|TIP #11: It is of little use to hire an attorney until your claim comes before an administrative law judge.
An attorney can be of assistance in going before the administrative law judge, but there is little she can do for you prior to that time, except be sure you file all the right papers. You can get that kind of assistance for free at the local Social Security office. When you go before a judge, your attorney will have the opportunity to represent you just as she would in any courtroom. You may appoint an attorney representative at the earlier stages of your claim if you want to. They will be accorded full access to any notices sent to you, receiving duplicate copies of everything. They can communicate with the evaluator, just as you do. However, there are less expensive ways to get this kind of help early on in the process. You can check with your county welfare department to see if there is an advocacy program for SSI applicants. If there is, you may be able to have an advocate assigned to you to assist you in expediting your claim. If there is a responsible adult in your family or among your friends, this person can be appointed your legal representative for Social Security purposes simply by filing a form at the Social Security office. This same form must be filled out and signed before even your attorney can represent you. Your evaluator has strict instructions about who may or may not receive confidential information about your claim. Your file contains your medical records, and these records are protected by privacy laws. Anyone you may wish to appoint your legal representative will, however, have full access to your file. These are important things to consider before appointing a representative or hiring an attorney. Most attorneys do disability work on a contingency basis, receiving a fee only if your benefits are allowed, unless you make some other kind of arrangement. It is unlikely they will be too involved at the early stages, because they also know of the increased likelihood of being allowed by an administrative law judge.