The Social Security Act and the accompanying regulations are a complicated field of law. Managing your application, let alone attending a hearing is very difficult. So, it is usually preferable to hire an attorney for your Social Security disability hearing.
The hearing procedure is informal, meaning you do not have to comply with the rules of evidence. However, you must still present a compelling argument to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to be approved for disability benefits.
It may be challenging to present a compelling argument without the help of a disability attorney. But what does an attorney do during a Social Security hearing?
Here are some important things a lawyer does to defend you at your disability hearing.
What Happens at a Social Security Disability Hearing?
The goal of a Social Security Disability hearing is basically to ascertain whether your medical condition prevents you from working, its severity, and whether you are eligible for disability benefits.
Disability hearings are not as formal as divorce or criminal trial hearings. For example, disability hearings have no witness boxes or bailiffs, and the Social Security Administration’s opposing counsel is not present.
Having a lawyer with experience representing clients before the particular Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) assigned to your case is essential. Some ALJs prefer changes to the standard procedures used in most disability hearings.
A disability hearing is held in a modest conference room instead of a traditional courtroom. The hearings are not held in an open forum, so only a handful of people attend the proceedings.
Do I Have to Attend a Disability Hearing Even If I Have an Attorney?
The ALJ, an assistant who documents the proceedings and helps the judge, and a few witnesses (like an independent vocational expert or medical expert appointed by SSA) are some of the people who attend a disability hearing.
You must also be present to testify at your hearing. Your attorney, if you have any, will also be present.
What Does an Attorney Do During Social Security Hearing?
Representing yourself at any trial or hearing, not just a disability hearing, is a considerable risk. You may overlook important components during a hearing, and so it is crucial to secure the necessary support.
Skilled Social Security Disability attorneys are familiar with the ins and outs and complexities of the SSA law. You risk making a critical error if you defend yourself at a disability hearing without their counsel.
So, what does an attorney do during social security hearing? A Social Security disability attorney performs various functions at a hearing, including:
Presenting Relevant Documents Showing Your Disability
Your attorney will be responsible for gathering and verifying crucial documents such as medical records that prove your disability.
Questioning expert witnesses
The SSA may bring a vocational or medical expert to your hearing. Attorneys are trained to interrogate expert witnesses at disability hearings.
Questioning a medical expert
The SSA may ask a medical expert (ME) to testify at your hearing regarding the degree of your disability.
The ME will evaluate the medical data in your case and render an opinion on whether you satisfy the disability criteria listed in the SSA’s Listing of Impairments (Blue Book).
The listing covers a wide range of disorders and the criteria you must satisfy for each condition to be declared disabled. Alternatively, the ME might express an opinion on whether your illness qualifies for one of the disability listings.
The strength of your disability claim may depend on the medical expert’s testimony. Say, for example, that you experience back pain.
The question during the hearing might be whether you qualify under Listing 1.04, Spinal Disorders, which calls for an inability to move well.
Your attorney can cross-examine the ME if the latter says your “ambulation” (capacity to walk) does not meet the requirements. Your attorney can use their legal background to:
- Oppose the ME’s interrogation by the ALJ
- Object if the ME disregards the advice of your doctor
- Check to see whether the ME took into consideration all relevant evidence, and
- Assess whether the ME has appropriately interpreted the listing requirements.
A lawyer may also make a case for why the hearing should be postponed (delayed) to include a medical expert’s testimony if no medical expert has provided testimony in your case.
Got a Legal Issue? Let Us Help You Find An Attorney Near You
Questioning a Vocational Expert
A vocational expert (VE) will typically testify at your hearing on behalf of the SSA. The ALJ will rely on the vocational expert’s testimony to determine whether you can perform your prior job and whether there are any jobs you can accomplish despite your disability.
Your capacity to perform any job will likely determine the ALJ’s decision about your disability case.
Since the ALJ usually asks improper questions to the VE, your attorney can identify such legal issues and make objections during the hearing.
The VE will also be open to further inquiries from your attorney to ensure all your limitations arising from your disability have been considered.
These interrogations to the VE can serve as the foundation for a further appeal if the ALJ ultimately determines that you are not disabled.
Obtaining Medical Opinions from Your Doctors
If you ask, “what does an attorney do during social security hearing,” this is one of their key roles.
An ALJ will typically give the treating doctor’s opinion more credence than the opinion of other physicians per the SSA regulations.
For this reason, many attorneys put a lot of work into obtaining your treating physician’s medical opinion on your disability.
Your case would benefit from the assistance of an attorney considering their knowledge of the SSA’s criteria for proving disability. Your lawyer can then assist your doctor in drafting a letter that covers all pertinent medical and legal concerns.
Alternatively, your attorney might formulate a written questionnaire (also known as an RFC form) for your doctor to complete, allowing your doctor to submit a thorough medical opinion in compliance with the SSA’s regulations.
It is crucial to remember that the SSA typically will not give credence to your doctor’s assessment if he merely states that you “are disabled.”
Furthermore, your attorney can decide if your doctor’s patient records are adequate evidence of your disability for your claim or whether further validation of your doctor’s opinion is necessary to ensure compliance with the SSA’s standards.
Knowing the Local ALJ Who Will Preside Over Your Hearing
A disability attorney will frequently be conversant with the local ALJs and knowledgeable about their typical hearing protocols. This knowledge may be quite helpful in your disability case.
For example, you might be paired with an ALJ who has a reputation for being strict with applicants who have abused drugs or alcohol.
An attorney informed of this before the hearing will be better able to predict the types of inquiries the ALJ will make and better prepare for them.
You can also be paired with an ALJ who prefers to ask most of the questions during the hearing. If this were the case, your attorney would know that the ALJ frequently omits particular questions, and he could ensure that the testimony in those areas is still included in your hearing record.
When to Hire a Disability Lawyer
It is best to retain a disability attorney as soon as you realize that you will have to attend an administrative hearing. You have sixty days to submit a Request for Hearing following your denial of reconsideration.
Until then, likely, you won’t need legal representation because you might be able to obtain disability benefits on your own without having to split your disability back payments with an attorney.
Get Social Security Legal Representation Today!
An experienced disability attorney can significantly increase your chances of a favorable outcome at your disability hearing.
Legal Giant can link you as a lawyer referral service with a disability attorney who is highly knowledgeable about SSA laws and procedures.
Our partner attorneys help you compile the evidence you need to prove your disability and aggressively fight to get you the necessary benefits.
Contact us at 833-641-1650 to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation.