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A Race to the Bottom for National Social Security Disability Firms

You've probably seen the commercials on television. An attorney promising to represent "you" appeal a social security disability denial. They prey on your fear of the unknown and your inability to navigate the federal government's social security rules. A toll free number flashes across the screen for a national law firm that represents claimant's around the country.

Should you call?

The answer is an unequivocal "NO!"

National law firms market share has steadily grown since 2004, when the social security administrative agency and Congress relaxed rules governing representation, making it easier for nonlawyer advocates to get paid. National law firms quickly hired lower-paid nonlawyers to handle cases, ramped up advertising and began processing a far greater number of clients. While the advertising budget increased, these firms cut services to their clients.

To understand the rise of national law firms, you have to understand the economics. Initial applications for disability benefits usually are decided in state agencies that work with the Social Security Administration. Applicants are required to provide medical records establishing that they are unlikely to be able to work for at least a year, or that their health problems are terminal. If denied at the state level, applicants can request a hearing before an administrative law judge. Often, that is the point at which lawyers get involved. If the appeal is successful, the applicant is entitled to "back pay" which is disability payments dating to the time of the injury or disability. Lawyers can collect 25% of that award, up to $6,000.

National law firms use the economies of scale to makes millions of dollars at the expense of their clients. A Wall Street Journal article detailed the rise of some of the largest law firms specializing in social security claims in a December 22, 2011 article entitled "Two Lawyers Strike Gold in U.S. Disability System." I have provided a link below. The numbers are staggering.

For social security clients in Oregon, the problem with national law firms is that they often do not have local advocates. I often speak with potential clients who have already signed up with national law firms, that are referred to me because the law firm does not have an advocate to attend Oregon hearing. Unfortunately, I can not represent many of these claimant's because the national law firm puts a lien on the attorney fee. Meaning that even if we were successful in the appeal, I may not get an attorney fee.

If you, or someone you know, lives in the Portland or Astoria area and has had a social security claim denied please call our offices. Our firm specializes in appealing social security disability denials and we provide personalized service to all of our clients.

Even if you live outside our area, you can still call our offices. We would be happy to recommend an Oregon lawyer in your area that can competently handle your claim at all stages of the appeal process.

Copy and paste this link into your browser to read the full Wall Street Journal article.

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