To answer that question you need to understand that winning Social Security disability benefits is not about what you can no longer do because of your disability. It’s about what you can still do despite your disability! And that is a very fine and legally-crucial line.
The “Burden of Proof”
A Social Security disability Administrative Law Hearing is an evidentiary hearing, rather than a legal trial like you see in all those great television dramas, thus, the formal rules of evidence are not as rigorously applied. It is the one area of law a layman or non-attorney is allowed to practice. You are not required by law to have a disability representative, and can indeed represent yourself, though professional representation is a good idea because the legal “Burden of Proof” is on you to prove that you are disabled under federal law. Thus, winning a disability hearing is not just about getting your medical records before the judge and telling him about your medical condition. It’s also about how those medical records prove your vocational limitations.
Additionally, there may be a government Medical Expert (ME) at the hearing and he may disagree with your doctor’s medical opinion. And there will be a Vocational Expert (VE) present, and she’s going to be talking in vocational code. So, without professional representation, you may be required to:
- Debate relevant medical Signs and Symptoms with a government doctor.
- Understand what it means to Meet or Equal a Listing in the Combined Federal Rulings (CFR).
- Know if your case Grids and why.
- Know what previous case law and the Medical-Vocational Rules instruct the judge to consider or not consider.
- Understand what the Standard Vocational Profile (SVP) of your previous work was.
- Know what your maximum Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) is and how the medically proven limitations of your Activities of Daily Living (ADL) impact such.
- Refute the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and U.S. Census Report.
The above are among the many issues you will need to address in a disability hearing, which is why professional representation can make all the difference between a Fully Favorable, Partially Favorable or Unfavorable ruling.
Attorney versus Non-Attorney
To the Social Security Administration, the only difference between an attorney and a certified non-attorney disability representative is that as attorneys at law, lawyers are allowed to put Esq. after their names. Non-attorney representatives must possess the same medical and vocational knowledge, must take the same Continuing Education courses, are held to the same professional and ethical standards, and are punished the same way as attorneys if they err before the Administration with malice aforethought. Indeed, the only thing a non-attorney representative cannot do is take a case to federal court after an Appeals Council loss, and that is a rarity anyway. Thus, if having Esq. after his representative’s name gives a disability claimant comfort, then by all means they should retain the services of an attorney. But the CDRP behind Mr. Cooke’s name stands for Certified Disability Representation Professional, with all that title implies. We invite you to further explore our website and decide for yourself.