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Difference Between Disability Lawyers & Disability Advocates

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If you need to apply for Social Security Disability benefits, one of the first decision you’ll need to make is whether or not you want someone to represent you. If you elect to have someone represent you, you’ll then need to decide whether or not you want to hire a disability attorney or a disability advocate.

The person you hire will not be paid unless you win your disability claim. Additionally, if you win, the person you hire will be paid directly by the Social Security Administration out of your back pay. Congress has determined that both attorneys and non-attorneys can receive the same fee amount for representing you in your claim for disability. That fee that is 25% of your past due benefits, not to exceed $6,000.

Using Disability Attorneys or Non-Attorney Advocates Is Better Than Going It Alone

I highly recommend that you have someone represent you in your claim, even if you ask your next-door neighbor to come along. The Government Accounting Office found that claimants who had representatives were allowed benefits at a rate nearly three times higher than those without representatives. THREE TIMES!! There’s potentially over $3,000 per month from now until you reach the normal retirement age riding on whether or not you are found disabled. Doing this on your own is not smart for anyone.

Attorneys Have a Higher Win Rate than Non-Attorneys

The Social Security Administration permits you to select anyone to represent you in your claim for disability. I believe this was done to ensure that anyone who wants representation is able to find it. What it has done, however, is cause many businesses that are not even law firms to pop up seeking to represent claimants with non-attorneys.

Attorneys have a higher overall win rate throughout the disability process than non-attorneys. The only way you can make sure you have a lawyer at your hearing is to hire a law firm. It can often be difficult to know whether or not a business is a law firm. You can ask or you can read their website; if they use the term ‘advocate’ they are not a law firm and they could send a non-attorney with you to your hearing.

What is a Disability Advocate?

A disability advocate is non-attorney. If they do not have a college degree, they need to have at least four years of experience in the field. Non-attorney advocates need to pass a criminal background check and pass a written examination. They also need to complete continuing education.

What is a Disability Attorney?

A disability attorney must have:

  • A bachelor’s degree (4 years degree)
  • A juris doctorate degree (3 year degree from an accredited law school)
  • Admission to a state bar, which requires
  • Passing a bar exam
  • Passing a criminal background check, and
  • Approximately 15 hours of yearly continuing education.
  • Attorneys spend 3 years in law school, which generally makes them more skilled at performing legal research and making legal arguments. They are trained in cross-examining witnesses as well. All these things likely contribute to why lawyers have higher win rates at hearing than their non-attorney counterparts.

When you apply for disability, it’s highly likely that you will need to present your case in front of an Administrative Law Judge in a hearing room.

  • You’ll be asked to prove that the facts of your case, which involve complicated medical findings, fit the definition of disability, as defined by the many rules and regulations passed down by the Social Security Administration.
  • You will need to testify under oath as to your condition and you are likely to be questioned by a highly skilled administrative law judge as to those conditions.
  • At the hearing, you will have an opportunity to cross-examine expert witnesses.

If it were me, I would want an attorney who’s had years of training and education at doing just that. The only way to ensure that you will have an attorney on your side is to hire a law firm.

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March 15, 2021

Written by TC Newlin

TC is a disability litigator and one of the managing partners in the Social Security Disability Department at Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin. He has had the pleasure of helping thousands of people obtain the benefits they so desperately need.


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