Note: The SSDI, SSI disability system is federal and nationally standardized, though there are state differences in approval rates, wait times, the number of appeals available–as of the time of this writing–and even the name given to the stage disability agency (DDS, or the Bureau or Division of Disability Determination). Now, to answer the question…
In North Carolina, representation on a Social Security Disability or SSI disability claim can be provided by either a licensed disability attorney or a non-attorney disability representative.
Does it matter which type of representative you choose for your case? No, the primary consideration in choosing who should handle your claim should be whether or not the individual is familiar with the Social Security Disability system–meaning how the system functions, how decisions are made, how to analyze medical evidence, and how to find errors in the decisions issued by Social Security.
You will not want a North Carolina attorney who has very little familiarity with the federal Social Security Disability system. For example, a lawyer who regularly handles various types of cases such as traffic, malpractice, and criminal cases, and only occasionally handles Social Security claims, will be fairly unlikely to possess a high level of expertise with regard to Social Security administrative law and procedure.
The reason for this is that the Social Security administrative system is fairly complex. It involves lengthy regulations, numerous rulings, and a fairly detailed disability evaluation system that can render decisions in different ways.
When a disability representative lacks an in-depth knowledge of how the federal disability system really works, it can definitely handicap a claim.
At the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels, it can result in missed opportunities for winning the claim as early as possible. This, of course, will mean that the claimant’s case will go on for months longer than it should, meaning also that the claimant will suffer undue and unnecessary financial hardship.
At the hearing level, where decisions are made by administrative law judges who are not known to do favors for unknowledgeable representatives, a lack of in-depth knowledge of the Social Security system can easily result in a loss, essentially throwing away anywhere between 1 to 3 years of having gone through the demanding disability claim process.
On the other hand, a non-attorney disability representative who is a former disability examiner (examiners make decisions on claims at the application and reconsideration appeal levels), or a former Social Security field office Claims representative (these are the individuals to take your application when you initially file at the Social Security office) will possess an extensive and thorough knowledge of the inner workings of the disability system.
This will be the case because these individuals have actually worked on disability claims. And, in fact, non-attorney disability representatives who are former disability examiners are in a unique position to represent disability claims because A) They have experience in approving claims, B) They know exactly how the Social Security decision process works from all angles because, usually, they performed this job for many years before representing disability claims, and C) They know how to spot errors in the decisions made by the Social Security Administration.