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5 Reasons You Need a Lawyer for a Disability Hearing

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
April 5, 2024  ·  3 min read
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More than 80% of disability applicants have a lawyer at a disability hearing. Working with a lawyer early in your application process is advantageous, but having one is particularly important during the hearing stage.

There are many reasons for this: A disability lawyer can help prepare you for the hearing, present your case before an administrative law judge, and even cross-examine medical and vocational experts. 

Read on to learn about the benefits of working with a lawyer on your hearing — and every stage of the application stage.

Get strategic support for your disability hearing.

What is a disability hearing?

A disability hearing is a legal proceeding before an administrative law judge (ALJ). A disability hearing is the third stage of the appeal process after the SSA denies your initial application and your appeal for reconsideration. Typically, a disability hearing takes place over the phone. The ALJ will ask how your condition affects your ability to work and carry out everyday tasks to determine your eligibility for benefits. 

Sarah, a lawyer at Atticus, shares this analogy about needing a disability lawyer for a hearing: "You wouldn't drive a car without a seatbelt, so don't go to a hearing without a representative by your side."

5 reasons you need a disability lawyer for a hearing

A lawyer experienced with disability cases can help you prepare and represent you at your hearing. Consider these reasons for working with a lawyer for your disability hearing:

#1. A disability lawyer can explain what to expect.

You’ll feel more confident going into your hearing if you know what to expect. A disability lawyer will explain the process and answer any questions you have. They’ll tell you the order of events and explain who else will be present at the hearing.

#2. A disability lawyer can gather evidence.

Before your hearing, you’ll need to gather comprehensive, updated medical records that support your case by “proving” your disability. A lawyer will help contact your healthcare providers to collect this medical evidence and any other supporting documents you might need.

#3. A disability lawyer can help you prepare for the hearing.

During your hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) will ask you questions about your pain level and how your condition affects your ability to work and perform daily tasks. It’s important to answer these questions correctly and portray an accurate, honest picture of your disability. You should not minimize or exaggerate your symptoms. Your lawyer will explain the questions the judge might ask and help you prepare answers before the hearing. 

#4. A disability lawyer will represent you at the hearing.

Your lawyer’s job is to represent you at your hearing. They will present your case to the judge and provide relevant information about your condition and your ability to work. 

#5. A disability lawyer will cross-examine experts.

A medical expert (ME) and/or vocational expert (VE) will be present at your hearing. The ME provides an expert opinion, and the VE offers information about the skills and physical or mental abilities required to perform specific jobs. The judge will ask the VE hypothetical questions — for example, could a person with your level of chronic pain theoretically work as a secretary? 

The VE usually gives the judge a list of jobs they believe you could still perform, and this is where a lawyer is essential. Your lawyer will refute what the VE says about your ability to work. It’s very difficult to cross-examine a vocational expert on your own.

3 consequences of going to a disability hearing without a lawyer

The Social Security Administration does not require applicants to have a lawyer at a hearing, but not having one can greatly affect your chances of winning. Consider the following consequences of not working with a disability attorney:

  1. Lowers your chance of winning benefits. The hearing stage is when more than 50% of disability applicants win benefits, and having a lawyer for your hearing increases your liklihood of success by three times. 

  2. Complicates the appeal process. If the SSA denies your application at the hearing stage, the appeal process gets more challenging. You can request an appeal through the Social Security Appeals Council to review the ALJ’s decision on a legal basis, but the council will not consider new medical evidence or reevaluate your case. Chances of winning benefits at this stage are extremely low, especially without a lawyer.

  3. Decreases your back pay. Suppose the ALJ denies your claim and you choose not to appeal. Eventually, if your medical condition changes or worsens and you have new records available (like test results), you can apply for disability all over again, hoping for a better outcome. In addition to starting the clock over on the lengthy process, you’ll lose out on any back pay you would’ve earned from your first application.   

What can a disability lawyer do for your case?

While having a lawyer at the hearing stage is crucial, it is important to work with a lawyer as early as possible in your disability application process. Working with a disability lawyer helps ease the entire disability application process, causing fewer headaches for you. 

  • A lawyer can assess your case

  • A lawyer can help submit your initial application

  • A lawyer can gather your medical records

  • A lawyer can access the Social Security Administration’s Electronic Records Express (you can’t do this by yourself)

  • A lawyer can write on-the-record briefs (you can’t do this, either)

  • A lawyer can file the correct appeals paperwork on time

  • A lawyer can represent you at a hearing

  • A lawyer can handle post-hearing filings 

Get help with your disability hearing

No matter what stage of the application process you are at, working with a disability lawyer is a wise choice to increase your chances of winning benefits. Atticus can connect you with a highly qualified lawyer to help you build your case and win benefits. 

“You wouldn’t drive in a car without a seatbelt, so don’t go to a hearing without a representative by your side," says Sarah Aitchinson, an Atticus lawyer.

Take our two-minute disability quiz to get started, and a member of our team will follow up for more information. There are no upfront costs—you only pay your disability lawyer a percentage of your first check if they win your benefits. 

Don't face the hearing alone. Team up with a skilled disablity attorney.

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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