Social Security Disability Law

How Do I Apply?

You can initially apply for SSI/SSDI many ways: 

  • Contact your local SSA office. You can find your local SSA office by typing in your zip code on the SSA
       “Find an Office Locator” on the  website.

  • Online:

  • Call the National Service Number: 800-772-1213.

    The date you contact SSA indicating an interest in applying for benefits is your Protective Filing Date (PFD). The PFD is important when determining the amount of retroactive benefits you are entitled to, should you win your claim.

  • Unfortunately, SSA grants few claims at the Initial levels. I encourage people to apply on their own and contact my office if their claim is denied.

    Social Security Disability cases are won and lost on the strength of medical records. Therefore, I only take cases where a person has medical records and preferably a treating physician who will cooperate in terms of providing records and writing a letter of support. San Francisco has many free and low cost health services available, and I would encourage anyone who believes they are suffering from a disability to seek out medical treatment and develop a relationship with a medical professional.

    There are different SSA appeal levels, each with specific paperwork requirements and timeframes for filing:

    Request for Reconsideration

    Knowledge is power. Unfortunately, the SSI/SSDI appeals process is a frustratingly complicated maze. I make every effort to use my knowledge and experience to guide my clients through the process every step along the way, so that my clients ultimately feel empowered -- and not overpowered -- by the System.

    If you are one of the nearly 80% of people whose Initial or Reconsideration claim is denied, the most important thing you can do is to not take the denial personally. 

    I understand that a denial can be discouraging, and SSA’s denial letters can be particularly disheartening, coldly and often irrationally asserting that you can work despite your limitations. If you have a good claim with strong medical records and you are denied at either the Initial or Reconsideration level, you are in good company. Your letter was not personal.  It was computer generated and likely not given another thought. This is, unfortunately, the SSA process.

    If your claim is denied initially, you have 65 calendar days to Request Reconsideration.  Unfortunately, the Reconsideration process is often a rubberstamp of the initial denial.  However, I encourage people to get an Attorney involved at Reconsideration so that the record can be shaped.  Furthermore, if the Reconsideration request is denied, which is often the case, you are poised and ready to go to the next level of appeal, Request a Hearing Before an Administrative Law Judge.

    Request for Hearing Before an Administrative Law Judge

    ALJ Hearings are where the most of the action is.   Statistically, this level is where I win most of my cases.
    After your Reconsideration claim has been denied, you have 65 calendar days to Request a Hearing Before an Administrative Law Judge at the Field Office where your initial claim was filed.

    Your claim will then be processed and sent to one of the local hearing offices in the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland, San Rafael and/or San Jose) depending on your zip code.  The hearing office then organizes and compiles your information onto a CD and sends it to me.  I determine what, if any, information, medical, legal or anecdotal, is missing from the file.  I compile all the medical and other supportive information into a Legal Brief for submission.

    Eventually, your claim will be assigned to an Administrative Law Judge and a hearing date will be scheduled.  Before the hearing date, I extensively prepare my client for the hearing in order to zealously argue the claim before the Administrative Law Judge.

    Please be aware, that the time from Reconsideration denial to hearing date before an Administrative Law Judge can vary widely from six months to as long as two years depending on the backlog at a field office or a hearing office.

    Request for Review by Appeals Council

    If your case is lost at the ALJ level, (yes, it can happen, there are no guarantees), the next level of appeal is to the Appeals Council in Baltimore, Maryland.  You have 65 calendar days to “Request Review of a Hearing Decision.”  Unfortunately, at the Appeals Council level, like at the Reconsideration level, denials are often rubberstamped and only a small percentage of denials are overturned or remanded for a rehearing at this level.

    Request for Federal District Court Review

    If your case is lost at the Appeals Council level, the next level of appeal is in Federal District Court.  In the Bay Area, the appeal would be filed in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California.  I have considerable experience filing in Federal District Court.  This is a much more complicated process involving the filing of a Civil Suit against SSA.  There are filing fees involved; however, I have been able to get the Court to waive or reduce these fees based on a client’s inability to pay.  In these cases, I may ask the court to award higher attorneys fees due to the considerable extent of time and work required to win these claims.

    How Long will it Take? This is a Marathon, Not a Sprint…

    With the economy down, more people are applying for SSDI/SSI and that means that more people are denied at the Initial and Reconsideration stages. You must think of this process as a marathon and not a sprint.

    Regardless of the strength of your case
    , anywhere from 60 to 80 % of people are denied initially and of those who appeal to the next level (Request for Reconsideration) another 80% are denied.
      Getting through this Initial and Reconsideration process to the Administrative Law Judge Hearing level can take over a year in some cases. 

    There is a large backlog in processing these claims.  Currently, due to the budget problems in California, SSA workers who evaluate claims at the Initial and Reconsideration levels are subject to workweek furlough.

    The current average processing time for California Office of Disability Hearings and Appeals Offices is just under a year and a half.

    I can not over emphasize that patience is key to getting through this process.  Having a reputable and experienced lawyer like me will get you through the maze and likely lead you to an eventual win at the hearing level, but it will take time.  Again, this is a marathon, not a sprint….