If you are unable to work due to a disability, then you may be eligible for certain benefits from the federal government. Qualifying for these benefits – Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – can be complex, particularly if your initial application is denied. That is why so many people choose to work with someone with experience handling these types of claims.
You can represent yourself when applying for disability benefits with the Social Security Administration (SSA), or work with a disability advocate or an attorney. A disability advocate is someone who is familiar with the SSA system, but who is not a licensed attorney. While there may be some advantages to working with a disability advocate, there are limits to their representation.
A Social Security disability lawyer can represent you throughout the process, from the application to any appeals – including appeals in Federal Court. For this reason, hiring an attorney is often a better choice for most people who seek assistance in filing for disability benefits.
What Is a Disability Advocate?
A disability advocate is a person who helps people file for Social Security disability benefits. They are typically not attorneys, although they may be familiar with the system after working for the SSA or in another capacity.
Anybody can act as a disability advocate. However, disability advocates can get certified through Social Security through the EDPNA program.
To become a certified disability advocate and to become eligible as an EDPNA, the SSA requires that individuals meet the following criteria:
- Possess a college degree or have equivalent training and work experience;
- Undergo a criminal background check;
- Pass an examination on Social Security rules and regulations;
- Maintain liability insurance; and
- Complete continuing education classes.
By comparison, an attorney must complete a college degree, graduate from law school, take and pass a state bar exam, be a member in good standing of a state bar association, and complete a certain number of hours of continuing legal education each year.
A disability advocate is not required to have any specific experience or training. As long as they meet the basic criteria for becoming a non-attorney representative through the SSA, they qualify. As a result, a person can hold themselves out as a disability advocate without any in-depth knowledge or skills that will help you successfully apply for SSDI benefits.
Because a disability advocate is not a licensed attorney, they can only represent you for some parts of the process. If your application is denied and you need to file an appeal, an advocate may be able to help you with the first steps – but cannot file a lawsuit against the SSA on your behalf. In addition, a disability advocate will usually not have the skills to effectively fight for you at lower levels of appeal.
Should You Work with a Disability Advocate or an Attorney?
For many people, the thought of hiring an attorney is overwhelming – particularly if you have limited experience with the legal system. When it comes to disability benefits, however, it is typically a better choice to hire an attorney instead of a Social Security disability advocate in Glendale.
First, attorneys are subject to strict rules of ethics and professional conduct. These rules require your lawyer to zealously represent you, keep you updated on the status of your case, charge a reasonable fee, maintain strict confidentiality, and stay on top of changes in the law. If an attorney fails you in some way, you can also file a complaint with their state bar association. By contrast, disability advocates are not bound by these rules – and you have little recourse if the advocate does not meet your expectation.
Second, lawyers are specially trained in the tasks that will be necessary if you need to file an appeal. Specifically, if you go to a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), your attorney will know how to gather evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and make a persuasive argument. A disability advocate may not have this type of training, and may not be competent in representing you at the appeals stage.
Third, Social Security disability benefits are subject to a complex web of federal rules and regulations, as well as case law. Unlike disability advocates, attorneys are trained in researching the law and tend to have a better grasp of these complicated rules. At the same time, your lawyer can cite to the law when writing a brief or memorandum in support of an appeal, making your argument all the more persuasive.
Fourth, if you need to file an appeal in federal district court – the last level of the SSA appeals process – a disability advocate cannot do this for you. Instead, you will have to find a lawyer who is willing to jump into the case months or years after it first started. In many situations, the underlying record is not as well developed as it would have been if you had an attorney representative, which can put you at a disadvantage.
Fifth, you won’t save any money by working with a disability advocate instead of a Social Security disability lawyer. The SSA sets the amount that representatives are paid – and it is the same rate for attorneys and advocates. In other words, you are better off hiring someone who can represent you from start to finish.
When you work with a Glendale Social Security disability lawyer from the beginning, they will use their knowledge and training to put together the strongest possible case. A lawyer will put together a comprehensive strategy that is designed to get you the best possible outcome: approval of your application for benefits.
Ready to Get Started? We’re Here to Help.
The process of applying for disability benefits can be daunting. One of the first decisions that you will have to make is whether you want to represent yourself or hire someone to help. For most people, if you choose to work with a representative, an attorney is a better choice than a disability advocate.
At RCM Legal, our practice is dedicated to helping people throughout all stages of the disability benefits process. For each client, our goal is to make sure that they get a favorable outcome. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with a Glendale disability benefits attorney, call us at 866-527-2029 or fill out our online contact form.