Most people who have to go to an Administrative Law Judge hearing are nervous and uncertain of what will happen. The hearing is actually pretty informal. The participants include the judge, a reporter who types up what is said, often a vocational expert (someone versed in what kinds of jobs exist in the national and regional economy, how many there are of each kind of job, and what each job involves physically and mentally), the claimant and his/her representative.
The star of the show, of course, is the claimant. Many times a judge needs to see and hear from the claimant to make his/her mind up. The judge has reviewed the medical records before the hearing and now he wants to see what the claimant has to say and to size him/her up as far as their credibility: whether their complaints and limitations seem real and are consistent with the medical evidence of record.
In preparing my clients for their hearing, I emphasize to them that they need to be truthful and that they should “tell it like it is.” That is to say, don’t minimize or exaggerate your problems and limitations. It is also very important to listen to the question asked, ask for an explanation of what is being asked if you don’t understand the question, and that you only then answer the question. Going beyond what is asked can often give the wrong impression and sometimes will exasperate an impatient judge.
As for my role as your representative, my job is to help you get your thoughts together by prepping you before the hearing, to keep you focused on what needs to be presented, to ask you questions that I think are important to your claim, to make sure all of the evidence we have compiled is part of your claim file and to point out the evidence, Social Security rules and regulations that I believe support your claim in my argument o the judge. If I have done my job in preparing you and your claim properly, there should be little, if any, surprises that occur at the hearing.
Sometimes a witness is brought in to support your testimony. I usually bring one along but only call that witness if I think the claimant hasn’t done a good job of testifying or if the witness can shed some light on the claim that might be particularly helpful to the judge.
In the end, an experienced and skilled representative is very important and in the majority of cases, is the difference between winning and losing a disability claim.