Thorough preparation gives you the best chance of winning
There is no substitute for thorough preparation. You need to know what to expect at your hearing, and be ready to answer any question that the Administrative Law Judge asks. Yes, you testify – not your attorney. The judge wants to hear about you from you, and that’s good! Who knows what your life is like better than you?
Steven Shaw personally conducts your pre-hearing conferences to prepare you for your hearing, and these sessions are longer than your actual hearing. Preparation involves two main topics – reviewing the medical evidence and preparing you for the conduct of the judge.
Review of the medical evidence
Many people are surprised about what their doctors write about them in their treatment notes. A person may describe their back pain as chronic and agonizing yet find out their doctor describes them as having moderate pain that is intermittent. Where weakness is found in the written documents, it is all the more important to be able to accurately describe your symptoms at your hearing.
Preparing for your testimony
Each of the judges has their own style of conducting their hearings, and it is important to be confident that you are being heard at the hearing. Some judges do not make eye contact, seem intent on taking notes, or are constantly staring at their computer monitor. Some sound skeptical (or downright mean) as they ask questions. When you know this in advance, you will not be distracted or upset by such behavior, and can concentrate on your responses to their questions.
You also need to be prepared to answer any question that may come up at the hearing. Social Security utilizes word search software to scan documents to uncover evidence of substance abuse, disregarding doctor’s advice, working or engaging in activities such as vacationing and leisure activities that seem to indicate that a person is not totally disabled from working. The judges ask about all these topics to decide whether a person is being truthful in court.
My preparation for your hearing includes personally reading every word of the medical evidence in your claim file, and assembling a timeline for each of your conditions and their treatment. I also review all of the procedural aspects of a claim, including application date, to make certain that the maximum amount of back benefits is being requested. Social Security regulations make it easier to receive disability the closer a person gets to retirement age, and I review claims to determine if asking for a shorter time period of back benefits places a person in a more advantageous age category.
If you are one of the many successful clients of Steven Shaw, his assistance is not over when you are awarded your benefits. He continues to work on your behalf to make sure that you are paid the correct amount of retroactive benefits and you (and possibly your minor children) are in pay status for your monthly benefits. He can also advise you regarding your earnings and reporting responsibilities to Social Security if and when you are capable of returning to work.
Local vs. nationwide representatives
There is a huge difference between hiring a local firm and a nationwide firm. As you’ve read in other parts of my website, I prepare my clients for their hearings with as many one-on-one preparations appointments as necessary to give my clients a clear understanding of what will happen at the hearing, what kind of style the Administrative Law Judge uses as they conduct a hearing, and suggestions as to how to effectively speak about their symptoms and limitations.
Nationwide firms contract with attorneys (who usually do not have a successful practice of their own) and pay them a small fee to meet their clients 15 to 30 minutes prior to their hearing and appear at the hearing. Unlike an attorney like me, they get paid whether you win or lose. Do you think they really care whether you win or lose?
Attorney vs. non-attorney advocate
Although a person does not have to be an attorney to represent a person’s Social Security claim, by hiring an attorney you have certain protections against improper conduct that you do not have by being represented by a non-attorney advocate. Attorneys are licensed by state bar associations and are subject to suspension or disbarment if their conduct merits punishment.
Another consideration is whether a non-attorney is as well prepared to make court appearances as someone who has graduated from law school and passed the state bar examination.