While an attorney is recommended is there any benefit to a client representing themselves? If the applicant is represented by an attorney (or other individual), does the applicant have an opportunity to speak for themselves or add to the proceedings?
No, it is our opinion that all applicants should be represented at the hearing by an individual who is knowledgeable about Social Security's decision-making process at the ALJ level, whether it be a lawyer, paralegal, or a SOAR case worker. Administrative Law Judges follow fairly strict rules about how to decide disability cases and what evidence can be considered. Although applicants can represent themselves “pro se” (i.e. “for oneself”), it is in their best interest to secure representation. The applicant may find it difficult to learn enough about Social Security law to advocate for themselves professionally at the hearing.
Yes, the applicant will have a chance to speak for him/herself. The representative will ask the applicant questions which is called “direct examination.” This gives the applicant a chance to tell his or her story. Also, the ALJ will often begin the hearing by asking the applicant questions. Remember, the ALJ level is the first time the applicant is seen face-to-face by SSA. The earlier stages are paper reviews.