Social Security Referral FAQ
Questions Frequently Asked by Referring Attorneys
Why should I refer a Social Security Case to Bluestein Attorneys?
A lot of our business comes from referring attorneys. We are grateful for that business, and we want to make it worth your time and effort to refer cases to us. For most case referrals, we use a split fee arrangement whereby– with the knowledge and permission of the client– the referring attorney receives one-third of the total fee that we receive. Our fee is a contingent fee of 25 percent of back pay (benefits that accrue between the date that a claimant is determined to be disabled and the date that he or she begins to receive monthly benefit payments) up to a fee cap of $6,000.
While we understand that a split fee is a great incentive for referring cases, we also know that you would like to refer clients with confidence in the attorneys to whom you are referring them. While we do not win every case we take, we pride ourselves in our compassion, in our professionalism, and in the success that we achieve on behalf of our clients.
We try very hard to give our clients the attention that they deserve. Every potential client who has already filed for benefits is scheduled to meet initially with an attorney. If we accept the case, the client is assigned to a paralegal based on last name. While we rarely have the time to call our clients just to chat, our attorneys and paralegals return phone calls. If a client speaks with a paralegal but needs to ask a question of an attorney, the client is scheduled for a time to speak with the attorney. Our attorneys always speak with clients once a hearing is scheduled to prepare the client for the hearing. Our attorneys also periodically review files and determine the action to be taken.
We are familiar with the disability process and with the individual Administrative Law Judges and their staff members. We represent clients at hearings in Columbia, Florence, Greenwood, Charlotte, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Augusta and Greenville. We travel to meet clients in person in all of these cities and in the areas served by the hearing office locations in these cities.
Stacy Thompson has been practicing exclusively in the area of Social Security Disability benefits for about twelve years and has represented hundreds of clients at hearings and in appeals to the Appeals Council. Stacy formerly served on the board of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) and serves as chair of the Social Security section of the SC Association for Justice (SCAJ), formerly SC Trial Lawyers.
We have an excellent support staff who also focuses exclusively on disability practice.
We thoroughly prepare every case for hearing by updating medical records, preparing clients for questioning, reviewing the record, obtaining additional information, and anticipating problems that may arise. However, Social Security Disability cases primarily hinge upon the evidence in the medical records. Sometimes the evidence is not as strong as it needs to be in order to win. We know that we cannot win every case, but we put forth great effort in every case and serve as passionate advocates for our clients.
What information do I need to provide when I refer a case?
First, we need your name so that we will know who is referring the case. Second, we
need information on how to contact the client which includes the following: client’s
name, client’s phone number(s) or a number at which the client can be reached, and
client’s mailing address. Third, we need the date of the client’s denial letter so that we will know a deadline for action. We have enclosed a simple intake sheet for future
reference. Completing this sheet is particularly helpful. Also, it is helpful to have a copy of the denial letter so that we will know when the case was denied, why it was denied, and which medical records were evaluated in reaching the decision. We would greatly appreciate it if your office would fax or scan/e-mail this information to us so that we can contact the client and arrange for a meeting.
If I refer a case to you, how long will it take for your office to contact the potential client?
If you provide contact information for the potential client, our office will contact that
person within a day of receiving the information. While our paralegal who handles
referrals is very vigilant about contacting potential clients, she can only work with the information that she is provided. Our paralegal will leave messages and will attempt to contact the potential client more than once. If she leaves messages and receives no response or if she gets a busy signal or no answer on multiple occasions, she will generally send the client a letter asking them to call our office, which is why we appreciate as much contact information as your office can obtain. However, we
understand that some potential clients may not have a phone. In those cases, it may be best if you provide our contact information to them and ask them to call us and indicate that you referred them.
What information does the client need to bring to the initial meeting?
We absolutely must have a copy of the most recent denial from the Social Security
Administration. We cannot proceed with any certainty without reviewing the denial
letter, so it is very important that either your office fax or scan/e-mail a copy to us or that the client bring a copy to our meeting. Our paralegal will send some forms to the client when she schedules the meeting. These forms should be brought to the meeting as well.
Any other evidence that the potential client has in his or her possession is also greatly appreciated. This evidence may include statements from treating doctors, medications lists, prior decisions from the Social Security Administration, medical records, school records, and anything else that the potential client considers relevant to the claim.
Do you accept every case that is referred?
No. We have discretion to accept or reject cases that are referred from other attorneys. We always meet with the referred clients. However, if we assess the case and determine that we are unlikely to obtain benefits for the client for one reason or
another, we decline representation.
There are a number of reasons that we may decline a case. First, please understand that we are working within Social Security’s definition of disability, which is much stricter than definitions of disability used in other contexts. In most cases, it is not a matter of whether a client can return to past work or work similar to that performed in the past. Instead, it is a matter of whether the client could do any work. Social Security is relying upon vocational data that was last updated in the early 1980s. Vocationally, the Social Security Administration does not exist in the real world, but we are forced to work within the framework of their rules and their decision-making. If we do not feel that we can win based upon these frameworks, we are likely to decline representation.
Second, there are a number of “red flags” that alert us to potential problems in cases. If we see these, we are likely to decline representation. For us, red flags include drug abuse, alcohol abuse, evidence of malingering, evidence of drug-seeking behavior, and lack of medical treatment.
Third, some people simply do not qualify for benefits. If a claimant is continuing to work and is earning in excess of $1000 per month (before taxes), he or she cannot qualify for benefits. In order to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a claimant must not exceed household income and asset limits, which are very strict. If a potential client exceeds the income and asset limits for SSI and has not earned enough work credits to qualify for Disability Insurance Benefit (DIB), there is nothing we can do to help.
How long does it generally take for a Social Security Disability case to be resolved?
At the present time, it normally takes about three years from the time of filing for a
typical Social Security Disability case to be resolved. The first step in the process is for a client to file an application. The client can do this by contacting the Social Security Administration over the phone or through the internet.
The client will need to supply information to a representative from the Social Security Administration, including information regarding symptoms, medications, limitations, and recent medical treatment and providers. The Social Security Administration then bears the burden of obtaining the client’s medical records. The client may or may not be referred to a consultative physician or psychologist for further evaluation. It usually takes anywhere from a few weeks to six months or more to receive a decision on the initial application. Very few cases are favorably decided at this stage, and most clients will receive a denial.
After receiving a denial on an initial application, the client will have sixty (60) days to file an appeal, which is referred to as a Request for Reconsideration. Again, the client will need to supply information similar to that requested in the initial application. The Social Security Administration will bear the burden of updating the medical records and may opt to send the client for a consultative examination. Any new records will be reviewed, and a decision will be issued anywhere from a few weeks to six months or more after the Request for Reconsideration is filed. As with the initial stage, very few cases are favorably decided at the reconsideration stage.
After receiving a denial at the reconsideration stage, the client’s next step is to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The file is transferred from the client’s local Social Security office to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review that serves the client’s area. Once the file is transferred, it may sit for over a year without action on the part of the hearing office staff. Rarely are records requested by the staff of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, and usually when records are requested, it is because an Administrative Law Judge requests them post-hearing. The average wait time for a hearing in South Carolina is approximately twelve to sixteen months from the date that the hearing request is filed.
Once a hearing is held, it takes an average of about one to three months to receive a
written decision from the Administrative Law Judge. If the case is favorably decided, it takes an average of about two months for benefits to be paid. However, it sometimes takes longer when Workers’ Compensation offsets are involved in calculating benefits. If the case is unfavorably decided, the claimant has sixty (60) days to appeal the decision of the Administrative Law Judge. Appeals are in written form and are sent to an Appeals Council in Falls Church, Virginia. It takes anywhere from three months to a year-and-a half to receive a decision from the Appeals Council, who can deny the case, award the case, or remand the case. Therefore, while wait times average about three years from the filing of the initial application to the resolution of the case, some cases can take five years or more to resolve – particularly where multiple appeals and remands are involved.