Generally, in both cases, the
person you hire will not be paid unless you win your disability claim;
likewise, both are paid directly by the Social Security Administration
(SSA) out of your back payment benefits. Both attorneys and nonattorney advocates are entitled to the same fee amount for representing a disability applicant.
The biggest differences between an attorney and a non-attorney advocate (or representative) are their education levels and training.
Attorney. To become an attorney, an individual must have the following qualifications:
Nonattorney advocate. The SSA has established the following requirements to get paid directly by Social Security for acting as a nonattorney representative/advocate:
When deciding whether to hire a disability lawyer versus a nonlawyer representative, you should consider the following pros of hiring a lawyer:
Attorneys can practice all types of law in the state where they are licensed, meaning an attorney might only dabble in disability law (but most lawyers who practice Social Security disability law specialize in disability). Non-attorney representatives have only disability clients, which means their knowledge is more focused that a general practice attorney. For these reasons, if you hire an attorney, make sure the attorney specializes in Social Security disability law, or disability law one or two other areas like workers' compensation or Medicare law (as long as the fields are closely related).
It is important when choosing a representative (lawyer or nonlawyer) to know how many disability claims he or she wins at the ALJ hearing level. You should also ask how many claims the representative takes to the hearing level because law firms and nonattorney groups will frequently refuse to represent a disability claimant if they feel there is little chance of success. This is done to create better approval statistics.
If it is important to you that your representative is a trained and licensed attorney, be sure to ask directly whether he or she is a member of the bar, because nonattorney representative firms can use misleading titles such as:
While there is nothing inherently wrong with these titles, they can be confusing and, occasionally, misleading.
If you've decided to hire a disability lawyer/attorney, you can use our lawyer locator to find an experienced disability lawyer in your area.