Social Security card along with 100 dollar bills.

Social Security Disability benefits offer life-saving financial support to claimants. But what if you can’t pay a lawyer for a Social Security Disability claim? You may still have options, even if you can’t pay an attorney upfront. Most lawyers who handle these types of cases work on a contingency fee basis with no upfront costs.

Should You Hire a Social Security Disability Lawyer?

When you’re diagnosed with a disabling illness or injury, your income can be significantly impacted due to temporary or permanent health conditions. It can be difficult to make ends meet without filing a Social Security Disability claim with the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The SSA imposes strict regulations on both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for people who qualify based on taxable income and work credits, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for people who have limited income and resources or insufficient work credits. In many cases, SSA regulations result in claim denials and lengthy claim approval processes that force claimants to get by on limited resources. If you apply for SSDI benefits, you are required to serve a five-month waiting period that begins on the date of your disability. If your claim is approved, your first benefit payment begins at the beginning of the sixth month.

If you’re applying for Social Security Disability for the first time, or your claim has been denied, a Social Security Disability attorney can help you through the process. The SSA maintains its own criteria for medical qualifications, known as the Blue Book. For a claim approval, you will need to gather medical evidence, and your medical condition and diagnosis must match the requirements in the Blue Book. When dealing with SSA regulations, an attorney can help you navigate through all the red tape.

How Much Does a Social Security Disability Lawyer Cost?

Whether you’re applying for SSDI or SSI benefits, most lawyers will work on a contingency fee basis with no upfront fees, so you should not be concerned about the inability to pay a lawyer for a Social Security Disability claim. When a lawyer works on contingency fees, this means that you do not have to pay anything unless the lawyer wins your case.

Social Security Disability lawyers are required to submit a written fee agreement to Social Security before Social Security issues a favorable decision on the claim. Most lawyers submit these fee agreements when they take your case.

If your lawyer is successful and your SSDI or SSI claim is approved for benefits, you will owe money, but there are caps on the amount you will be required to pay. Currently, lawyer’s fees are capped at $6,000 or 25% of the claimant’s back pay award, whichever is less. For example, if your back pay award is $20,000, your attorney can collect 25% of that amount, which is $5,000. If your back pay is $25,000, 25% of that equals $6,250, but the statutory cap only allows your attorney to collect a $6,000 maximum. If your lawyer wants to collect more than $6,000, he or she will have to file a fee petition with the SSA.

Currently, the cap for Social Security lawyers’ fees is $6,000, but that cap is scheduled to increase to $7,200 effective November 30, 2022, due to rising disability benefits, inflation in the cost of living, and other economic factors. However, the cap increase will only affect disability applicants who are awarded more than $24,000 in back pay (past-due benefits). Generally, most Social Security Disability claimants receive less than $10,000 in back pay.

Who Pays for Legal Costs in a Social Security Disability Claim?

Social Security Disability lawyers do not charge upfront fees for their time, but they are allowed to charge reasonable upfront fees to cover expected expenses related to the case. Some lawyers ask for a small advance to cover the costs associated with phone calls, copying expenses, postage, and obtaining medical records from hospitals, doctors’ offices, mental health facilities, employers, and schools. There may be some facilities that provide free medical records, but most charge fees. Typically, fees for all of these services are under $500.

If your lawyer asks for case expenses to be paid upfront, he or she is required to hold this money in a special account called a “trust account.” As the case proceeds, your lawyer will inform you of withdrawals made from the trust account. When your case is completed, your lawyer will return any funds left over in the trust account.

Most Social Security Disability lawyers do not ask you to pay fees and expenses in advance. Generally, you will be asked to reimburse your lawyer for these costs at the end of your case. Upfront fees, expenses, and miscellaneous costs will be included in your written fee agreement that you will sign when you hire the lawyer. If you have questions or concerns related to the costs of a Social Security Disability claim, address them before you sign the agreement.

Fee Agreements and Fee Petitions

To ensure payments for services, a Social Security Disability lawyer enters into a written fee agreement with his or her client, then submits that agreement to the Social Security Administration for approval. If Social Security approves the fee agreement, SSA will pay your lawyer’s fees for you directly out of your back pay benefits that are awarded when your claim is approved.

You and your lawyer can agree on any fee to be paid out of your back pay, as long as it does not exceed $6,000 or 25% of your back pay (past-due benefits), the maximum set by law. According to SSA data, the average award for back pay is $3,750. When a claim is denied or a lawyer files an appeal for a hearing before a judge, the amounts are higher.

If you are injured or disabled and no longer able to work, you may be concerned about your loss of normal income to pay your bills. Perhaps you have considered hiring a disability lawyer for help, but what if you can’t pay a lawyer for a Social Security Disability claim? You may want to hire a lawyer for assistance, but you may not know what a Social Security Disability attorney does or how a Chicago disability lawyer can help you get benefits. It’s important to understand that you don’t have to pay your lawyer’s fees unless you’re approved for SSDI benefits. If your claim is approved, your fees will be paid from your past-due benefits.

By hiring a Social Security Disability lawyer, getting through the SSA process will be easier and less stressful. Your lawyer can help you in many ways, including:

  • Contacting SSA on your behalf
  • Making sure your claim complies with filing requirements
  • Making sure your medical condition conforms to Blue Book requirements
  • Gathering your medical records and medical evidence
  • Gathering your work records and documented income
  • Obtaining expert witness statements

What If You Can’t Pay Your Social Security Disability Lawyer?

Most people who file Social Security Disability claims need assistance in paying their mortgage or rent, car payments, medical bills, and household expenses due to a health condition or injury. For people who have lost income due to these conditions, worries about being unable to pay a lawyer for a Social Security Disability claim are perfectly normal.

The SSA and Social Security Disability lawyers recognize the problems connected to lack of normal income, claim approvals and denials, and waiting periods to receive SSDI or SSI benefits. This is why lawyers who take Social Security Disability cases work on a contingency fee basis, and the SSA requires SSDI and SSI lawyers to submit a written fee agreement before a claim is approved.

In most cases, lawyers who handle Social Security Disability cases rely on contingency fee arrangements with clients and back pay arrangements with the SSA. When you hire a disability lawyer for SSDI benefits, you can assume that he or she will collect fees and payments when he or she wins your case. If your claim is denied for any reason, your lawyer can file an appeal and schedule a hearing to review the claim and assist you in getting approved for benefits.

In some cases, Social Security Disability lawyers dedicate a portion of their time to doing “pro bono” work (without charge). However, this work is usually reserved for disability claimants who have very severe medical conditions and who are in dire financial situations. Most of these claimants have clear-cut cases and are approved at the initial decision stage, so the lawyer is not required to spend a lot of time helping with the application for disability benefits.

If you need SSDI benefits, working with a Social Security Disability lawyer will increase your chances of an approved claim and disability benefits.