Can you have a disability hearing without a lawyer?

Going to a disability hearing without an attorney

Social Security does not require any disability applicant to have a lawyer or representative. You can handle your own case at the disability application step, and at the reconsideration appeal step. You are allowed to represent your own disability claim at an ALJ disability hearing when you go before the administrative law judge.

And if a judge turns you down, you can, on your own, submit an appeal to the appeals council. And if the appeals council turns you down, you can even represent yourself pro se at the federal district court level.

However, those last two appeals would be unnecessary if you won your disability claim at a hearing. Which brings up the question, "Should you have your disability hearing without a lawyer?"

The answer to this question will almost always be no. In general terms, it is foolish to go to a hearing unrepresented. This is true even if the individual seeking disability benefits is a lawyer themselves. And it is still true even if they are a disability lawyer.

In nearly any court-type setting, he who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer.

Why? For most individuals who are not lawyers themselves, it is not wise to think that they know how disability claims are worked on and decided. Disability examiners who decide cases are trained for months simply to be able to understand terms and concepts, as well as interpret medical evidence. It is unlikely that an average person will know any of this. It will be more likely that they will highly disadvantage themselves at the hearing.

Which is why many judges will simply tell the person who shows up alone that the hearing can be rescheduled if they wish to look for representation.

In short, it takes a long time to get to a disability hearing. Going to a hearing unrepresented presumes that the individual knows far more than they could possibly know. And that's most likely how the judge will see it also.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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