The Social Security Act is a complex area of the legal field. As such, it is a good idea to have an experienced attorney at your side to navigate these complicated regulations. Having an attorney represent you at your Social Security Disability hearing will drastically improve your chances of a favorable outcome.
Here are the top reasons why you should consider using an attorney to represent your case for disability benefits and how the process works.
What Happens at a Social Security Disability Hearing?
Basically, the purpose of a Social Security Disability hearing is to determine how severe your medical conditions are, whether or not they keep you from working, and if so, do you qualify for disability benefits.
Disability hearings are less formal than divorce hearings or criminal trials. For example there are no witness boxes or bailiffs, and there are no opposing attorneys present representing the Social Security Administration. Most disability hearings follow standardized procedures, but some Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) may prefer variations in the process, so it is helpful to have an attorney who has experience appearing before the specific judge assigned to your case.
A disability hearing takes place in a small conference room, not a traditional courtroom. Disability hearings are not open to the public, and only a few people are present during the proceedings.
Do I have to attend a disability hearing even if I have a lawyer?
The people present at a disability hearing are the ALJ, a hearing assistant who records the proceedings and assists the judge, and one or two witnesses (such as an independent vocational expert and or medical expert hired by SSA). You must be present and testifyat your hearing. If you have retained a lawyer, they will be present at the hearing as well.
Why Getting a Lawyer for Your Disability Hearing is a Good Idea
Representing yourself at any hearing or trial, let alone a disability hearing, is a major risk. When someone becomes disabled and can not work, securing benefits to support themselves and their dependents is critical.
An experienced Social Security Disability attorney knows the ins, outs, and complexities of SSA law. Without their guidance, you could make a serious misstep while attempting to represent yourself at a hearing.
Know the ALJ
An experienced disability attorney will likely know the local ALJ presiding over your case. Your attorney will have a good idea of what the particular ALJ is looking for during a hearing, in terms of testimony, medical evidence and other documentation. For example, you might have an ALJ that looks at claimants with prior drug or alcohol abuse issues with a harsher eye. Some judges prefer that a claimant’s attorney conducts the majority of questioning during the hearing (rather than doing it themselves). Some judges require that attorneys draft and submit to them a pre-hearing brief, or make an opening and or closing statement at hearing, arguing your case.
This familiarity with how each particular judge wants their hearings to proceed allows an experienced disability attorney to fully be prepared to represent you before the judge assigned to your case. It also allows them to be able to explain to you what you should expect at a hearing before this particular judge and to prepare you for testifying before them.
Obtaining Relevant Medical Opinions
ALJ’s generally give more weight to your treating doctors’ opinion than other doctors’ (with some exceptions). So, your disability lawyer will spend a lot of effort getting documentation of your treating doctors’ views on the extent of your symptoms and limitations.
Why is this relevant? An experienced disability attorney knows the medical and technical requirements for meeting the SSA’s definition of a disability, and can therefore give your doctor assistance in writing a letter or completing disability questionnaires that address these specific points. They will then submit this important evidence to the judge prior to the hearing to help support your case. The attorney will also make certain that your SSA file has all of your relevant medical records in file, and if not, they will obtain and submit them prior to your hearing.
The SSA might call a vocational and or medical expert witness to testify at your hearing. The doctor’s testimony will concern the nature and extent of your symptoms and limitations and if they meet SSA requirements.The vocational expert’s testimony will include information about the requirements of your past work, and other work that is available. Medical and vocational experts’ testimony have a significant bearing on your case and in finding if you are eligible for disability benefits.
Your lawyer can use their expertise to question and cross-examine these expert witnesses to obtain important and helpful testimony from them. Even if your case does not go in your favor, a skilled attorney can often use the information uncovered through this questioning of the witnesses in filing an appeal.
Conclusion: Why You Need a Disability Attorney for Your Hearing
An experienced disability lawyer can drastically improve the chances of getting a favorable outcome from your disability hearing. As a former Social Security Administration staff attorney, with more than 25 years of experience, Sara J. Frankel is highly knowledgeable of SSA law and procedures.
Contact Attorney Sara J. Frankel today for a free consultation.