Social Security Attorney or Disability Advocate

Important: We updated this article in December 2023 with current policy data and the most recent available statistics. Many Social Security disability applicants with legal representation have better luck getting approved for benefits. A “legal representative” is either a Social Security attorney (i.e., lawyer) or a disability advocate (not a lawyer). Advocates and attorneys have the same training and expertise around handling disability claims. Despite their similarities, one type of representation may have unique benefits that better fit your needs.

What A Social Security Attorney Can Do For You

A Social Security attorney (or disability lawyer) has years of specialized education and a law degree. That’s the primary difference between a disability advocate and Social Security attorney. Social Security claimants with invisible disabilities or appealing denied claims may do better with a disability lawyer.

How A Disability Lawyer Makes You More Likely to Receive Disability Benefits

Disability lawyers and advocates know the ins and outs of the disability application process. Both can work to get disability claims approved faster and maximize your potential back pay. Here are some perks you’ll get from legal services that you won’t when filing a disability claim on your own:

1. Nearly Triple Your Benefit Approval Chances & Potentially Get Your First Payment In 6 Months or Less

A little less than 18% of applicants have a Social Security attorney submit their initial application. But here are the benefits you’ll get from having a disability lawyer handle everything from the outset:

  • recent study shows you’re 2.9x more likely to get benefits within 6 months if a law firm files your paperwork
  • 58% of claimants with lawyers get benefits on their very first try vs. 20% who file without legal assistance
  • That same report shows applicants with lawyers filing mental illness claims are 70% more likely to receive benefits than those without
  • Average time to receive benefits with a lawyer is 152 days, vs. 400+ days for those who apply on their own WITHOUT legal assistance

In addition to their vast legal knowledge and experience, attorneys also hold more authority in the court. For instance, if a federal judge hears your appeal, a Social Security attorney can represent your case. However, disability advocates cannot appear in court at this stage.

SSA data shows that 4 in 5 people have lawyers representing their claims at the appeals stage. While just 20% get approved on their first try, about 30% eventually win SSD benefits on appeal. A Social Security attorney or advocate knows how to get you paid the maximum benefits amount you’re owed faster. In some cases, that means cutting down your wait time to get an appeals hearing scheduled. For others, it’s getting a year’s worth of past-due benefits all at once. Since they don’t charge anything up front, what have you got to lose?

2. Ensure Your Disability Claim Has Zero Mistakes When You File

The most recent SSA Annual Report shows just 1 in 5 SSD claimants receive benefits on their first try. But another 2 in 5 get “technical denials” for things like not enough work credits or basic paperwork mistakes.

And remember: It takes 3-5 months to review each Social Security disability application, on average. So if you make one simple mistake on your claim forms, you’ll have to file an appeal. Even if you’re eligible and get benefits on appeal, can you afford to wait years for your first payment?

3. Pull and Pay for Your Most Convincing, Current Medical Records

Any Social Security disability attorney or advocate can review your medical records to ensure they are current and accurate. Without this information, the SSA may schedule a medical examination for you with one of their DDS physicians. If this happens, it’ll make your claim review take much longer. Pulling your complete medical records isn’t free; you’ll have to pay your doctor for those. If you cannot afford these fees, your Social Security attorney can pay them for you. And representatives know exactly which medical evidence the SSA wants to see. They won’t waste time or money submitting records unless they serve as convincing evidence that helps prove your case.

4. Give You Witness Testimony Advice and Guidance

Both Social Security disability applicants and the SSA can present witnesses in court. But sometimes, it’s a bad idea and can actually hurt your case. A Social Security attorney can advise whether you should testify on your own behalf (or your spouse, for example). Since you’re not a lawyer, it’s easy to think a witness might help your claim when the opposite is true.

5. Coach You to Answer Questions Correctly During Your Appeals Hearing

You must answer several questions at your appeals hearing, and it’s essential that you give honest answers. A Social Security attorney or advocate can tell you which answers are best for helping prove your claim. Even better, they can help you practice and prepare for court so you feel confident answering each question.

6. Cross-Examine Any Social Security Administration Vocational Experts At Your Disability Hearing

The American Bar Association says the government usually brings a vocational expert to your appeals hearing. The SSA’s lawyer does this to show other jobs you might still qualify for with your current medical condition. A Social Security attorney or disability advocate can pick this vocational evidence apart through cross-examination. If you don’t have an attorney or advocate at your appeals hearing, you must handle this step by yourself.

Some Advantages You’ll Only Get With a Social Security Attorney

  1. Disability lawyers may get your SSDI benefits paid faster or an appeals hearing scheduled sooner.
  2. No disability lawyer will accept your case unless they think you qualify for SSDI benefits.
  3. If you can’t afford them yourself, disability lawyers can purchase copies of your full medical records to support your case.
  4. Disability lawyers can appear in court on your behalf if health or transportation issues stop you from going. Attorneys can also schedule video hearings that happen at their law offices or your home and coach you on how to answer the administrative law judge.
  5. Free consultation before you sign any paperwork, including private answers that apply to your specific situation. You don’t have to hir that Social Security attorney or move forward with your disability claim unless you choose to.
  6. If Social Security officials deny your initial application, a disability lawyer can find and correct any claim errors and handle your appeal.
  7. You pay $0 in legal fees unless you receive Social Security disability benefits. After that, you’ll pay one small fee deducted from your lump-sum back pay.

What A Social Security Disability Advocate Can Do

Many applicants assume disability advocates aren’t as qualified as attorneys. However, that’s simply not true. For Social Security disability applicants, non-attorney advocates have nearly the same authority as lawyers do. The only time a disability advocate cannot help you is when appealed claims head to federal court. In that scenario, you need an accredited Social Security attorney to represent you at your hearing. Since disability advocates don’t have law licenses, they cannot perform certain legal tasks required in the federal court system.

However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires all non-attorney representatives to meet specific qualifications that the agency regulates. Advocates must pass these strict requirements:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree (or high school diploma plus training and work experience equivalent to a college education)
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Maintain liability insurance (must provide proof if requested)
  • Pass a written certification exam
  • Complete continuing education requirements to stay up-to-date on current SSA rules, criteria, regulations, programs, and processes

You cannot become a disability advocate without proper education and four years of training. If you seek help from one, be sure to ask questions about this person’s job experience and background. Only sign the fee agreement when you’re confident this is the right person to help submit your claim!

Disability advocates charge the same amount as any Social Security attorney. Federal law limits that to 25% of your back pay or $7,200 (whichever amount is less).

In 2023, most people the SSA awarded benefits paid their disability lawyers less than $2,300 in legal fees.

So, choosing an advocate over a Social Security attorney will not save you any money. It only limits how much professional assistance you’ll get when appealing a denied claim.

What To Expect At Your Free Consultation With A Social Security Attorney Or Advocate

While there are clear advantages to legal assistance, meeting with an attorney or advocate might make you feel nervous. Many people think they’ll charge a ridiculous fee for a consultation or wait hours to fill out endless documents. Representatives can tell after just a few questions whether you’re likely eligible to receive disability benefits. Be clear and honest at your initial meeting; ask about next steps and how the process typically works. The more information you have, the better you’ll feel about this disability lawyer handling your claim.

And remember: Whether you choose a Social Security attorney or advocate, it costs the same amount. They won’t get paid unless the SSA awards you disability benefits. If your case does win, their fees come directly from your past-due benefits. In fact, the SSA has to review and approve the fee amount before law offices can receive payment. And your advocate or Social Security lawyer must show you this fee and get your signature on that amount first. That means your representative cannot “surprise” you with a fee you didn’t know about, or charge more than you agreed. The SSA reviews any fees you agreed to pay to ensure the amount is legal and reasonable under federal law.

Find Free Expert Social Security Disability Help Near You

We can easily match you with an experienced Social Security attorney or advocate through To find one near you, just click the button below. Once we have your current information, we’ll match you with a qualified expert in your area. This representative can give you personalized support and answer any questions you may have about the disability claims process.

Ready to sign up for a free consultation? Click the button below to start your online disability benefits quiz now and see if you may qualify:

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