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You Can Learn From My Mistakes

After being involved in a serious car accident, I really believed that my insurance company would take care of everything. It wasn't until I finally received their settlement offer that I realized they were not on my side at all. This is when I got wise and consulted a personal injury lawyer. It was the best decision I could have made. Thanks to my attorney, not only did I learn a lot about personal injury law, but I actually got the compensation that I needed and deserved. I made a lot of mistakes after my accident, but I also learned a lot along the way. It is my hope that this blog will allow other accident victims to learn from common mistakes and get the information they need to be successful in their own personal injury claims.

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You Can Learn From My Mistakes

Should You Hire An Attorney Or A Non-Attorney Representative To Handle Your SSA Disability Claim?

by Riley Sanchez

You see the ads on the back of buses and on late-night TV for "disability advocates" who promise to help you win your SSA disability claim. Usually, somewhere on the TV ads, it will note that the person speaking is a "non-attorney spokesperson" for the firm. What's the difference between a non-attorney advocate and a disability attorney? Does it make any difference for your case?

Non-attorney advocates and disability attorneys have vastly different training.

In order to become an attorney, you have to get a 4-year college degree and then a 3-year law degree (called a Juris Doctorate). You also have to pass what's known as "the bar" exam for your particular state, in order to legally practice law. Many attorneys also go through several years working at a "junior" level in their particular law firm, as they learn the ins-and-outs of courtroom proceedings and the practice of law.

By comparison, a non-attorney advocate only has to have a 4-year degree or "equivalent qualifications" through work experience or training and pass a written exam administered by the SSA.They also have to complete continuing education courses and pass a criminal background check.

An attorney has skills that a non-attorney advocate may not possess.

Both non-attorney advocates and disability attorneys know how to properly fill out disability forms, collect information from your doctors, and present your case to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) if your appeal reaches the hearing level. However, attorneys are specifically able to do certain things that non-attorneys are not:

  • Cross-examine witnesses. A variety of witnesses may appear at your hearing before the ALJ, including medical and vocational experts. Attorneys are trained to cross-examine witnesses in order to elicit testimony that can help your case. Non-attorney advocates don't usually have specific training on how to cross-examine.
  • Deep your information confidential. Non-attorney representatives are not covered by (or bound to) attorney-client privilege. That means that they don't face the same ethical and legal repercussions if they reveal something that you've told them in confidence.

  • Identify legal errors in the judicial process. Because attorneys are trained to spot legal errors, they have an advantage in spotting technical mistakes made by the ALJ in his or her decision. That can be enough to win you a second hearing or a favorable reversal.

  • An attorney can spot legal errors in your case prior to the hearing as well. This can lead to a request that the ALJ acknowledge the error on the record and grant your case before you even go through the time-consuming process of a hearing.

  • Appeal your claim to the federal district court if your case is denied by the ALJ. A non-attorney representative cannot take your case to federal court. If you find yourself in that position, you may have trouble finding an attorney who is willing to pick up your case that late in the legal process.

You have a better chance of getting approved with an attorney representing you.

A study by the Office of Adjudication and Review (ODAR) for the Social Security Administration concluded that disability claimants only win their hearings around 37% of the time if they are unrepresented. If they have a non-attorney representative, they win their case around 52% of the time.

A claimant represented by an attorney, however, has a 67% chance of winning their case.

Companies that use non-attorney representatives allege that the difference in success rates between attorneys and non-attorneys is due to the inclusion of family members and part-time advocates in the statistics, but there is no specific evidence to back up that claim.

Ultimately, you have to make the decision about whether to hire an attorney or a non-attorney representative unless you decide to "go it alone." However, before you make a decision, keep these thoughts in mind and consider talking your disability claim over with a professional attorney, like J W Chalkley III PA.