The Administrative Law Judge hearing is the most important event in a social security disability case.  It’s not an interview, it’s not a deposition, it’s not a preliminary hearing.  The hearing before an administrative law judge is the point in the disability claim where you have the best chances of winning.  If a claim is denied at the ALJ hearing, the chances for success plummet.  For the social security disability claimant in Texas and throughout the nation, the ALJ hearing is the FRIGGING SUPER BOWL!

So when you hire a disability lawyer or representative, you would like to know and work with the person that will be by your side in the ALJ hearing, right?  Sadly, if you hire a big national disability firm like Citizens Disability, you are likely to meet your attorney/representative for the first time as you are walking in the courtroom.  This attorney is likely the “cover” attorney for the big firm you hired.  This is not just a last-minute expediency, such as the scheduled lawyer being unable to make the hearing.   It is a vital part of the business plan for most of these big national firms.  Why is that?

MONEY.  COSTS.  A big national firm has a problem in getting their attorney employees to hearings across the country.  A Dallas Fort Worth social security disability lawyer like me knows how to get to the two Dallas and one Fort Worth hearing offices in their sleep!  The Hedge Fund owner of Binder and Binder,and the MBA business owner of Citizens Disability have realized that it will cost more in travel expenses for their lawyers to go from Massachusetts to Texas then it would be to hire a local attorney at a flat, bargain basement fee.

First of all, it is not prohibited by social security disability law.   But it sure looks like a “bait and switch”, maybe even an unethical practice.  These big national firms are not in the habit of telling their new disability clients that they use ALJ hearing “cover” attorneys, undoubtedly because many new clients would be uneasy with this practice and take their business elsewhere.  I have never heard a single instance of a client being told that their representation is being farmed out to an outside lawyer.  This instinctive uneasy with having an attorney you have never laid eyes on previously accompany and represent you in one of  most important legal events in your life is well founded:

  • Big national disability firms usually only require a few years of experience for their “coverage” ALJ hearing attorneys in Texas and throughout the nation.
  • The “coverage” attorney will be paid whether you win or lose. How motivated do you think this lawyer will be to get up to speed on your case when they get, say, $250 – no matter what they do?  As a social security disability lawyer in Dallas Fort Worth area I am paid only if we win and you get back benefits.
  • The “coverage” attorney is less likely to know your case, some having seen it for the first time within days of the hearing.
  • Treating a disability case like an assembly line means that no one is really responsible for the outcome.  For example, making sure the medical record is complete and update is the responsibility of the lawyer.  If the ALJ finds the medical records are not complete, the attorney will have to answer for this error.  If I come to an ALJ hearing in Dallas Fort Worth with an incomplete record I know that the ALJ will be unhappy with me.  She will ask why I have not done my job and ask for an explanation.  A coverage attorney can easily “escape” this accountability, telling the ALJ his only responsibility with the big firm is to attend the hearing.  Trust me, the ALJ will be even more frustrated with the “passing the buck” that often happens in coverage attorney situations.

AVOIDING COVERAGE IN YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY CASE

So, I guess this means you can add two more question to your list when hiring a representative on your Social Security case:

  1. Are all of your representatives who go to hearings full time employees?
  2. If I find out you farmed out my case to someone at the last minute, do I get to punch you in the nose?  Of course then it might be too late to matter.