Are you working to get Social Security Disability benefits and thinking about switching lawyers?

We understand that sometimes, as your case matures, you may want to consider changing lawyers. Changing your lawyer midstream is usually possible. But it is  a delicate time, and you need to give this careful thought.

If you have questions about switching lawyers, it is best to get good legal advice early on.

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Synopsis: The short answer is yes. As a general rule, you can hire or fire a lawyer at will in a Social Security Disability case. You don’t necessarily need a good reason, or any reason…

What to Do Next if You Want to Hire a New Attorney

You can do it by notifying the lawyer, and you should probably notify the SSA as well (always in writing). A short note right to the point will suffice. There is no need to get personal or vindictive. And you should know that an attorney can fire you as well.

Tell Us About Your Situation

    There are consequences to such an action:

    1. The lawyer can lien the case for his or her time, and file a formal fee petition with the SSA seeking approval for a fee based upon the time invested and duties performed;
    2. The presence of a prior attorney or representative who has NOT waived a fee might make it harder to get successor counsel because the next lawyer in line cannot use the SSA’s expedited fee agreement process (much easier on the attorney than the antiquated fee petition process); If you care close to an appellate deadline, you may not get the appeal filed on time because it takes time to find a hire successor counsel; and
    3. Finally, a client with a long list of prior attorneys on a case (or a huge box of disheveled records) is usually a warning sign.

    Sometimes attorneys are excellent at being an attorney and excellent at business. Sometimes an attorney is brilliant yet will fail on the business and client relations aspects of representation. Sometimes expectations are not realistic. Who knows, the point is that you as the client are truly unhappy and want to switch attorneys. Remember you do not really need a reason to fire your attorney in the context of a Social Security Disability claim. Ou can just do it

    Why Switch

    There are many reasons you may want to switch attorneys during the course of your case. Over the years I have heard:

    My attorney won’t call me back [exactly how often do you call?]
    They are not doing their job [what really is the “job”]
    They did not even get my medical records [hmm, when did you tell them]
    I call and all I get is voice mail [every time? Do you use VM?]
    My attorney is rude [sadly it can be true]
    I just don’t like my attorney anymore [life happens….]
    I never met the guy….is he real? [this happens as well]

    Other Potential Consequences

    In the context of a Social Security Disability claim, your representative is entitled to a fee for services rendered up to the point of the discharge. A discharged representative can file a form with the SSA called a fee petition, itemize the hours spent and tasks performed, and ask for authorization to charge a fee. The SSA will (eventually) authorize some fee. I have seen ridiculous fees cut to almost zero, and fees approved up to thousands of dollars (example: think firing a lawyer the day after your hearing when you think you will win…not a good move).

    Consider that as an attorney taking over a case, one thing I look for is the presence of prior counsel, what work they did, and if they have waived a fee or filed a fee petition. If I have to file a fee petition, that can take hours of my time AFTER the case is won and I cannot charge for those hours. In candor, the presence of a fee petition is a factor in my decision as to whether to accept a case as successor counsel.

    – Multiple Prior Attorneys

    So you fire attorney A, now you have to go find and hire attorney B. Will that be a problem? Do you really want to go to a hearing alone?

    Maybe your prior attorney was difficult as a person, maybe you could not communicate with him/her as often as you wish, or maybe he or she just saw the medical proof differently. The presence of one prior representative is one thing. The presence of multiple prior representatives on the same case can be seen as a red flag. Maybe the problem is the case is not very good on the medical merits and the client refuses to understand this; you as the client are difficult (rare but it happens),…. Whatever the reason(s), potential successor counsel will consider the presence of prior reps in his or her decision whether to take your case.

    – Massive Case File – Somebody has to read it

    Your case likely has a case file or at least some paperwork associated with it. We always burn the clients a disc with the case records. I can tell you from experience if you as a potential client bring in a large plastic tub of disheveled, unorganized records, I am less likely to take your case. I will have to spend hours to review and organize things BEFORE I can even make a decision as to whether I will take your case. I have to figure out what was done and when, then review all this on the merits and compare the paper trail to what you tell me. I usually have to scan the stuff to submit it…

    True Story: I even had one client whose tub or records was kept in a basement or garage on the floor and was full of some tiny bugs… I had bites all over me, threw out the clothes I had on that day, and had to have the office treated (Yes I won that case! I had to spend spent hours categorizing, identifying and itemizing his records- we got 33 medical submissions out of that tub… sometimes you just have to put in the time for a worthy client). Life happens and we learn over time… now I spray down all tubs 24 hours BEFORE I rummage through them.

    Moving Forward

    As I take over a case, I always explain to the client how my own office works. I try to get their expectations in line with not just the reality of their own case, but also how I work. I try to see what went wrong in the prior relationship, identify that, explain to the client their role as a client, and try to avoid a repeat…. This requires that you as the client be aware of your own role and responsibilities.

    We both want your case approved, and done sooner than later. We have a common goal and should be able to work together to get there. Much like a failed romantic relationship, both sides have to be aware of their own roles, and both sides have to work toward getting the case prepared, presented, and approved.

    How to Make the Switch

    Politely inform him or her that their services are no longer needed. It is best to call first, then follow up with an email or old school letter in the Postal Service. You might want to also send the SSA a letter telling then that you have discharged your attorney (and that you are seeking another attorney?).