Social Security used to post numbers each month showing the amount of fees paid by claimants for representation before the agency but that stopped at the end of 2019. I never gave up. I kept going back to the website expecting that the agency would eventually update the numbers. My patience has been rewarded. They have finally updated the numbers all the way through last month.
For 2019, 390,809 fees were paid for a total of $1,214,557,861. The average fee paid per case was $3,107.80.
For 2020, 360,493 fees were paid, down 8% from 2019. The total fees paid were $1,081,523,523 down 11% from 2019. The average fee paid in 2020 was $3,000.12, down 3% from 2019.
For the first quarter of 2021, 77,754 fees were paid with the monthly average number down 14% from 2020. The total fees paid for the first quarter were $262,694,679 with the monthly average down 10% from 2020. The average fee per case was $3,121.31, up 4% from the 2020 average. However, I would caution about drawing too many conclusions when comparing the first quarter of 2021 with 2020. There are many fluctuations in payments from quarter to quarter and quarters aren't the same length.
In any case, it's no exaggeration to say that those of us representing claimants are hurting. Our costs have gone up with inflation but our average fee per case is either down or stagnate while our total fees are down considerably.
Whenever I post anything about attorney fees I always get sneering responses that essentially go "Well, why don't you just give up representing Social Security claimants?" The answer is that some attorneys have already given up representing Social Security claimants and many more are wondering what they should do. There's no doubt that representing workers compensation or personal injury clients pays better than Social Security. Those of us who specialize in representing Social Security clients have invested a lot of time and money developing our practices and are reluctant to give them up but that won't last forever. The end of the pandemic will help but only so much. This field of practice was in decline before the pandemic. I've already heard a report that it's hard to find a Social Security attorney in the state of Kansas. Expect that to spread without an increase in the fee cap.
By the way, I wonder why these numbers were finally updated now.