Updated: Oct 23, 2021
Naturally, as an appellate attorney, I have met many clients who are disappointed with their representation at hearing and their unfavorable decision denying them their benefits. They come to me looking for an attorney who can help them with their appeal to district court.
I review their case, and it soon becomes clear that they were represented by a national firm. Their case was not properly developed, their own statements don't support their disability, and their doctors incompletely filled out the five-page generic questionnaires. Their attorney sent them a letter of dismissal and now they won't return telephone calls. When asked, they tell me they never met their attorney and they only met the random person who represented them at hearing twenty minutes before the hearing began.
Why do people choose big firms?
First, because they advertise. Big firms have large advertising budgets designed to reach people nationwide.
Second, people are attracted to larger firms because they believe that a national firm will have the resources and expertise to handle their federal matter (their disability claim). They presume that the national firm is big enough to take on the federal government.
What is the reality?
The reality is that a large disability firm is playing a numbers game. They are not making you number one, but instead they calculate their profit based on total wins over the number of clients they represent.
They are experts in what they do, but what they do expertly is serve a lot of clients. You may have very little to no face time with your attorney. You may never speak to or meet the attorney representing you.
It is my impression that clients are underserved by larger firms who cannot dedicate the attorney time to each and every client they represent.
It is my experience representing these large firms at hearings that many of the judges also feel that claimants are underserved by national firms.
A large firm may be uniquely qualified to handle large class action lawsuits, for example. However, they are ill-suited to providing the individual attention and service that a smaller firm provides. You should be able to pick up the phone and speak with your lawyer. They are being paid no small sum for successfully representing you. When you call my office, I am usually the person that picks up the phone.
Your attorney should know you. Every individual disability claim is different and each claim requires careful attention. With a smaller firm, your attorney will let you know what you need to prove your claim.
Disability benefits are not handed out just for the asking. In truth, significant federal resources are spent on each disability applicant to determine whether they qualify for benefits. Without the evidence you need to prove your claim those resources will be applied to disqualify you from your benefits.
The Social Security Administration is administered by regional offices throughout the country. Each regional office has personnel that are familiar to your smaller firm attorney. Likewise, the Office of Hearings Operations also has regional offices throughout the country. Here in Oregon, we are served by two separate hearings offices. The Portland hearings office coordinates hearings in the northern part of the state and the Eugene hearings office coordinates hearings in the remainder of the state.
When you work with a smaller firm, your attorney knows the judges in the hearings offices. With a larger firm, the judges may know of your attorney without knowing them. Having a trusted attorney with you at your hearing is an important part of winning your disability claim.