Disability appeals a $1.4 billion business for lawyers
Winning a Social Security disability appeal can mean a guaranteed payday for lawyers.
The Social Security Administration may withhold as much as 25 percent from a disabled worker's back pay to cover legal fees. Lawyers can receive the money — up to a $6,000 maximum — straight from the agency, eliminating the need to dog clients for payment, legal scholars said.
A “lawyer has incentive to do anything he can to get a ‘yes' ” in disability cases, said Richard J. Pierce, a George Washington University law professor who testified before Congress this year. “They're even trying to intercept people as they go into unemployment offices.”
Pierce said about 85 percent of disability claimants who appeal denials to administrative law judges have legal representation, up from the 20 percent range in the 1970s.
“An attorney is better able to make sure medical evidence is complete, make sure the judge has a chance to review evidence,” said Cindy Berger, a former staff attorney for Social Security who is principal at Washington's Landing-based Berger and Green.
Lawyers began advertising more aggressively for Social Security disability clients in the 1980s and into the '90s, said Michael Gianantonio, an adjunct professor of trial advocacy at Duquesne University.
Their work is now a business worth $1.4 billion, the annual amount set aside by the SSA for attorney fees. They face no direct opposition in the courtroom, where federal rules keep government attorneys from intervening.
The union representing administrative law judges, the Association of Administrative Law Judges, asked Congress to reverse that policy.
Adding government attorneys to appeal hearings would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, said Jim Borland, assistant deputy commissioner at the administration.
Berger said more disability claimants have sought outside counsel as “it's become increasingly difficult to prove disability.”
Private representation has grown because “Social Security has gotten a lot more complicated in its regulations,” said Dennis Liotta, a partner at Edgar Snyder and Associates.
“It's gotten a lot more involved in regulation and what's required to prove disability,” said Liotta, who oversees Social Security disability cases at his firm. “It's a very complex and ever-changing area of the law.”
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Report linking field surface to cancer elicits Mt. Lebanon protest
- Pittsburgh’s Veterans Day parade moves to Saturday
- Unexpected work delays Allegheny County Health Department’s move into former morgue
- Move-in begins at new homes on site of Hill District housing project
- Allegheny County health officials call on retirement homes to stay vigilant on Legionella prevention
- Parkway West off-ramps at Carnegie to close beginning Friday night
- Contempt citation sought by state against Highmark for alleged violation of deal with UPMC
- Pittsburgh VA director gets more time to appeal firing recommendation
- Canadians more fearful, aware after ‘very rare’ attack in Ottawa
- Newsmaker: Robert E. Neely
- VA promotion for administrator stuns legislator