When a Social Security Disability claimant receives a decision denying benefits, he or she is eligible to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. It is here that a claimant will present their case and offer any additional evidence to substantiate a claim. While an attorney is not required to complete this process, it is highly advisable that a claimant not go into a disability hearing alone for several reasons.
First, the hearing will contain substantial legal jargon which is quite often difficult for a party with no judicial knowledge to understand. Though a claimant may walk into a hearing room feeling confident and ready, it does not take long to realize that he or she may be in over their head. While all administrative law hearings follow the same process, each individual judge may go about that process differently. With some judges, by the time a claimant realizes an attorney would have been beneficial, it may be too late to continue the hearing and retain representation. It would then be the claimant’s sole responsibility to put on their own case and convince the judge that he or she is unable to perform substantial gainful activity.
Second, a vocational expert will also participate in the hearing. He or she will determine if you could perform your past work based on your current condition and expected outcome, or if there would be other work that you could do. Again, the jargon used by such an expert is devised from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, and most often does not make any sense to a layman. If a claimant does not understand what is being presented, it is very difficult to know whether or not to question those determinations.
Other issues that a claimant may be required to address on their own if they choose to proceed without an attorney may be amending an onset date due to grid rules, explaining wages earned that would constitute substantial gainful activity, or addressing an issue with a date last insured.
The bottom line is that a Social Security Disability attorney can be your most valuable asset in obtaining a favorable decision. Once you have reached a hearing date, you have likely already waited a long time. Don’t take the risk of having your claim denied by trying to navigate the process on your own.