10 Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring a Veterans Disability Lawyer
If you or a loved one has a service-connected disability and your claim has been denied, working with a disabled veteran lawyer can be highly beneficial. Informed legal advocacy for your VA disability appeal can mean the difference between a reversal of the denial and receipt of the full benefits you deserve, an inaccurate rating that leads to incomplete benefits, or another denial. Your VA disability benefits and the rating that determines them can be central to your household budget, and delays or errors can impact your family’s overall quality of life.
Denials of your VA benefits can lead to lengthy waiting periods. General appeals through the Veterans Benefits Administration (VA) generally may take 12-24 months for your appeal to be reviewed, and for the VA to decide whether to grant a portion or the entirety of what you seek in your appeal. If you have requested a review from a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, it can sometimes take several years to receive an opinion.
Selecting the correct pathway for your VA disability claims denial and working with an attorney who knows how to win can make a big difference. Your attorney’s ability to build a strong case impacts the amount you receive and whether you get granted service connection or not. Knowing how to process your VA claim takes experience, and hiring the right attorney is how you ensure that your case has the best possible chance of a favorable outcome.
The following are 10 costly mistakes you should avoid when hiring a disabled veteran lawyer. After these tips is a more in-depth consideration of how your VA disability attorney can help ensure you receive an accurate VA disability rating and the full benefits you deserve.
- Don’t immediately hire the first person you see. You must consider many factors before you decide which lawyer to hire to represent you. Remember, you may have been fighting for your disability benefits for 5, 10, 20, 30 years – or even longer. Don’t make the mistake of making a decision without considering all of your options. It pays to take your time when choosing a lawyer to represent you.
Example – There are some law firms that take a high-volume approach, and to gain a high volume of clients, they will spend a great deal on advertising. The first law firm that pops up on your Google search is generally a sponsored ad, and while respectable lawyers often take the time to advertise, it is important to look into the qualifications and experience of the sponsored ads. The first ad you see could simply be an inexperienced attorney spending more on advertising to gain clients, or a personal injury law firm trying to add veterans benefits law to its menu of services.
- Don’t hire a law firm until you have spoken to a qualified person in the firm at least two times. First, you should read over the materials from the lawyer. Second, you should read my article about mistakes to avoid when hiring a veterans disability lawyer. Third, you should call the law firm and discuss your case with him. And then last, you should make an appointment with the lawyer for a telephone conference, with the agreement in front of you, to go over the agreement. This is the only way you and your law firm can make sure that you understand the agreement and how the lawyer will handle your claim.
Example – Some veterans have reported that their attorneys staff agreed to accept the case immediately without even reviewing any information. Trying to speak with a law firm twice prior to hiring them ensures that they will take the time to speak with you as necessary, which can strongly support your case and your level of comfort with the law firm.
- Don’t hire a law firm until they explain an assessment of your case. Before a law firm can tell you whether you have a winner or loser, they need to ask questions about your claim and discuss it with you in detail. Make sure you’re comfortable with the recommendations. Sometimes, they may not be able to know for certain, but make sure the firm is at least being candid with you.
Example – Attorneys who promise a quick and sure victory without taking the time to review the essential facts of your situation may be making a shallow assessment. Moving forward with such an attorney can lead to your case not getting the depth of consideration it deserves, resulting in a lower VA disability rating than your situation deserves.
- Don’t hire a lawyer who practices in many different areas of the law. The most qualified and experienced veterans’ disability lawyers work exclusively or mostly with vets on disability cases. They don’t merely dabble in veterans disability, and handle other types of cases too. Hire a lawyer who limits all or most of his law practice to veterans disability cases.
Example – There are many attorneys on the market who have what is known as a “general practice,” which means they work on a broad variety of cases and will often take any client that walks through their door. These attorneys often learn as they go and may have taken only a few cases in various areas of law. If you have a case that requires specific knowledge, it is important to go to an attorney who knows how to perform in that specific area of the law. Attorneys are like mechanics, and VA disability law is a specific brand of automobile, like a Mercedes. In the same way, you would not hire a general neighborhood mechanic used to working on Toyotas and Fords to service a top-end Mercedes; your case will not get the attention to detail it needs from a general practitioner.
- Don’t hire a law firm until they walk you through the agreement and explain every detail. You should not be expected to sift through pages of legalese by yourself. Nor should a secretary explain it to you. Make sure you go over the lawyer’s contract personally with the lawyer by telephone. And make sure you’re comfortable with his agreement. This is the only reasonable way a lawyer should offer his services to a disabled veteran.
Example – The agreement that you make with your attorney determines how much they are paid, and if you do not fully understand this aspect of your agreement, you could lose a great deal of money. VA disability lawyers cannot charge for the initial filling out of your application and, on appeal, will generally work on a contingency basis. Ensure you understand how the contingency percentage works and what fees you could be charged along the way.
- Don’t hire a lawyer unless you trust him completely. You and the law firm will work together closely on your case. And since your case has been denied, the law firm will have to work hard to develop new evidence and an appeal strategy, and takes time and an effective attorney/client relationship.Make sure you select a lawyer you know you can trust! Because if you don’t trust your lawyer, both you and your lawyer will not work together effectively.
Example – Appeals can take anywhere from 12 months to 7 years for the VA to consider, and you may spend a good deal of time interacting with your attorney. When you do not trust your attorney completely, you won’t feel comfortable throughout the process. If an attorney does not answer your questions or calls at the beginning, trusting that they will later on could lead to a negative experience.
- Don’t hire a lawyer unless he has experience working with veterans disability cases. Make sure you read case histories describing in detail other veterans’ disability cases the lawyer has handled. Make sure the law firm answers all of your questions. Make sure you read any educational materials the lawyer provides to help veterans better understand the claims process. The more information the lawyer provides, the more knowledge and experience he can share with you–even if you don’t hire him.
Example – Just because you find an attorney online after searching for disabled veteran attorneys does not mean they have worked in that area. New attorneys can pay Google and other advertising agencies to market them in whatever field they please, but marketing presence does not equal valuable experience.
- Don’t choose a lawyer based solely on clever, eye-catching advertisements. Any lawyer can print a color brochure or run a flashy TV commercial. But flashy advertising does not mean the lawyer is qualified to represent you. Historically, the biggest advertisers in the legal profession were personal injury or negligence lawyers. Many of them may be trying to dabble in veterans law without the commitment or experience. Make sure you ask questions about the attorney’s experience in handling veterans disability claims. We would be happy to talk with you about cases we have handled that are similar to your own.
Example – The sponsored ads and banners that you encounter from larger-than-life law firms are often exactly that: too big to care about their individual clients. Investing in eye-catching commercials is one way to win clients, while ours is investing in our attorneys and the quality of our services. A positive reputation speaks for itself, and be wary of attorneys who put out advertisements that go beyond their actual record and experience.
- Don’t choose a lawyer who makes promises he can’t keep. No lawyer can predict the future. A lawyer may agree to represent you because he wants to help you. He is expecting to find a winning argument, but sometimes things don’t’ turn out as expected. Any lawyer who promises an outcome is making a promise he cannot keep.
Example – While television may lead you to believe that every case comes to a heated and dramatic conclusion in a courtroom in front of a jury, the fact is that cases are far more ordinary. Most cases are argued before trial based on the evidence, but no lawyer can control a judge’s decision and, if it comes to trial, the jury’s decision. An attorney cannot make promises as the legal system is imperfect, and outcomes cannot be guaranteed. If an attorney makes you a promise that they will win your case, it’s time to start looking for another firm to help with your claim.
- Don’t choose a lawyer unless he has litigated at least 200 cases at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Many law firms are jumping on the bandwagon of wanting to represent veterans. Most have slick advertising campaigns, but often these attorneys are personal injury or Social Security lawyers who have only recently decided to represent veterans. They often do not have the depth of experience at the highest levels of the appeals process. I would be very careful about hiring a lawyer who has not handled at least 200 cases at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Example – Experience in federal appeals court litigation is something that not all lawyers possess. The number of attorneys experienced in handling matters at those upper levels is small. Attorneys with just a few cases are still learning the ropes, and without a thorough understanding of the system and its processes, they can encounter difficulties that translate into your case or claim. This is why we do not recommend hiring a veterans benefits law firm that does not have extensive experience at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Denials are Governed by Rules and Deadlines
A denial of your initial claim is not something to be taken lightly. Generally, if you disagree with the denial of your initial VA disability benefits claim, you can request appellate review, which means an appeal. The appeal must be submitted to the VA within 1 year from your decision letter if you are requesting either a Higher-Level Review, Supplemental Claim, or a Board Appeal. If you disagree with the decision of a VA decision review, you generally are required to submit your request for another review within 1 year from the date of your initial decision. As noted above, a Board of Veterans Appeals decision through a BVA Judge can take several years to receive. However, more often than not, if you are going to receive a good decision from the VA it is more likely going to come from the Board as opposed to the regional office level. So, often the wait is worth it.
Meeting deadlines are essential for you to maintain your right to appeal a claim and still preserve the earliest possible effective date. Some types of situations have deadlines under 1 year, and it is absolutely essential that you meet them. Missing a deadline means you can forever lose the right to file an appeal, and you and your family will have to cover the costs associated with your service-connected disability.
Our attorneys are careful to provide the VA with exactly the information they need well ahead of the times they need it. By keeping ahead of deadlines and anticipating the kind of information the VA wants to see, and giving it to them in the format they like to see it, the efficiency and accuracy of your VA disability claim is supported.
The Essential Qualities to Look for in a Veterans Disability Lawyer
To provide you with a concise guide on what to consider when interviewing VA benefits lawyers for your appeal or supplemental claim, focus on the following qualities and characteristics of your potential attorney.
- Experience – Experience, as the old saying goes, is the best teacher, and the practice of law is no different. As attorneys gain greater and broader experience in a specific area of the law, they are better able to perform in that area.
- Focus and specialization – If an attorney has been working for 20 years but takes any and every client that walks through the door, they could have only a few months of experience with disabled veterans. An attorney focused and practicing exclusively in VA disability representation will be infinitely more valuable to your claim than a general practitioner with shallow knowledge of the area.
- Client-focused approach – Some firms treat clients like inventory on the shelf and try to get rid of them as soon as they get them in stock. Our firm only takes the volume of clients that we are certain our attorneys can provide top-notch representation for.
- Low client-to-attorney ratio – When a firm has a truly client-centered approach, they have the time to dedicate to each individual client to ensure their case reaches the best possible conclusion.
- Empathy towards Veterans – Over our many years of experience helping Veterans collect the benefits they deserve, we have come to better understand their experiences. While we are not medical professionals, and our focus is on winning cases, we recognize the weight your service-connected condition can have on your life and work to generate the highest possible reward.
- Focus on winning – Firms that receive 100 percent of their payment through a contingency fee must win to collect anything. A contingency fee means that the firm that takes your case only gets paid if they win, and the payment is a percentage of your overall award. This means that your disabled veteran lawyer is motivated to generate the highest possible amount on your behalf, as that directly influences their earnings.
With these qualities, you can rest assured that your disabled veteran lawyer will do everything possible on your behalf to make the most of your case.
Your Attorney’s Experience Counts and Impacts the Outcome of Your Claim
The American Bar Association, basically the national body that oversees the practice of law, notes that the most important factor to consider when hiring an attorney is their experience. An attorney is a lot like a doctor, and if you need brain surgery, you might die if a foot surgeon performs the procedure. If you need a VA disability attorney and you hire a real estate attorney who is willing to give it a try, you have a strong chance of losing your case or being rated below what you deserve.
The disabled veteran lawyers from our firm have decades of combined experience working specifically with clients like you. We focus exclusively on VA benefits claims, and our attorneys are extensively trained and apprenticed under more experienced attorneys for years before being given cases to lead. In addition, our staff of VA disability lawyers come from the ranks of the VA Office of General Counsel, the Board of Veterans Appeals, and from the military. This ensures that all of our cases receive the same high level of service and legal representation.