Whom Should You Work With For Your Disability Claim?

If you are applying for Social Security Disability benefits, getting a professional’s assistance can be an advantage. It can help ensure that your application is complete and effective, and it can ease the stresses of this meticulous process. Two types of professionals you may contact are Social Security advocates and Social Security lawyers. Know the differences between the two so you can understand who can help you better with your claim.

How SSD Advocates Differ From SSD Attorneys

Both disability advocates and lawyers are approved by the Social Security Administration (SSA), are knowledgeable in disability benefit programs, and can represent you at hearings, if needed. But there are several significant ways in which they differ.

One is qualifications. An SSD advocate is required to:

  • earn a college degree or equivalent work experience
  • clear a criminal background check
  • maintain liability insurance
  • pass the Social Security exam on rules and regulations
  • attend continuing education.

On the other hand, an SSD attorney has to have a more rigorous background. At the minimum, he or she must:

  • complete a four-year degree
  • finish law school
  • pass the state bar exam
  • become a member in good standing of a state bar association
  • attend continuing legal education, not only on subjects relating to SSA rules but also on other areas of the law that may be relevant to disability claims.

In addition, lawyers are generally held by a stricter set of standards and rules of professional conduct. They are obligated by their code, as well as their respective bar associations, to be ethical in their work, provide keen representation, charge reasonable fees, and stay up-to-date with legal changes. If a client has a complaint against an attorney, they can file that complaint with the state bar association, which may then impose disciplinary action on the lawyer.

In terms of capabilities, there are some tasks that a non-attorney advocate may be less proficient at, or cannot perform at all. For instance, a lawyer may be more skillful and aggressive in cross-examining expert witnesses. This is crucial – many disability claims have been denied because damaging testimonies from experts such as doctors and vocational experts went unchallenged. It takes an experienced lawyer to effectively counter such testimonies.

Further, if the disability claim is denied at the hearing level or by the Social Security Appeals Council, a non-lawyer advocate will not be able to appeal the case in federal district court. Only an attorney can legally handle this. However, most attorneys would be reluctant about jumping into the case this late in the process. It is best to have your lawyer handle your claim from the beginning.

SSD Advocate Versus SSD Lawyer: Which Is More Expensive?

Despite the great differences between disability lawyers and disability advocates, you would likely be paying about the same rate for either of them. The SSA actually has regulations on how disability representatives – both attorneys and non-attorneys – can charge you.

These professionals must charge fees on a contingency basis, which means you only pay them if they help win your case. The fees would then be taken from your back pay, which is a lump sum that you will receive from the SSA to make up for time between the start of your disability and the start of your benefits. In most instances, disability representatives may only charge up to 25 percent of your past-due benefits (back pay), with a current maximum limit of $6,000.

Given these rules on fees, it would make more sense to enlist the representative who is more highly trained and capable of handling your disability claim. Numerous disabled beneficiaries can attest that hiring a lawyer is a cost-effective decision in pursuit of your application for disability benefits. In Virginia, you can learn more about your options by talking to us at the Gillette Law Group. Call us today at (855) 873-2604.