Can I Change Lawyers in the Middle of a Social Security Disability Case?
Applying for Social Security Disability is stressful and can take a long time to finalize. Working with an attorney, you do not mesh with does not make it any easier. If you are unhappy with your Social Security Disability lawyer, can you fire them? Short answer, yes. But the devil is always in the details.
Most Common Reasons Why People Change Lawyers Before a Disability Hearing
People seeking Social Security Disability benefits often get angry at their attorneys because it takes a long time to settle a claim. Many attorneys are not good about promptly answering telephone calls or emails regarding client queries. Poor customer service is often at the heart of why clients want to fire their lawyers.
Except in rare cases, an attorney can not make the SSA move any faster. But they can make an effort to communicate with their clients about the time frames involved in a disability benefits application. It is frustrating for claimants waiting for benefits when they do not understand how the process works and are trying to get answers from an elusive attorney who does not make communication with their clients a priority.
Claimants should ask their attorneys about the general wait times in their state (Note that depending on what level of the process your claim for benefits is at currently, the answer will be different). In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the average wait time for an initial level application determination is approximately six months but can take significantly more time. Having realistic expectations for how long the process will take can substantially limit your frustrations with your legal team. But if your current attorney is not communicating this and other important information to you, you may want to change attorneys.
What If My Attorney and I Have Clashing Personalities?
The bottom line is that you will be working with a Social Security Disability attorney for many months. Having an attorney whose personality rubs you the wrong way can be unpleasant. In this situation, it is understandable that you would want to switch attorneys. The good news is, you can change attorneys at any stage in the application or appeals process.
The Process for Changing Lawyers
If you think you will get along better with another attorney, you can discharge your current attorney in writing and ask them to withdraw their representation from the case. They should then promptly notify SSA in writing of their withdrawal of representation. It is also a good idea for you to inform the SSA in writing that you have discharged your current attorney and are planning to hire a different attorney.
But What About Being Able to Hire a New Social Security Disability Attorney?
This is where things can get tricky. You may have trouble finding a new attorney to take on your case. This is because many attorneys will not want to take a client who has already had another lawyer working on their case due to the likelihood of “splitting the fee” with the prior attorney— unless the prior attorney agrees to waive it.
Even after you discharge your lawyer and withdraw their representation from your case, they do not have to agree to waive their fee. If they have not yet done much work on your case, they may be more likely to agree to a waiver. If they do not agree to waive their fee, both they and your new attorney will have to submit documentation to SSA, once you have been awarded benefits, detailing what work they performed on your case. SSA will then decide how much each attorney is to be paid out of the total attorney fee funds available (generally, 25% of your retroactive benefits with a cap at $6,000.00). This process is called a “fee petition.”
The closer you are to your scheduled hearing, usually the more time and effort your attorney has put into your case. So, at that point, your first attorney will not likely be willing to waive their fee. Therefore, you may want to consider changing attorneys as early as possible in the application and/or appeals process.
Are You Searching for a Social Security Disability Attorney?
Attorney Sara J. Frankel has almost 30 years of experience handling Social Security disability cases. She has represented thousands of Social Security Disability claimants and knows what it takes to communicate effectively with her clients and put them at ease.
Contact the Law Offices of Sara J. Frankel & Associates, pc today for a free consultation.