It is extremely important for an individual to prepare for their first appointment with a Social Security disability lawyer. The lawyer will need accurate and detailed information in order to understand the individual’s claim. Each lawyer’s interview process will be different, but the most common questions that will come up during the meeting will be discussed below.

How Does an Individual Qualify for Social Security Benefits?

In order for an individual to receive Social Security Disability or SSI benefits, they must meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disability. The SSA follows a five-step sequential disability analysis. It is helpful to be familiar with this analysis prior to filing for disability benefits.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Is the individual working?;
  2. Does the individual have a severe impairment?;
  3. Does the individual meet or equal a listing of impairment?;
  4. Can they perform past relevant work?; and
  5. Can they perform other work?

If an individual is performing substantial gainful activity (SGA), they cannot receive Social Security disability benefits. Each year, the SGA thresholds are set. If an individual’s income meets or exceeds this threshold, they cannot receive Social Security disability benefits, even if they meet the SSA’s medical criteria. It is important to note that not all work is considered SGA. An attorney will be able to further analyze an individual’s work situation.

A severe medical impairment is a medical condition that significantly limits an individual’s physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. It must have existed or is expected to exist at least one year. Medical evidence is required to support these types of conditions.

If an individual has a severe impairment, the SSA will determine whether it meets one of the Listings of Impairment, which describes specific conditions and symptoms and includes specific disability criteria. Many applicants will not meet or equal a listing, so they will continue to the last steps of the evaluation, which focuses on their ability to work.

Past relevant work (PRW) is any SGA-level work an individual performed within the past 15 years. Brief work attempts are usually not considered PRW. Past work will be categorized based on physical and mental difficulty. The SSA will assign the applicant a set of functional limitations, known as residual functional capacity (RFC). If an individual’s past work can be performed within these restrictions, their claim will be denied.

If an individual cannot perform their PRW, the SSA will determine if they are capable of performing other full-time work. If an individual is capable of doing other work in the national economy, their claim will likely be denied. There are, however, different rules for workers over the age of 50, so it is important to seek the assistance of an attorney.

When was Your Social Security Application Denied?

To begin, the lawyer will need to know the status of the individual’s claim. If they have been denied Social Security disability, it is necessary to know when a claim was denied in order to file a timely appeal. In most cases, an individual must appeal a disability or SSI denial within a certain period of time. The time frame will depend on the laws of the individual’s state. Typically, an appeal will be rejected if it is filed after the deadline.

It is always important to retain any documentation related to a legal matter or a claim with the government, such as Social Security disability. If an individual has a copy of their Social Security letter or any other letters or files from Social Security, they should bring that documentation to their first appointment. This documentation will assist the lawyer in understanding the status of the individual’s case as well as any and all claims and issues in the case.

Do You Have Financial Resources or Income?

An individual’s financial stability can impact their Social Security claim. If the individual is homeless, their lawyer may be able to expedite the appeal process. In some cases, the Social Security hearing office may agree to expedite an appeal if the individual has dire financial need.

In addition, if an individual has limited financial resources, they may be entitled to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. There are two types of Social Security disability benefits, including, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and SSI.

SSDI is an earned program that is based on an individual’s work history and earnings. It is based on financial need. In some cases, an individual may be eligible for both SSI and Social Security disability.

Have You Applied for Social Security Disability in the Past?

In some cases, a previous denial of benefits may impact an individual’s new application or appeal. This is especially true if the individual had a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) in the past. If an individual’s Social Security disability was denied following a hearing, it is important to bring that decision to the meeting with the individual’s current attorney.

What Medical Conditions are Disabling?

Medical evidence is the foundation of any Social Security disability claim. An individual cannot receive Social Security disability benefits unless their medical conditions prevent them from working. 

Social Security relies heavily on an individual’s medical records when evaluating their disability claim. When an individual meets with a lawyer, they should report all serious medical conditions. They should also provide a list of doctors or other medical providers, including:

  • Physical therapists;
  • Mental health counselors; and
  • Chiropractors.

When Did Your Medical Conditions Start to Impact Your Work?

A Social Security disability lawyer’s goal will be to maximize their clients benefits. Generally, an individual cannot receive Social Security benefits while they are working full-time. In some cases, however, an individual’s work may not be considered an income. 

For example, if an individual’s work is significantly accommodated or reduced prior to when an individual stopped working, they may be entitled to claim an earlier disability onset date, and therefore, more benefits.

What Does Your Resume Look Like? 

An individual’s education and work experience are an important factor in a Social Security disability claim. An individual’s eligibility is partly based on whether they are capable of doing work within their training or qualifications. 

Assessing whether an individual can work within their training or qualifications requires a detailed understanding of their education or work experience. Social Security employs vocational experts to evaluate an individual’s work and education. An individual’s attorney must have a detailed understanding of these parts of their client’s case in order to cross examine experts and present accurate evidence on the issues.

Have You Struggled with Substance Abuse?

Even though addiction may be a legitimate medical condition, an individual cannot receive Social Security disability benefits if their only disabling condition is a substance abuse issue. 

It is important to note that Social Security does use substance abuse as a reason to deny a valid disability claim. While it may seem embarrassing, it is important to be honest and up front with an attorney regarding any history of substance abuse.

What Should I Bring to a Meeting with a Lawyer?

It is important to gather documents prior to a meeting with a lawyer regarding Social Security disability and bring them to the first appointment. This includes a Social Security denial letter and any other letters from Social Security. 

Generally, a lawyer cannot file an appeal, known as a Request for Hearing, without the date of denial letter from Social Security. In addition, a lawyer may want to review the following documents in order to evaluate and understand an individual’s Social Security claim:

  • All available medical records;
  • Any and all work restriction slips;
  • Information about an individual’s medications; and
  • Paperwork from any other disability claims, such as workers’ compensation or short-term disability.

Where Can I Find the Right Lawyer?

Is it essential to hire an experienced government lawyer for any Social Security disability issue. In many cases, Social Security claims are too complex to handle on your own. A lawyer can review your case, advise you of your rights, and assist you with any aspect of your application. 

Whether you have already been denied or are just beginning your Social Security disability claim, having a lawyer on your side may be the difference between being denied and obtaining benefits.