Representation at a Social Security Disability Hearing
A Real Necessity
When it comes to legal claims, there is nothing that places parties on edge more than the word trial. A trial, which can be quickly defined as the process where parties to a dispute come together to present evidence in a tribunal with the authority to adjudicate those disputes, is a serious and important event in the life of any claim. Plaintiffs and Defendants understand this importance. As a result, very few trials take place without lawyers in one or both sides of the dispute representing the interests of their clients. Yet, when it comes to social security disability cases, it is surprising to see claimants venturing by themselves into disability hearings.
Social Security Disability hearings are intended to be informal events designed to allow the claimant to tell the judge the reasons why he or she can no longer work. The rules of civil procedure or evidence do not apply. The hearing, just like the disability claims process, is supposed to be non-adversarial. The average hearing lasts 30 minutes to an hour. On the other hand, trials are much more formal. Procedure is strictly followed. Parties are subjected to examination from the other side. Also, a trial can potentially last months. Compared to a trial, a disability hearing can be (mistakenly) overlooked. However, the reality is that when it comes to someone’s social security disability claim, the hearing is a trial.
Claimants that want their day in “court” will get it, albeit in a different way. First, claimants will have to review their file and decide whether the record is complete and accurate. Failure to point out inaccuracies or the incompleteness of the exhibits in the record can result in a waiver of that issue. They will be placed under oath. They may be expected to make an opening statement where they will have to state the theory of their case, i.e., under what basis or authority they claim to be disabled. They will be subjected to questions from an administrative law judge. Although not often, sometimes judges can ask totally objectionable questions and just like in the case of exhibits, failure to object to the questions can result in a waiver. Claimants may face vocational experts and/or medical experts and will have the chance to examine or cross-examine them. A claimant’s inability to properly question an expert can be fatal to their claim. Finally, claimants are many times asked for a closing argument. Not knowing what to argue may leave the record devoid of important issue for appeal.
So, with all that said, the question is simple: Being that social security disability hearings are basically “light” versions of bench trials, why would anyone go to a social security disability hearing unrepresented? Considering that the disability process is so long and daunting, it makes sense to be as prepared as possible. A representative will make sure that his or her client’s interests are well protected. After all, representatives only get compensated if they secure benefits for their clients.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to go through a hearing alone. Remember the old saying that goes “He who represents himself has a fool for a client”? Well, that is certainly true in Social Security disability law. Going through the process alone is a risk that you should not bear. You have too much to lose.