Talk to a top lawyer for free

How long does a disability appeal take with a lawyer?

Wondering how long the disability appeals process takes? We explain everything you need to know about the stages and timeline of a disability appeal.

evident Editorial Team
January 19, 2024
wheelchair, disability

Navigating the labyrinth of disability benefits can be overwhelming and complex. One of the most frequently asked questions is, "How long does a disability appeal take with a lawyer?"

The answer is more complex than hoped, but it's an important question that needs detailed clarification.

The appeal process for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits often involves numerous steps, each with its own timelines and prerequisites.

In this guide, we will explore the basics of SSD appeals, understand the appeal process stages, timelines, and the critical role lawyers play in navigating this complex system.

Key Takeaways

The Basics of Social Security Disability Appeals

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is crucial to the overall social security scheme. It provides financial assistance to individuals with a substantial work history who cannot continue working due to a disabling condition.

The SSDI appeal process is an integral part of the disability benefits system in the United States. If your initial disability claim is denied by the Social Security Administration (SSA), you have the right to appeal the decision. Note that social security disability benefits differ from supplemental security income (SSI), which the SSA also provides.

The SSDI appeals process ensures that every claimant can present their case fairly. The process allows for several layers of review, which helps ensure that claimants receive the disability benefits to which they are entitled. A vital part of this process is the filing and subsequent handling of a disability claim, which can often decide the course of your appeals journey.

The SSDI appeal process is multifaceted and can be broken down into several stages. These stages consist of the initial reconsideration, a hearing by an administrative law judge, a review by the Appeals Council, and finally, an appeal to the Federal Court. Each of these stages has its own set of rules, requirements, and timelines that need to be carefully understood and followed.

Understanding the appeal process can be complex, particularly for individuals already dealing with the challenges of a disability. However, having a basic knowledge of the process can be a powerful tool when navigating the intricate pathways of disability law.

In the next section, we will dive deeper into the different stages of a disability appeal to further enhance your understanding of this critical process.

The Stages of a Disability Appeal

The social security disability appeal process comprises four main stages. Each stage is distinct, and understanding these stages can help you better navigate the appeal process.

flow chart of stages in SSDI appeal process

Initial Application

The first step in the SSDI process is filing an initial application. This application includes all your medical records, work history, and personal information used by the Social Security Administration to determine if you're disabled under their rules. 

Your initial application is reviewed by the Disability Determination Services (DDS), an agency that works with the SSA to make initial disability determinations.

The time frame for this stage varies but can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days. Unfortunately, many initial applications are denied - often due to a lack of medical evidence or incomplete paperwork.


If your initial application is denied, you can request a reconsideration of your case. In this stage, a different reviewer from DDS will re-evaluate your disability claim, including any new evidence or information provided.

The reconsideration stage can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days. The majority of reconsideration requests are also denied.


If your claim is denied at the reconsideration stage, you can request an appeal hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ).

This hearing allows you and your disability lawyer to present your case directly to the ALJ. Here, you can provide further medical evidence, witness testimony, or other supporting information. Preparing for a hearing can be a lengthy process. From the date of request, it could take 12 to 18 months to get a hearing date.

During this time, gathering any new evidence and preparing your case thoroughly is crucial.

Appeals Council Review

You can request an appeals council review if the ALJ denies your claim. The Appeals Council looks over your case to ensure that no errors were made during the hearing and that the 'judge's decision' was based on substantial evidence.

This stage can take a year or longer to complete.

Federal Court

The last stage in the SSDI appeal process involves taking your case to federal court. This is a complex and time-consuming stage, and it's recommended that you have an experienced 'disability lawyer' to navigate this process. 

Now that we better understand these stages, we'll look at the overall time frame of a disability appeal in the next section.

Understanding the Time Frame of a Disability Appeal 

Understanding the Social Security disability appeal time frame is crucial for applicants. The process is, unfortunately, often long and varies based on multiple factors, including the region you live in, the backlog of cases, and the efficiency of your local SSA office. 

The question "How long does an SSDI reconsideration appeal take" is one of the most common queries we receive. After filing an initial application, a decision can typically take between 30 to 90 days. If this application is denied and a request for reconsideration is filed, this process can take 30 to 90 days again. 

If a claim proceeds to the hearing stage, it is essential to note that there is often a significant delay. The backlog of cases waiting for a hearing means that it can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months from the date of the request to get a hearing date. This delay is often the most extended wait in the social security disability appeal time frame.

The timeline after the hearing depends on the hearing outcome and any further appeals. An Appeals Council review can take a year or longer. If the case proceeds to federal court, the timeline can extend by another year or two.

Below illustrates the average time it can take at each stage of the appeal process

Timeline of SSDI appeal process

In the next section, we will explore a lawyer's significant role in the disability appeal process.

The Role of a Lawyer in a Disability Appeal

The journey of a disability appeal can be intricate and lengthy, so the guidance of a seasoned disability lawyer or a social security disability lawyer can be invaluable.

Legal professionals bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise, playing a pivotal role in the appeal process.

So, "How long does a disability appeal take with a lawyer?" While the timeline of the appeal process may not dramatically decrease with legal assistance, the quality and the thoroughness of your case presentation can drastically improve.

Lawyers know the system inside out, including how to efficiently navigate the process and present your case most persuasively. A lawyer can meticulously prepare your case, help gather medical evidence, collaborate with other healthcare providers to consolidate a strong appeal and represent you at your disability hearing. They can ensure all paperwork is correct, comprehensive, and submitted promptly, reducing the risk of unnecessary delays. 

Having a lawyer by your side can increase your chances of a successful appeal, especially in the later stages of the process. Their support can make a substantial difference in the outcome of your case. 

And because they work on a contingency basis, there is typically no upfront cost to hiring an SSDI lawyer.

In the next section, we'll examine the importance of new evidence and medical records in an appeal.

Importance of New Evidence and Medical Records in an Appeal

In a disability appeal, new evidence and medical evidence play pivotal roles. The strength of your appeal largely depends on the robustness of your medical records, which corroborate your disability claim.

Other healthcare providers, such as therapists, psychiatrists, or specialist doctors, can contribute significant insights into your condition, bolstering your appeal.

It's essential to continuously update your medical records throughout the appeal process. New evidence, such as updated medical tests or professional opinions, can provide additional support for your claim.

Your disability lawyer can guide you in gathering the most persuasive evidence to strengthen your appeal.

What can prolong the SSDI appeal timeline?

We've covered an overview of the SSDI appeal timeline, but what factors can complicate the Social Security disability appeal time frame?

Matt Russell, Founding Partner of Russell & Hill, PLLC, explains: "In SSDI appeals, one key complicating factor is the nuanced evaluation of disabilities under SSA guidelines. Conditions with fluctuating symptoms, or those not easily quantified, present significant challenges. Also, the interpretation of an applicant's work history and skills in relation to their disability can greatly impact the appeal. These subtle yet critical aspects can extend the process and influence the outcome. Specialized legal support is crucial here, not just for navigating the system but for effectively aligning the case with the SSA's specific criteria."

If these factors apply to your case, consulting with an SSDI attorney can be particularly important for trying to minimize your SSDI appeal timeline.

The Bottom Line

So, how long does an appeal take for disability? Unfortunately, the Social Security disability appeal time frame can be lengthy and often takes over two years, but having an experienced lawyer on your side can increase your chances of success.

Understanding the complexities of the disability appeal process is crucial for potential disability applicants.

Knowledge of each stage, the time frames, the role of a lawyer, and the significance of medical evidence can significantly improve your chances of a successful appeal.

If you're considering an appeal, don't hesitate to contact a professional disability lawyer for guidance and support.

FAQs about the disability appeals process

What are the odds of winning an SSDI appeal?

The odds of winning an SSDI appeal can vary significantly based on many factors, including the stage of the appeal and the quality of your medical evidence.

According to the Social Security Administration's own statistics, only about 45% of disability claimants are awarded benefits at the hearing level.

It's crucial to note that the chances of success often increase when applicants are represented by an experienced disability lawyer who can effectively present their case and the medical evidence to support it.

What are the five steps of a disability appeal?

The five steps of a disability appeal are:

  1. Initial application: Filing the initial application with all necessary documents.
  2. Reconsideration: If the initial application is denied, you can request a reconsideration of your case.
  3. Hearing before an administrative law judge: A hearing can be requested if the reconsideration is denied.
  4. Appeals Council review: If the judge denies your claim, you can request a review by the Appeals Council.
  5. Federal Court: If the Appeals Council denies your case or refuses to review it, the last option is to file a lawsuit in a federal district court.

How long does a reconsideration for SSDI take?

The reconsideration stage for SSDI usually takes between 30 to 90 days.

However, the SSDI reconsideration timeline can vary based on several factors, including the caseload at the local Social Security office and the completeness of your medical records.

You can check the status of your reconsideration by visiting the SSA's website.

Is it worth it to appeal the SSDI denial?

Yes, appealing an SSDI denial is generally worth it.

Although the process can be long and challenging, many denials are overturned during the appeal process. An experienced disability lawyer can significantly improve your chances of winning an appeal.

Remember, persistence is key in the disability appeal process. It's also important to continue gathering and updating medical evidence throughout the appeal process. You can learn more about the appeal process on the official Social Security website.