There are 889,219 people in New York City living with a disability, according to the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, a local disability advocacy group. Many of these people rely on disability benefits, such as those from the Social Security Administration (SSA). If you’re considering applying for benefits, you probably have a lot of questions, like, “Do I even need an attorney?”

You do not have to hire an attorney to help you with your application for Social Security disability benefits. But you are certainly entitled to do so, and may benefit from hiring a lawyer at any stage of the application and/or appeals process.

Attorneys understand what medical records you need to submit to SSA to prove you are disabled. They can also help you prepare for and go through the appeals process. This includes handling your reconsideration request if your initial application is denied, and helping you as your case goes before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

What is the Social Security disability process?

First applicants gather medical records and submit an initial application. SSA reviews the records and application to determine if the applicant is indeed disabled and meets the requirements for Social Security disability benefits.

If denied, applicants can request reconsideration, where another SSA staff member will review the application and decide if the applicant qualifies. If still denied after this step, the applicant may appeal for a hearing with an ALJ – it is at this stage that many applicants seek help from a lawyer, though many also benefit from seeking help before submitting an application and upon reconsideration.

How can an attorney help prepare for the ALJ hearing?

Hiring an attorney can make sure your initial application is handled appropriately with proper documentation and all required records are included. Your attorney can then submit your request for reconsideration and then request a hearing with the ALJ.

At disability appeals hearings, you may be asked various questions about your ability to perform work – your previous duties as well as any other duties. When you hire an attorney to help you, he or she will assist you in preparing for the hearing. Your attorney will inform you of the questions you might face and can help you better understand what to expect during the process.

Your attorney can help you request any medical records you need for the hearing and can request your treating physicians provide opinions of your condition and ability to perform any work duties. Your attorney may also question any vocational experts presented by the SSA regarding your ability to work.

Without an attorney, it can be difficult for SSD applicants to compile all the relevant documentation required and question the vocational expert regarding their ability to work.

Who represents the government?

Social Security hearings are not adversarial hearings, so technically no one represents the government. There are many people that look after the government’s interests, however. Hiring a lawyer to represent you during the hearing and appeals process – or even much earlier in the application process in some cases – can help you ensure you are properly represented throughout the application process.