Lawyer did nothing at my Social Security hearing!

One of the most common complaints I hear is:

I hired a lawyer for my hearing. So, WHY AM I DOING ALL OF THE TALKING?!?

The one thing people are most surprised about when they go to their Social Security disability hearing is that the lawyer does not do all of the talking. In fact, it is the claimant (aka “you”) who has to answer the Judge’s questions. I hear a lot of questions and comments about this:

I went to my hearing and my lawyer sat there like a bump on a log.

Why am I paying a lawyer, if I have to answer all of the questions?

What do you mean, I have to talk at the hearing; isn’t that what the lawyer is there for?

Well, one possibility is the company you hired outsourced the hearing to another lawyer at the last minute.

However, generally the reason is hearings are not negotiations; hearings are a mini-trail. If you have seen Boston Legal, or any legal show on tv, you have seen the difference.

At the negotiation scene the two lawyers sit across the table from each other, trading barbs and telling their client not to say anything without the lawyer’s say so. Then at the trial, the client gets on the witness stand and has to answer the two attorneys’ questions.

Hearings are like mini-trials: there is a Judge, witnesses and procedures: like being sworn in. It would be ridiculous to hold a trial and have an attorney testify for their client. The Judge does not want to hear the lawyer’s explanation of your disability, the Judge wants to hear from you!

As I have mentioned before, one of the main purposes of a hearing is to assess your credibility. The Judge already has the objective evidence. The Judge wants to see you. See how you answer, see how you move, see how you sit, see any problems you may have.

Since you are the person claiming a right to disability benefits, you are typically the chief witness in your case. There may also be other witnesses such as family members (who have witnessed what you are going through), medical professions and even vocational experts. However, first and foremost, the Judge wants to hear from you.

So, what does a lawyer do for me?

I work one-on-one with each of my clients to understand what they have been through, obtain proof of their disabilities through medical records and other evidence. I also work with my clients, reviewing what they can expect at the hearing including what questions they are likely to be asked.

A good lawyer will help you prepare your case, and prepare you to go in front of a Judge. So, by the time the hearing is scheduled, you are confident and ready.

I noted earlier that Judges do not want the attorney’s explanation of your disability.  While it is true that Judges generally do not let the lawyer to act as a substitute witness, Judges often want the attorney to provide the following:

  • A quick summary of the case.
  • Identify which doctors supports the disability claim.
  • Identify the exact date of treatment and the page numbers in the Social Security file, where the favorable records appear.

One of the big things attorneys do is becoming familiar enough with your file to be able to quickly identify where a critical piece of evidence is located. You may hear this kind of interchange at your hearing:

Judge: What support do we have for the sciatic pain radiating into the left leg?

Attorney:  Dr. Smith is providing treatment for the low back pain.  Her records appear at exhibit 4F and 15F.  There is mention of this particular symptom on March 23, April 17, and May 27 at the following page numbers ….

This conversation may not happen at every hearing, and the attorney may not have every symptom cross-referenced  like this.  However, a skilled attorney will help the Judge find the evidence necessary to put your claim in the best light.

Photo by Lisa Brewster