May 27, 2016

Anatomy of a Social Security Hearing Decision Part II: Approval of the fee agreement

If you were represented at your disability hearing by an attorney or qualified representative, your favorable Social Security hearing decision will contain an “Order of Administrative Law Judge” either approving or disapproving your fee agreementSocial Security hearing decision fee agreementThat order also explains that you have fifteen days to respond to the judge if you do not agree with his or her order.  Some of my clients, after reading this order, call me because they are worried that they need to respond in order for their case to move forward.  Fortunately for them, though, this language is just another part of Social Security’s form letter.  I explain to them that if they are still willing to hold to their end of the fee agreement, they don’t have to do anything.

Social Security has rules about how much an attorney can charge you for his or her services related to your Social Security disability case.  When you hired your attorney, you most likely signed a fee agreement that said you only had to pay your attorney if you were awarded benefits and received back pay.  Under Social Security’s rules, your attorney can typically charge 25% of your back pay, but no more than $6,000.  If you have an attorney who regularly practices Social Security disability law, the attorney probably has an agreement with Social Security that allows him to receive his fees directly from Social Security.  That way, neither you nor your attorney has to worry about calculating the amount of the fee and ensuring timely payment.

However, that direct payment of fees can only occur if Social Security finds that your fee agreement complies with Social Security’s rules.  Therefore, when an Administrative Law Judge finds a claimant disabled, he or she must then review the fee agreement to make sure it is in compliance.  Most of the time the fee agreement is approved, if you only had one attorney represent you over the course of your claim and the attorney uses the appropriate language in the fee agreement.

Since my main area of practice is Social Security disability law, my fee agreement is in compliance with Social Security’s rules regarding fees.  The only type of situation in which my fee agreement has not been approved occurs when my client had another attorney prior to hiring me, and that attorney did not waive his or her fee.  Social Security’s rules dictate that in such a situation, the standard fee agreement cannot be used, and the attorneys must petition the judge for approval of their fees.

This may all sound a little confusing to someone who is not used to dealing with Social Security regularly, but fortunately you do not have to worry about responding to the judge’s order regarding the fee agreement.  Your attorney will pay close attention to whether the fee agreement was approved – after all, he or she wants to be paid as much as you do!  If it was not approved, the attorney is responsible for drafting the fee petition, submitting it to you for your review, and filing it with the Administrative Law Judge.

If, for some reason, you feel that you should not be held to the fee agreement, or if you feel that the amount you must pay under the fee agreement is unfair, you should follow the instructions in the order.  You can write a letter to the Administrative Law Judge explaining why you think the fee is not appropriate, and the Administrative Law Judge will consider your reasons.

In summary, the Order of the Administrative Law Judge approving or disapproving your fee agreement with your attorney or representative has nothing to do with the judge’s decision to find you disabled.  It is just the first step that must be taken in the process of calculating and distributing your back pay.

 

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