When you apply for Social Security Disability or SSI, you begin what can become a very lengthy and complicated process. On this page, we’ve laid out a step-by-step breakdown of all of the actions that a qualified Social Security attorney will take to process your claim. The purpose of this page is to help you understand what is involved in processing your claim. If you choose to proceed without an attorney, you will need to be prepared for most of these steps. If you choose to retain an attorney, we will do all of this for you, and at no cost until you are granted benefits.

Firm intake/retention (insert before whichever phase the client comes in to the firm and before taking any other official action):

  1. Input client data to case management system. 

  2. Prepare representation forms (SSA-1696 and fee agreement) and medical authorization documents (SSA-827, HIPAA release, source-specific authorization forms)

  3. Have client and attorney sign all forms. 

  4. Submit representation forms. At IA, submit by mail or fax to local office. At hearing, submit by fax, mail, or barcode to hearing office. At AC, submit by mail or fax to AC. 

Phase one: the initial application

  1. Prepare client to have the following information available: contact and identifying information; diagnosis and limitations causing disability; information on every marriage within the last ten years; date disability began and/or work ended; contact information and treatment dates for all medical sources since AOD; list of medications identified by prescribing source and condition treating; recent medical tests by date and body part; wage and hour information for past five jobs; contact information of last five employers

  2. Complete SSD application online at SSA.gov using above information. 

  3. Advise client to complete and return forms sent by DDS. Assist client as necessary. 

  4. Prepare client for consultative examination. 

  5. Reach out to a treating source for a functional capacity opinion. 

  6. Submit representation forms to local office

  7. Receive decision

  8. Advise client of decision. 


Phase two: the hearing

  1. File request for hearing. 

  2. Identify known medical sources. 

  3. Submit representation forms if not already done. 

  4. Verify receipt of appeal. 

  5. View and download initial exhibit file. 

  6. Review exhibit file. 

  7. Obtain a relevant treating source opinion. 

  8. Obtain updated records from supportive treating source. 

  9. Prepare and submit OTR if opinion and supporting records are sufficient. 

  10. Advise client to complete and return incidental forms sent by ODAR. 

  11. Wait for scheduling of hearing. 

  12. Communicate with scheduling office to schedule hearing. 

  13. Advise client of scheduled hearing. 

  14. Update treatment information. 

  15. Obtain updated medical records, verifying date range of records already received and submitted to avoid duplication. 

  16. Obtain updated medical opinion. 

  17. Review received medical records. 

  18. Submit received medical records. 

  19. Review opinions for support. If supportive, submit. If unsupportive, evaluate for next steps.

  20. Prepare and submit five-day notice letter as relevant. 

  21. Prepare and submit brief as relevant. 

  22. Contact client to prepare for hearing testimony. 

  23. Attend hearing. 

  24. Debrief client. 

  25. Complete any required post-hearing follow up. 

  26. Await decision. 

  27. Check status report for case status. 

  28. If inordinately delayed, write to ODAR to expedite. 

  29. Download or receive decision. 

  30. Review decision. 

  31. If favorable, advise client and proceed as below. If unfavorable, proceed to next phase. 

  32. Call client and advise of favorable decision. 

  33. Submit SSA-1695 to local office.

  34. Follow up on payment. 

  35. Deposit payment. 

  36. Send client completion of case letter. 

  37. Scan and shred paper file; archive electronic file. 


Phase three: Appeals Council appeals 

  1. Review unfavorable decision to identify viable issues for appeal. 

  2. Call cl and advise them of unfavorable decision. Present options for appeal, withdraw, or new application with relevant recommendation. 

  3. If appeal is agreed to, prepare appeal letter or HA-501 form and mail to Appeals Council. 

  4. Follow up with AC/status report to confirm receipt of appeal and ERE access. 

  5. Download exhibit file. 

  6. Review exhibit file. 

  7. Obtain updated supportive opinion or medical clarification as relevant. 

  8. Obtain updated medical documentation to the extent provably relevant. 

  9. Submit new material evidence, if any. 

  10. Submit written argument. 

  11. Await decision. 

  12. If remand is granted, return to step 5 of hearing level and proceed. 

  13. If denied, proceed to federal court or new application as appropriate. 


Phase four: Federal Court appeals

  1. Review AC denial and ALJ denial. Identify viable legal arguments.

  2. Advise client of appeal rights and option of new application. 

  3. Prepare retainer paperwork including fee waiver application. 

  4. Simultaneously start new SSD or SSI application. 

  5. File lawsuit with Federal District Court electronically within 60 days of Appeals Council denial (file Complaint, retainer forms, and $400 filing fee or fee waiver petition).

  6. Verify receipt of lawsuit by court.

  7. Prepare administrative record collaboratively with assigned US Attorney

  8. Await US Attorney’s Answer to Complaint and docket calendar from court.

  9. Prepare legal arguments and case summary as a written brief (20-30 attorney hours).

  10. Submit brief before deadline.

  11. Confirm receipt of brief with court.

  12. Confer with US Attorney to request voluntary remand.

  13. Await US Attorney’s Reply brief.

  14. Prepare Reply to US Attorney’s Reply.

  15. Await decision from magistrate judge.

  16. Review court’s Decision and Order.

  17. If claim is granted, file Petition for EAJA fees with fee assignment document.

  18. If claim is granted, inform client and prepare for subsequent ALJ hearing. Return to Hearing steps above.

  19. If denied, inform client and advise of next steps.

  20. If appropriate, consider appeals to Circuit Appeals Court. Note: This level of appeal is rarely pursued.


Upon grant, regardless of level:

  1. Advise and congratulate client. 

  2. File form SSA-1695 with local SSA office. 

  3. If relevant, prepare and file fee petition. 

  4. Wait for payment. 

  5. If necessary, follow up on fee petition approval and/or payment. 

  6. Deposit check. 

  7. Submit withdrawal as representative to local office. 

  8. Sent client close-out letter

  9. Scan, shred, and archive file, returning to client any papers they desire. 

  10. Present to client a digital copy of the case file.