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Supreme Court Clarifies Compensation Rules for Disability Lawyers

Posted on in Social Security Disability

IL disability lawyerLast year, we discussed a case that was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court involving Social Security regulations for compensating lawyers who successfully pursue disability claims on behalf of their clients. On January 8, 2019, the Court issued its decision, which provided important clarification of the law in this area.

Justices: Caps for Agency, Court Representation Are Separate

To briefly review what this case, Culbertson v. Berryhill, was about: A Social Security attorney from Florida represented a woman who was seeking disability benefits. After going through the lengthy administrative review process, Social Security denied the woman's application. The woman then decided to challenge that decision by suing the Social Security Administration in federal court.

As part of the lawsuit, the woman signed a contingency-fee agreement with her attorney, which provided he would receive 25 percent of any past-due disability benefits she received if the court action proved successful. And in fact, the lawsuit did succeed. Social Security awarded past-due benefits and the agency withheld 25 percent of that amount to pay the attorney's fees.

Here is where the legal complication arose. The law governing attorney's fees in disability cases has two key provisions. The first provision states that the Social Security Administration must withhold up to 25 percent of a past-due award to compensate an attorney for services rendered in connection with proceedings before the agency. The second provision imposes a 25-percent cap on an award of attorney's fees in connection with representing a disability applicant in a court proceeding.

So the question presented to the Supreme Court was whether or not these two provisions should be read together to impose a 25 percent cap on the total attorney’s fees awarded for both agency and court representation. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, said the answer was “no.” In fact, the two provisions address separate issues. Justice Thomas noted the first provision actually provides two methods for calculating attorney fees in agency proceedings: The attorney may receive up to 25 percent if there is a contingency fee agreement in place; otherwise, legal fees are limited to a fixed amount, currently $6,000.

In contrast, the second provision applies a flat 25 percent cap for court representation. It, therefore, makes “little sense” to read both provisions together, Justice Thomas concluded, adding that if “Congress had wanted [agency] fees to be capped at 25 percent, it presumably would have said so directly” in the first provision.

Our Chicago Social Security Disability Lawyers Don't Get Paid Until You Get Paid

As a practical matter, the Court's decision will help to ensure qualified attorneys are able to fully represent disability applicants who need help in dealing with the Social Security Administration. Keep in mind, the law requires all dedicated Illinois Social Security disability attorneys to work on contingency. This means the lawyer does not get paid unless the applicant prevails before the agency or in court. So if you need legal advice or assistance, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.




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