How to find and get a disability lawyer in NJ when I have no money?
April 28, 2011 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I live in Middlesex County in New Jersey. I have begun the application for disabilty due to anxiety and depression. I am worried I might need a lawyer, I have no money, and I don't know where to start.

I have completed the initial report online. I had one in person interview with a casework where I also presented letters of support from my ex-wife, my significant other, and my professor that gave observations on how my behaviors and mental issues affected my everyday life. A week ago, I received an adult ability report and a work history report to fill out. I completed the abilty report after 5 days and mailed it yesterday. I will be completeing and mailing out the work history report today or tomorrow.

I have applied for both SSI and SSID. I stopped working in Feb '09. I have attended community college since fall of 09, but have had to drop to half time every semester due to anxiety and panic attacks. I have no other income save for student loan refunds. I have no insuarance (and have applied for medicaid), and have been off medication (can't afford it) since Sept of 09. I have not yet had the mental health interview from social security. I have been unable to visit a doctor since November 09.

I keep reading about how many applicants are denied the first time. I keep hearing that it's a good idea to have a lawyer for this eventuality. Some people say that I should have had one already. I don't have any money to pay for a lawyer, I don't know where to go to find one, don't know how to help them help me, and don't know how to tell a good disabilty lawyer from a bad one. Can someone please help? This whole process is drainging and scary and horrible enough...

throwaw email is
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Some first-step information can be found at the mefi wiki's Get A Lawyer page -- the last section is "Low or no cost avenues for receiving legal assistance"
posted by brainmouse at 12:35 PM on April 28, 2011

Try contacting Legal Services of New Jersey. They are specifically for low income, New Jersey residents. If they are unable to help, they may be able to refer you to someone who can help.
posted by statsgirl at 12:39 PM on April 28, 2011

SOME GOOD NEWS FOR YOU: You will be able to get a lawyer to represent you on this without needing to pay any money up front. This is one instance where our legal and social support systems are actually set up more sensibly than most people expect. Here's (a little bit of) how it works:

You've already done a lot of the hard stuff by starting your application process. Find an attorney who specializes in Social Security disability cases.* Make an appointment to go see that lawyer. (Or, have them come see you. They're used to dealing with people who might have trouble getting around.) Take whatever paperwork you have. You may want to talk to a couple of different lawyers to see who you like best. When you decide who to hire, they will take your case (assuming that they think you have a decent chance of qualifying) without charging you any up-front fee. If you lose, you pay nothing (maybe some expenses for copies, medical records etc). If you win, your fee will be paid out of the amount that you are awarded by Social Security. The amount of the fee is set by regulation, so you don't have to worry about it being excessive.

Here's another website that has a lot of good information about various aspects of the disability process. It will answer a lot of your questions. It's not specific to New Jersey, but this is a federal system so almost everything will be the same.

*Call the County Bar Association and ask for names of attorneys who specialize in Social Security disability cases. Look in the Yellow pages. Use the web. Once you start looking, they're all over.
posted by Corvid at 1:21 PM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hey there. Don't contact Legal Services of New Jersey. I worked for them, and while they do help people who are low-income, they don't specialize in the kind of help you need.

The OTHER low-income legal services organization in New Jersey, the Community Health Law Project, is who you want to talk to. They have attorneys and advocates who specialize in health and disability law, as well as other civil matters that may require representation or advocacy.

I only know the folks in the South Jersey office in Collingswood so I can't provide you a direct referral for someone in a more local office, but if you have any other questions, please feel free to memail me.
posted by jph at 1:49 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

As Corvid says, you won't have to pay up front. Also, if they deny you and then you get a judgement in your favor, SS has to pay you retroactively from the date you applied. Your lawyer's fee will come out of that.

In most cases, an attorney won't actually take your case until you've actually been denied. Before that, there's literally nothing they can do, so it'd be silly and costly to retain them beforehand.
posted by katyggls at 11:22 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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