Many applicants will turn to a legal representative for support when filing for Social Security disability benefits. A “legal representative” is defined as either a Social Security attorney (or lawyer) or a disability advocate (not a lawyer). Advocates and attorneys have virtually the same authority when it comes to representing a disability claim. But despite their similarities, there are aspects of each role that may be more desirable to your specific needs.

Social Security Disability Advocate

A common misconception about disability advocates is that they may not be as qualified as a lawyer—but that is simply not the case. When it comes to the initial Social Security disability application process, non-attorney advocates have virtually the same amount of authority as attorneys. The only time you would want a Social Security attorney over an advocate is if your claim gets appealed to the federal district court. In that scenario, your claim can only be represented by an accredited Social Security attorney, because a non-attorney advocate is not licensed to practice law and cannot defend your case in court.

Non-attorney advocates have to meet specific qualifications regulated by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to provide any council to disability applicants. The mandated requirements to be an advocate are strict and ensure that you are getting the best care when seeking legal help. Here are the specific guidelines an advocate must meet before they can offer aid to a client:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution or a high school diploma and at least four years of related work experience
  • Pass a criminal background investigation
  • Provides proof of and maintains liability insurance
  • Taken and passed a written examination
  • Provides proof that continuing education courses have been completed within the appropriate deadline

Only those with the proper education and training can be a disability advocate. When seeking help from an advocate, don’t be afraid to ask questions about their job experience and background. This may give you peace of mind before you choose them to represent your disability claim.

Social Security Attorney

A Social Security attorney (or Social Security disability lawyer) holds virtually the same responsibilities as an advocate. The primary difference between the two is that a Social Security attorney is educated in the legal system and holds a degree in law. This knowledge is something that many applicants may seek when looking to file a claim, especially when they know their medical condition may be hard to prove or are facing a long road of appeals.

In addition to their vast knowledge of the legal process, a Social Security attorney also holds higher authority in the court system. For instance, if your appeal goes to a federal judge for a determination, a Social Security attorney can represent your claim. However, an advocate could not. Disability attorneys may also have the advantage when it comes to questioning a witness or simply laying out the facts of your claim in court. Most attorneys received extensive education on how to build a case and represent a client. This set of skills is sometimes needed when fighting for disability benefits.

The Advantages of Representation

There are several advantages of hiring legal representation. Advocates and attorneys know the ins and outs of the process and will work to get you approved faster and maximise your potential payments. Here are just a few perks that may be associated with choosing a representative:

1. Ensure Nothing Is Missed on Your Application

According to the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification, an accredited organization of board certification, attorneys must pass special examinations to be able to represent Social Security disability applicants. This is because the Social Security disability process can be convoluted to those without a comprehensive knowledge of the system. Attorneys or advocates with Social Security disability experience can ask you the right questions to ensure you are filling out the information correctly on your application.

2. Help You Provide Your Most Current Medical Information

Experienced Social Security disability attorneys and advocates will review your medical records to determine if you have current medical information. Without this information, the SSA may request a medical examination by a physician, which can only increase your hearing wait times.

3. Give You Advice about Witness Testimony

Social Security disability applicants and the SSA are allowed to present witnesses, but sometimes it can be to your detriment to do so. A disability attorney may be able to advise you on this and better determine what is the best route for you.

4. Coach You to Answer Questions Correctly During Your Hearing

You will be questioned at your hearing, and it is essential that you answer honestly. A Social Security attorney or advocate can help you provide the best answers that may lead you to be found eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

5. Cross-Examine Those Testifying in Your Hearing

According to The American Bar Association, the government will often have a vocational expert at the hearing to show what types of jobs you might be able to do. A Social Security attorney or disability advocate is expected to rebut this vocational evidence. If you do not have an attorney or advocate representing your claim, you may have to cross-examine any witness on your own.

6. Navigate Through the Appeals Process

Not everyone with an attorney gets approved the first time, but the appeals process is even more complicated than the initial disability application process, according to the NBLSC. This is when having an attorney isn’t an option—it may be your best bet to receiving benefits.

What to Expect

While there are clear advantages to hiring a legal representative, meeting with an attorney or advocate can initially feel intimidating. Many people associate a consultation with ridiculous fees, long wait times, and endless documents. But with disability attorneys and advocates this is rarely the case. Representatives who are willing to represent your claim have a good understanding of your situation—both medically and financially. During your initial meeting it’s important to be clear and honest, ask what is expected of you, and learn how the process typically works. The more information you have, the better you will feel about putting your trust in a legal representative.

The best thing about having an advocate or Social Security attorney is that most work on a contingency basis. This means that they will only get paid if you are awarded disability and their fee is taken directly from your back-pay. Working on a contingency basis is a huge motivation to get your claim approved for the largest award possible.

How to Connect

You can easily connect with a Social Security attorney or advocate through You can start your journey with us by simply clicking on the button below and answering a few quick questions. From there, qualified applicants will be connected to a legal representative in their area. This representative can offer support for your specific claims needs and answer any questions you may have.

See if you qualify for a free, no-obligation consultation with a Social Security attorney today—it takes less than two minutes to start.

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