The Effect of Attorney and Non-Attorney Representation on the Initial Disability Determination Process
Attorneys and non-attorney representatives play a large and increasing role in the SSDI application process, assisting applicants in developing their cases and representing them in disability hearings. Yet little is known about how representatives affect outcomes for claimants. In this paper, we comprehensively investigate the impact of claimants’ representatives on case outcomes. Our analysis is made possible by new administrative data tracking representation in the SSDI application process. We focus on initial level representation owing to its rising importance and because most cases are finally decided at this level. We examine impacts of representation on case outcomes and explore the mutual selection of claimants and representatives. Our results show that representatives are more likely to be involved in cases with older and English speaking claimants who have impairments in less easy-to-document diagnoses groups. Cases involving representatives spend more time at the Field Office and have a lower predicted probability of a quick decision based on the information provided at this stage. Although they are more likely to be allowed, they are also more likely to be denied for insufficient evidence or failure to submit to a medical examination.
This research was supported by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) through grant #1 DRC12000002-04 to the National Bureau of Economic Research as part of the SSA Disability Research Consortium. The findings and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the views of SSA, any agency of the Federal Government, or the NBER. We thank Dan Dowhan, Chris Earles, Jeremy Elder, Joel Feinleib, Reafel Rigg, Shirleen Roth and Jim Twist for helpful comments and insights on use of the data. We thank Charlotte Biffar, Kevin Friedman, Jerry Lin, and Leah Shiferaw for excellent research assistance.