I am hearing more and more horror stories about persons hiring lawyers and non-attorney representatives only for them to find out that they are doing almost all of the work required to pursue their case or in some instances even providing vital identity information to persons over the phone or through the internet whom they have never met. Some persons have even thought they were applying for social security disability online only to find out later that the information was being providing to a national disability law firm or “advocates” group. If a person hires us to help with an application for social security disability benefits, we will do this in person.
That being said, what does it mean to be a smart consumer of legal services? I think it is important for everyone to understand that there are a lot of lawyers and disability advocates groups out there casting large nets (literally from one coast to the other) trying to lure in as many disabled clients as possible. They do this over the internet or by advertising toll free numbers in countless phone books.
To be a smart consumer of legal services you should be knowledgeable of the person or law firm you are hiring. You can become knowledgeable by asking the lawyer or advocate some simple questions like the following:
1. How much experience do you have doing social security disability cases? Watch out for those who “dabble” in social security disability law or aren’t actually lawyers.
2. Do you practice in other areas of the law? Be warned here that if a lawyer gives a laundry list of other areas of practice, you can probably bet that they spend most of their time doing family and/or criminal law and simply “dabble” in social security disability law.
3. Do you carry malpractice insurance? Believe it or not most states do not require lawyers to carry malpractice insurance, but ethical lawyers will always carry malpractice insurance.
4. Do you get continuing legal education to keep up with latest changes in the law or policies affecting social security disability claims? The laws and policies affecting social security disability is changes regularly and your lawyer should be knowledgeable of these changes.
5. Do you meet with clients more than once and prepare them well for hearings, or, am I simply going to be working with an assistant and never be able to talk to you? Remember, you are not hiring an assistant. You are hiring a lawyer and the lawyer should be available to speak with you within a reasonable time. While it is not unusual to speak to an assistant regarding administrative matters like updating them on your medical condition, the lawyer should be available to speak with you if you wish. Unfortunately, I have been told by many persons that when they have hired large national disability firms or groups that they do not even meet or speak to a lawyer until the day of hearing and only for about 10 to 20 minutes.
6. Do you advance costs to get medical records and the like for your clients to prepare the case? While we do this in every case, many social security disability lawyers do not do this. I personally do not want to rely upon my client’s ability or inability to pay for medical records to have an impact on presenting their case. Therefore, I advance these costs in every case and have my assistants order the medical records. Additionally, many of my clients simply cannot afford the cost to get medical records. Part of representing a disabled client is to take as much burden out the process as I can for my clients.
7. Where are you located? If you cannot drive to the lawyer’s office within a reasonable amount of time and meet with your lawyer, then they are too far away.
8. Are you a lawyer? Not all persons that represent social security disability claimants are lawyers. While there are some good “non-attorney” representatives out there, only lawyers are bound by state ethics rules, can be disciplined by state legal disciplinary commissions for violating ethics rules and have been issued a law license after having gone through years of law school and passed a rigorous bar exam. I personally would not hire a “non-attorney” representative if I could hired an experienced lawyer.
9. Who are you, really? Be wary of providing vital “identity” information (ie., social security numbers, dates of birth) before actually meeting with the lawyer. While a lawyer may want to get some information to further help him or her evaluate your case before the first meeting, it is not necessary to have your social security number or date of birth before you hire that lawyer. Think about it. How do you know the person you are talking to is who they say they are? Would you really give out your social security number to someone over the internet or telephone without really knowing who they are? Believe it or not, there are identity thieves out there and they swim the waters of the internet just like sharks swim the waters of the ocean looking for prey. There are also countless identity thieves out there trying to obtain social security numbers and other vital information from you. The point is — BE CAREFUL!
These are only some suggestions for you to consider. Please use common sense.