Most people seeking help with filing a disability claim turn to the internet for information. A quick Google search will offer up loads of links for “Disability Advocates” that will provide a “Free” review of a person’s case to see winning benefits is possible. The prospective disabled client enters his or her contact information into the site contact form and answers a few questions. The information is forwarded to disability advocates and lawyers who pay for this information. There is nothing wrong with this practice and it puts many people in contact with excellent advocates that can win cases. As a matter of fact many other legal services professionals utilize this type of promotional tool to obtain clients
A problem arises when this information is improperly distributed and when firms purchase more contacts than they have staff to properly process.
Companies that publish these websites and gather information usually agree to give information (leads) to only one attorney or advocate at a time. In other words, if you enter your information into a site, your information should only be sent to one of the website company’s clients. It is important a person does not enter his contact information into more than one site to avoid causing his own tidal wave of advocate firms calling him.Yet, some of these website companies provide information to several of their clients. This results in a barrage of calls, emails, texts, and mail from several advocate companies being sent to one person in an attempt to obtain his or her case. It is very overwhelming on the prospective disability client to receive all this information and try to sort out which firm to hire. A person entering her information into one of these sites can see 15 text messages and calls from advocacy firms in one day that want to take her case. It is important to read the fine print on these websites to see who is collecting the information and why. The website should indicate that it is gathering contact information to provide a law or advocacy firm and by providing information the prospective client is agreeing to be contacted by a representative of that firm.
It is important to understand SSA will not text anyone regarding an application for disability and demand the person call the number in the text to “complete” the application. (SSA may send text messages but only if specific steps are taking by the individual to receive texts specifically from SSA). Some of the firms that go overboard in contacting prospective clients purposely imply they are the SSA.
The advocate firm representatives that contact the prospective client by phone should not sound like they are reading from a script or be calling from outside the US. They should clearly state they are NOT the Social Security Administration and that they wish to represent the prospective disabled client in his her or claim and will charge a fee for doing so. These companies should also immediately honor any request to stop communications.
Disability firms that abuse leads information:
It is very hard for disability advocates to make money in this practice. Fees are relatively low compared to the average legal fee that lawyers receive for services. Disability advocate firms can struggle with making a profit and maintaining ethical standards of serving clients. Despite this fact there are many disability firms that succeed in this balance and help many disabled people get their disability benefits. There are too many firms however, that skip the ethics for fast and large profits. These firms operate with the perception that in order to profit they must gather mass amounts of cases and invest the least in staff and processing of these cases. These firms employ a limited number of qualified staff and the lion’s share of the work and case processing is left to entry level workers. These workers receive limited training in filing forms and gathering information from the clients and are buried under hundreds of cases. Without the constant guidance of an experienced advocate these workers can quickly get overwhelmed and quality of case management suffers. Progress with client cases gets delayed and the risk of a denied claim is actually increased.
When someone files for disability he is usually in dire need of the benefits and deserves to see his case approved as quickly as possible. Hiring a bad firm could mean that it could take several weeks from the firm receiving the documentation from the client to actually getting the case filed with SSA. If a case gets denied these firms are often behind in filing appeals meaning cases will sit until the 60 day deadline is near. This can easily add an unnecessary 4-6 months to the already long disability process. Further adding to these delays is failure to respond to SSA and follow up on case processes to ensure proper processing of the case. There are unique and often complicated details that arise in each case that if not addressed can mean the difference of winning or losing the case. A disabled person is better off without an advocate than hiring a firm that operates like this.
Websites, advertisements, and familiar names are not guarantees of great advocacy for a disability case. A good place to start is to search online for complaints. One must keep in mind that even the best company will have had disgruntled clients from time to time. However, long lists of complaints with a common thread should be seen a red flag that the firm does not put its clients, first. These can be:
- Clients complain of their case being assigned and re-assigned to several case managers at the firm in a short amount of time.
- Clients cannot get someone on the phone, are put on hold for long periods, or do not receive returned calls.
- Clients complain that despite having submitted needed documents the firm takes a long time to get cases filed and information submitted to SSA.
- Complaints of poor customer service such as a lack of compassion from case managers or not getting help when its asked for.
If a disabled person is not well serviced by her advocate she can dismiss the advocate and hire someone, new. The previous advocate cannot charge a fee for the work they have done without specific approval from SSA. The previous advocate must show that a very significant amount of work was performed properly on the case to be allowed to charge a fee. In many of these cases, the previous advocate will not be able to show SSA they deserve a fee for work prior to the client firing them. An advocate cannot prevent a client from dismissing them.
There are both attorneys and non-attorneys that do an excellent job advocating for the disabled and winning cases. In this work, being an attorney does not necessarily make the advocate better than someone who is not an attorney. Organizations such as NADR and NOSSCR can put disabled persons in direct contact with a qualified representative in good standing via their referral services These services can also assist in finding a local advocate which is sometimes preferred over an advocate far away.
More will come on this issue as I am very passionate about fair and competent representation of disabled persons. Please feel free to comment below or ask me questions!