How Are Disability Lawyers Different From Disability Advocates?

If you need to file for disability, you probably know that professional representation can help you, but where do you begin? Should you work with an Arizona disability lawyer or a disability advocate? Which one should you choose?

How Are Disability Lawyers Different From Disability Advocates?

Disability lawyers are different from disability advocates. They are not the same thing – a disability lawyer certainly advocates for their client, but they are a lawyer.

Disability lawyers are different from disability advocates because lawyers have attended law school and passed a bar exam. They have a full license to practice law.

On the other hand, disability advocates are non-attorneys with training that is specific to helping people with disability claims. A lawyer can represent you in court, but an advocate cannot represent you in court.

Disability Lawyers vs. Disability Advocates

When you have a disability claim, you can:

  1. Have a lawyer represent you
  2. Have an advocate represent you
  3. Represent yourself

A lawyer has gone through law school, studying a variety of legal topics relevant to a broad and thorough knowledge base to represent their clients.

An advocate is a non-lawyer with some training and an exam that is specific to disability claims.

Disability lawyers have:

  • Attended law school, typically a three-year, full-time curriculum
  • Passed the bar exam, covering a variety of legal subjects in detail
  • A current, active and valid license to practice law
  • Received a bachelor’s degree in addition to their law degree, in most cases
  • Undergone a thorough character and fitness background check, with most states also requiring a passing score on an ethics examination
  • Continuing education requirements to maintain their license in most states
  • The ability to represent you if your case formally goes to court

Disability advocates have:

  • Training that is specific to representing people in disability claims
  • A bachelor’s degree or commensurate experience
  • Secured professional liability insurance
  • Passed a background check, including with no felony convictions
  • Passed a certification exam
  • Continuing education requirements to maintain their ability to serve as an advocate

An advocate may be formally called an Eligible for Direct Pay Non-Attorney (EDPNA).

Both lawyers and advocates must comply with the Rules of Conduct and Standards of Responsibility for Representatives. They may both seek direct payment of fees by following the process required by the Social Security Administration.

Disability Lawyers vs. Disability Advocate FAQs

Is a disability advocate a licensed attorney?

It’s important to emphasize that a disability advocate is not a licensed attorney. They have not passed the bar exam and received a license to practice law.

Who chooses your attorney or advocate in a disability claim?

You may choose an attorney or advocate to represent you in a disability claim.

Is there a right to have a court-appointed attorney or advocate in a disability claim?

A disability claim is a civil matter, so there is no right to a court-appointed attorney or advocate. However, you may have the attorney of your choice represent you.

Can my disability advocate represent me at a hearing?

Yes. Your disability advocate can represent you at a hearing in your case. However, because they are not a licensed lawyer, they cannot represent you if your case goes to court.

Cost for a Disability Lawyer vs. Advocate

Do advocates charge less for disability representation?

Each attorney or advocate sets their own fees for disability representation. However, there are strict limits to how much lawyers and advocates can charge. These limits are the same for lawyers and non-lawyers.

How much can a disability advocate or attorney charge?

As of November 30, 2022, the maximum that a disability advocate or attorney can charge to represent a client through the hearing level of adjudication is $7,200 or 25% of past-due benefits, whichever is less.

Attorneys and Advocates in SSDI Matters

20 CFR § 404.1705 states the law for who can represent you in a Social Security Disability matter. You may choose an attorney or non-attorney.

If you choose an attorney, they must:

  • Be licensed to practice law in a state or possession of the United States or in a federal court
  • Be in good standing, not disqualified or suspended from practicing law in Social Security Disability matters
  • Not be disqualified for any reason

If you choose a non-attorney, they must:

  • Be capable of giving you valuable help
  • Not be disqualified or prohibited for any reason
  • Have good character and reputation, generally with no felony convictions or crimes relating to dishonesty or moral turpitude

20 CFR § 416.1505 creates similar standards for attorney and non-attorney qualifications for representation in SSI matters.

Fee agreements for disability attorneys and advocates

The Social Security Administration regulates and oversees fee agreements for advocates in disability matters. 42 U.S.C. § 406(a)(1) establishes 25% of past-due benefits or $7,200, whichever is less, as the maximum that the representative can charge through the hearing level of adjudication. The amount originally allowed by statute has been amended upwards to the current maximum of $7,200 as of November 30, 2022.

Should I Hire a Lawyer or a Disability Advocate?

Whether you should hire a lawyer or a disability advocate depends on the ability of the lawyer and the specifics of your situation.

If there are issues related to your case that go beyond the immediate scope of a standard disability claim, a lawyer is likely in a position to be able to assist you with those matters. Because they have a law license, a lawyer can continue to represent you as long as necessary, including if you need to file the claim in court.

An advocate has different education and examination requirements. Many advocates do a great job – and an advocate may be right for you. You should hire a lawyer or disability advocate who can capably handle the specific issues in your case, with an ability to identify the issues that may be particularly important in your situation.

Discuss Your Case With a Disability Lawyer

If you’re wondering if a disability lawyer is right for you, we invite you to contact us at Pekas Smith Disability Lawyers to talk about your case. Our disability lawyers in Arizona can explain how we can do things differently from disability advocates. We can also talk about your situation. Call or message us today.

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