How Florida SSD Attorneys Make Your Disability Hearing Easier
Retaining the right Florida attorney to represent you in your disability claims process is one of the most important decisions you can make from the start.
It is a common misconception that filing a disability claim is a matter of mere form-filling that can be easily accomplished without the aid of an attorney.
In fact, the vast majority of Social Security Disability claims are initially denied. Without the advice of an experienced Florida SSD attorney, they are likely to stay denied.
It is therefore crucial to the success of your claim that you retain an expert guide.
A good attorney will not simply hold your hand and guide you through the bureaucracy of the process as an accountant might the process of filing a tax return.
Lawyers are retained to do that, yes, but also, importantly, to advocate and even argue on your behalf.
How to Find a Florida SSD Attorney
If you have a disability hearing scheduled but have not yet retained an attorney, it is not too late to do so.
Finding an experienced SSD in Orlando should never be a matter of price-shopping or browsing Google Maps to locate whichever lawyer happens to be closest to your home or workplace.
Disability law is a specialized area of legal practice.
To maximize your odds of obtaining positive results in your SSD claim, you need to retain an attorney who understands the disability claims process, who knows the individual practices and preferences of our local Orlando-area ALJs (administrative law judges), and who knows how to present the right argument to knit your specific facts to the SSD eligibility criteria.
You will want to schedule initial consultations with as many attorneys as it takes to find one who can tell you how they will argue your claim in light of the above factors.
Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of asking such questions, either. We are here to help you, not the other way around.
Any attorney who takes offense would not be one that you would want to work with.
Demystifying the Disability Hearing Process
Once you have retained a Florida disability attorney to assist you, the first thing that your lawyer will do is to demystify the hearing process for you.
What is it? Where is it? What happens? Will you have to speak? What questions will you have to answer?
Your disability attorney will, first and foremost, fill in all of these blanks for you.
The SSD hearing is what is known as an administrative law hearing.
This means that it will not take place in a courtroom of the sort you’ve seen on television. The disability hearing will be held, instead, in a conference room environment or even, due to COVID, via telephone or video conferencing platform.
In Orlando, SSD hearings are held at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) on Lake Lynda Drive.
The hearings are not open to the public.
The ALJ will not be sitting behind a bench in black robe, nor will you be required to stand at a podium.
Nevertheless, as you would expect of any judge, the ALJ will, after opening formalities, ask you a series of questions. However, thanks to your disability attorney, you will be well-prepared for them.
In particular, you’ll need to answer questions about your past employment, your current mental and physical condition, and even what you are able and unable to do on a task-by-task basis in your daily personal life.
The judge may require the testimony of a “vocational expert” or “medical expert” whom your attorney will then be entitled to cross-examine regarding your work limitations and capabilities.
Any benefits applicant, at this point, requires the assistance of an experienced disability lawyer to handle this questioning and examination.
Understanding the ALJ in Your Orlando Disability Hearing
The first rule of practice for any attorney in any legal practice area is “Know your judge!”
In Orlando, there are 13 different ALJs. All come with different approaches, case management theories, and personalities.
A good disability lawyer has practiced in front of all of the ALJs that may possibly be assigned to your case and will know in advance what “standard” questions the ALJ tends to ask, what sorts of responses annoy the ALJ, and even what minor behavioral habits (leaning, mumbling, wardrobe preferences, etc.) will warm the ALJ to one’s case—or have the opposite effect.
It is the role of the ALJ to adjudicate your case. That is, it is the judge’s role to render a decision for or against your claim based on the evidence before him or her.
This evidence may include not only the vocational and medical experts noted above but also witnesses that you call to testify as to your disability.
An experienced disability attorney will have the experience and expertise to determine whether a possible witness will be a positive factor in your case or not. A witness who does not add useful information to the record or who rambles or belabors a point may be more likely to rub the ALJ the wrong way.
An experienced lawyer will know how to tailor questioning of such witnesses to the specific information that is helpful to your case and to narrow the scope of questioning to avoid embarrassing surprises during the ALJ’s allowed cross-examination.
Your goal in a disability hearing is to populate the evidentiary record with information that supports your claim rather than information that erodes it or introduces ambiguity into the question of whether you are entitled to benefits or not.
There is no “adversary counsel” at a disability hearing. It is the role of the ALJ to act as a neutral fact-finder.
However, it is up to you build your case. That is what a disability attorney will help you to do.
A Disability Attorney Will Build and Argue Your Case
A Florida disability attorney thus argues your case with information. The sort of information that is useful to your claim is often esoteric, requiring an experienced eye to even understand.
Medical records, test results, insurance documentation, and the testimony of vocational and expert witnesses are the types of information that your case will be built upon.
None of these things are plainly understandable to a layperson.
Picking apart the testimony of a vocational expert, in particular, requires an understanding of current occupational trends, how the SSA decides whether an injury is a long-term disability, job placement and vocational training alternatives that may recommended by the expert, and an in-depth understanding of the expert’s source material, such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Vocational experts will testify as to your possibility of workplace rehabilitation, earning capacity, and other factors that your attorney will need to peel apart on cross-examination.
Your attorney will question the expert as to your realistic capacity to engage in “past relevant work” and your current and ongoing workforce limitations.
Your attorney will introduce the right medical record evidence, ask the court’s vocational and medical expert witnesses the right questions during the hearing, and will call the right witnesses testify to the right facts in your favor.
A Florida Disability Attorney Will Help to Appeal Negative Hearing Results
Regardless of the above, a large percentage of disability cases that go to hearing are still denied by the presiding ALJ.
With an experienced Florida disability attorney on your side, this is not the end of your road.
If you and your attorney do not agree with the decision of the ALJ, you have the right to request a review by a body known as the Appeals Council.
However, this appeal must be filed within a tight timeframe.
Your disability attorney will help you to determine if your appeal has merit and what the odds of success at the next stage of the process will be.
Retain an Experienced Florida Disability Attorney To Maximize Your Odds of Success
In conclusion, Florida SSD attorneys not only make your disability hearing easier and more understandable, they also greatly increase the chance of a positive outcome.
Attorney Shea Fugate has successfully represented Florida disability claimants for over 20 years. A seminar speaker on Social Security Disability topics, Attorney Fugate has both the experience and knowledge to ensure that your claim is handled properly.