cannot charge any additional fee for services before the court. Your attorney may elect to be paid with your consent under the Equal Access to justice Act (EAJA), but this will require a separate contract, but it will not require you to pay an additional fee.
19. If I also have a Long Term Disability Carrier involved, are there any special considerations?
Yes. Submit the following documents to your Long Term Disability case manager:
- Social Security Reimbursement Agreement
- Authorization to Release Social Security Claim Related Information
- Family Information Questionnaire
- Your receipt of application from Social Security
Then, call your Long Term Disability case manager if you have any questions or concerns about applying for SSDI benefits.