Lately I have had a number of cases where claimants have tried going to a hearing without an attorney only to have the Judges highly suggest to them to get an attorney and reschedule the hearing. Some people wonder if they really need an attorney. As a colleague used to say, you could remove your own appendix if you wanted to, but it helps to have a doctor do it.
No matter how clear you think your case may be, going to a hearing without the proper documents and knowledge can spell disaster for an otherwise excellent case. When these folks come to see me, they bring a disc with all of the documents in their Social Security file. Nearly all are completely shocked to find that the files only contain records two years out of date. Invariably, there is a lot of treatment, testing, medications, surgeries, etc. that are missing from the file. How can a judge make a determination if they don’t even have all of the file?
There are a number of things that come up within a hearing including (1) working after the date you alleged to become disabled, (2) changes in your age which can make the difference between approval and denial, (3) proving disability prior to the date you are last covered under Title II benefits, (4) the vocational expert’s testimony, etc. The best lawyers read through everything in your record, pinpoint the issues likely to arise, brief the legal issues of the case for the judge, and pull out the evidence that supports the claim. Even then, attorneys must deal with a variety of issues that may come up as a result of the testimony during the hearing.
The system is slow and often convoluted. People wait 2 ½ to 3 years to get to a 30 minute hearing. So although you can go to a hearing without counsel, it makes no sense not to give yourself the best possible chance of success. Find someone you can trust who knows the system.