Let me be very clear about this. And you are reading this correctly. It is not a requirement to have an attorney represent you at your disability hearing. Claimant’s seeking disability benefits can certainly represent themselves at their hearing.
That said, a well-prepared, qualified disability lawyer could be the difference between you winning and losing your claim. Disability hearings go way beyond just explaining to a Judge why you can’t work. In fact, a disability hearing is just the culmination of months in preparation for your day in court. Medical evidence reviewed, expert testimony might be taken and most importantly, your testimony is taken to supplement the record. Disability claimants are often times unprepared when their hearing date arrives and unless the Judge allows for an adjounment, they are seriously risking thousands of dollars in benefits as well as health coverage.
Here are a few scenarios where a disability lawyer can come in handy:
Mark has a long medical history and has treated with several doctors over the years. Although Mark provided all of his doctors to the Social Security Administration, there were only a few pieces of medical evidence in his file when he showed up for his hearing. Since Mark has decided to represent himself, Mark is under the impression that SSA has all of his medical records. Unfortunately, the Judge presiding over Mark’s case decides he does not have enough evidence to find Mark disabled. Despite Mark’s testimony, he is denied benefits.
If Mark had an attorney: A disability lawyer would have fully developed Mark’s record by going after all of his medical records regardless of what he/she thinks Social Security has. A lawyer would have also prepared Mark for testifying and if more records were necessary for the Judge to decide his case, the lawyer would have formally requested additional time to obtain medical records.
Rita decides she is going to handle her own hearing and personally makes sure that all of her medical records, surgical records, physical therapy records and MRI reports have been submitted to the Social Security Administration. Rita receives her hearing notice that says a medical expert and vocational expert will be present at the hearing. Rita pays no attention to it because she thinks its a formality. At the hearing, the medical expert and vocational expert both testify that Rita is capable of performing various kinds of work. Rita is confident that the Judge will find in her favor. In the end, the Judge relied on the experts and decided that Rita is not disabled.
If Rita had an attorney: Since Rita did not hire an attorney, she was not aware that she, or her attorney, could have cross-examined the expert witnesses in an attempt to elicit favorable testimony from them. Disability lawyers are trained in the art of cross-examination and are allowed to ask “leading” questions to experts. Therefore, attorneys are able to elicit favorable testimony that might lead to a win at the hearing level.