Why Do Lawyers Ask For Social Security Numbers?

Social security numbers are deeply personal and private. So it’s understandable to feel hesitant or suspicious when a lawyer requests this information from you.

Rest assured, there are valid reasons why attorneys ask clients for their social security numbers. It’s not to intrude unnecessarily into your privacy. Lawyers request this data to uphold their professional responsibilities.

Being transparent about the purpose behind providing your social security number can help put your mind at ease. This article will explain the key reasons lawyers need your social security number, along with some reassurances to clients.

Reasons Lawyers Need Your Social Security Number

Identity Verification

One of the primary reasons lawyers will ask new clients for their social security number is to verify their identity. The social security number is a unique number assigned to each American citizen. This allows lawyers to confirm they are speaking with the actual client, rather than someone impersonating them.

With identity theft a growing problem, lawyers take extra steps to validate clients are who they claim to be. The social security number provides that layer of protection against fraud or mistaken identity. No two people can have the same social security number, making it the ideal method for double-checking identity.

Reasons Lawyers Need Your Social Security Number

Conducting Background Checks

Before taking on a new client, many lawyers will conduct thorough background checks. They want to uncover any past legal issues or potential conflicts of interest. Access to the social security number enables lawyers to search comprehensive databases for a person’s prior court cases, bankruptcies, marriages, divorces, arrests, and more.

The social security number opens doors to in-depth public records and history. This allows the lawyer to provide better counsel with full knowledge of a client’s situation. Running background checks with the SSN also avoids tricky conflicts of interest for the law firm.

Reporting Payments to the IRS

For any payments over $600, including settlements, the IRS requires the payer to report the recipient’s name and taxpayer identification number. With individuals, this taxpayer identification number is the social security number. When a client receives a sizable settlement, the lawyer needs their SSN to properly document it with the IRS come tax time. This reporting ensures compliance with tax law.

Filing Court Paperwork

During lawsuits or other legal cases, official court documents will require the plaintiff’s and/or defendant’s social security number. The SSN serves as a legally valid form of identification and proof that the documents refer to the proper parties.

Judges want to confirm the correct name is associated with the case. Clerks need to precisely match court paperwork to the corresponding legal matter. The social security number avoids any mix-ups in the system.

Running Credit Checks

For certain types of legal cases, like personal bankruptcies, debt settlement, or divorces with alimony, a lawyer may need to check the client’s credit history and financial standing. Access to the social security number enables pulling these comprehensive credit reports.

The lawyer can then better evaluate total assets and debts when advising on the optimal legal strategies for the client’s situation. The credit report paints a full financial picture.

Collecting Judgments

If a lawyer wins a favorable judgment for a client against another party, the next challenge is getting the losing side to pay up. If they resist paying voluntarily, then the lawyer may leverage the client’s SSN to enforce collection.

Legal teams can utilize the social security number to track down bank accounts, place liens on property, garnish wages, and more. Strongarm collection tactics require correct identification numbers to execute. This gets clients the money they are rightfully owed per the judgment.

Reassurances About Security

With lawyers requesting such sensitive information as social security numbers, clients rightly have concerns about privacy. However, lawyers have stringent ethical and legal obligations to keep client information confidential. Social security numbers fall under the same stringent protections as all other client data.

Only staff members who absolutely require the SSN for legitimate purposes should ever access it. Law firms invest heavily in data security to prevent breaches, using encrypted files and password protections. No SSN should ever be shared externally except when legally required.

If a client feels uncertain about providing their social security number, they should not hesitate to question the lawyer about why it is needed and how it will be safeguarded. Reputable lawyers will explain the rationale and provide reassurances about their duty of confidentiality.

Building Trust

Ultimately, a lawyer requesting something as personal as a social security number requires an immense amount of trust from the client. Lawyers enter a special relationship of care and loyalty with clients. They work diligently to deserve that confidence.

Part of building trust is being transparent about why certain information is required and how it allows the lawyer to provide superior counsel. Clients should feel empowered to ask thoughtful questions. Lawyers must take time to explain until the client feels comfortable providing sensitive details like their SSN.

With open communication and demonstrated integrity, lawyers can maintain trust while gathering the data necessary to execute their duties successfully. Protecting client confidentiality remains the utmost priority.

Offering Reassurances to Reluctant Clients

If you still feel uncertain about sharing your social security number, your lawyer should provide context and reassurances:

  • Explain why your SSN is needed for your specific case – For instance, your attorney may say clearly, “I need your social security number in order to pull your financial records for your bankruptcy filing.” Understanding the precise reason can put you more at ease.
  • Keep your SSN confidential and stored securely – Your lawyer is required to keep your social security number private and protected. They should detail their data security measures so you know your personal information is safe.
  • Only gather the minimum amount of data needed – Lawyers have an ethical obligation to not overcollect your private data. They should identify exactly what personal information like your SSN is required for your matter, and nothing more.

Being upfront about safeguards, privacy protocols, and not overreaching in data collection can help reassure clients. Lawyers who are transparent build trust.


When lawyers ask new clients for their social security number, they do so for legitimate legal reasons, not with malicious or underhanded intent. Verifying identities, running checks, submitting paperwork, and collecting payments all require proper SSNs. Still, lawyers must earn and uphold client trust by handling SSNs ethically and securely. With the right foundations of integrity and transparency, lawyers and clients can partner successfully while protecting privacy.