A lawyer's principal task at a disability hearing is to persuade the judge that the claimant can't work due to his or her medical condition. The judge, having reviewed the medical record and the rest of the file, must agree that the claimant cannot work or meets a listed impairent.
This task of persuasion starts way before the hearing. Everything the lawyer does – develop a winning theory of the claim, obtain medical records and opinions from doctors regarding the claimant's functional limitations, meet with the client and finally write a hearing brief – should all happen well ahead of the hearing. Hopefully everything is submitted to Social Security early enough to be in the record when the judge first reviews the claim.
Persuasion is the best way to win a claim, and it is the way most hearings are resolved. But you also have to be ready for the alternative.
If the judge is not fully persuaded that the claimant can't work, the representative must use of the full array of Social Security rules and regulations, including the sequential evaluation process, to the claimant's advantage.
You need to have a plan for the hearing to rule out past relevant work at step 4 and other work at step 5. Be ready to contest the RFC with the judge, and to cross-examine a vocational or medical expert.
Do not go down without a fight. You owe that to your client, to yourself, and to the nonadversarial Social Security process, which requires the best of a claimant's representative.
And lastly, if you can't persuade the judge, make sure that you have created a record for appeal. As recent statistics show, almost 25% of cases considered by the Appeals Council are sent back to the hearing level or allowed outright, and over half of the claims appealed to federal district court are remanded or allowed. So build a record for appeal, and keep the claim alive to persuade the judge another day.