Business of Law
Binder Firm Reaps Top Fees for Disability Cases, But Some Question Its Methods
Posted Dec 22, 2011 8:55 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
The disability firm Binder & Binder has out-earned the competition, reaping $88 million in fees last year from Social Security disability cases.
The firm co-founded by lawyers Harry and Charles Binder has a business model that many are trying to copy, according to the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.). Binder & Binder spent $20 million last year on TV advertising, bolstering what several administrative law judges call a volume operation. It also uses lower-paid nonlawyers to help handle cases, a practice allowed by rule changes in 2004.
But some are questioning the firm’s methods. It was reprimanded by the Social Security Administration for backdating documents, the story says, and some former employees allege the firm withheld negative information in medical records.
Under the Social Security system of appeals, disability applicants can have representation but there are no government lawyers contesting their requests. The onus is on the administrative law judge to determine whether applications are misleading. Federal law provides that applicants and their advocates must provide facts in government submissions that are material to the benefits decision. But there is no definitive policy on what information has to be submitted, the story says.
Five former Binder employees, including three lawyers, alleged in interviews with the Wall Street Journal that when the firm collects additional medical information for appeals, it uses green stickers to denote the records that will help its clients and red stickers to indicate unfavorable material. The former employees said information with red stickers was often withheld. (One of the lawyers who spoke to the newspaper had been fired by the firm.)
A source close to management at Binder told the Wall Street Journal that stickers are used, but all material facts are disclosed.