In preparing clients for hearings, we find that many have a false notion that a hearing is much like a criminal trial. They expect it to be in a big court room with a witness stand where they will be interrogated by a government attorney and watched by people in a gallery. A Social Security disability hearing is not like that at all – in fact, you may be surprised how informal the setting is. Here are a few things to remember:
First, you’re not on trial. There’s no one at the hearing trying to prove you are not disabled – rather, it’s a non-adversarial hearing. This means you are there to present evidence that you are disabled for the judge to consider and rule on, but no ‘prosecution’ is there to present ‘the other side.’
Second, a hearing is not open to the general public. Only a few people will be at your hearing, including the judge, an assistant to the judge, a vocational (jobs) expert, possibly a medical expert (doctor), yourself, and your attorney/representative. With permission, you may have a family member or two in attendance as well. The vocational and medical experts are at the hearing to provide non-biased insight into aspects of your claim. Because the judge is reviewing work and medical information in order to make a decision, he needs help from an employment or medical professional. These experts are there to assist the judge in interpreting the evidence he or she has. However, it is very important that you have an attorney or representative with you at the hearing so that these experts can be cross-examined, especially in the event that they are misinterpreting information or are presenting testimony that may damage your claim.
Third, these hearings are not even held in courtrooms. Hearing rooms look more like conference rooms. They generally consist of a few tables with computers for viewing the files and microphones for recording the hearing. The judge sits at the front of the room behind a raised desk.
The hearing room is set up to make everyone present feel comfortable, which allows for better communication and, ultimately, a better decision for you.