While Social Security Disability claimants are entitled to represent themselves in a disability adjudication hearing, it may not always be the best option for several reasons.
First, disability hearings contain a lot of legal jargon, much of which a claimant without legal knowledge or expertise will not understand. It is not uncommon for a claimant to begin a hearing, then realize that he or she does not understand what is going on and would like to continue the hearing in order to obtain representation. While some Administrative Law Judges will allow a continuance once a hearing has already commenced, others will not. Due to the long wait times in obtaining a hearing date, this is not a chance any claimant should take.
Another reason is that a Social Security attorney will know the right questions to ask. When a claimant decides to represent themselves, it is solely up to them to develop the case, ask questions of vocational and medical experts and put on the hearing. This is a much more in-depth task than simply requesting medical records or reciting medical history. A knowledgeable attorney will be able to counter any claims by an expert which would lead a judge to believe that a claimant is capable of performing substantial gainful activity.
The most common reason claimants choose not to obtain representation is because they do not believe they can afford it. However, they fail to realize that any Social Security disability representative is unable to collect a fee until it is approved by the Social Security Administration. That fee then comes directly out of a claimant's back pay once benefits are awarded. If a claim is denied, the only fees a claimant would generally be liable for are expenses incurred for such matters as the request of medical records. Retaining the services of an attorney to assist in the development and presentation of a case is both affordable and highly recommended. It could easily make the difference between approval and denial of a claim.