This is what the lawyer should do:
(1) Obtain ALL your medical records. With careful reading of medical records, it becomes apparent, more often than not, that there are missing hospital visits, missing MRI’s, missing lab tests, missing Operative Reports, etc., etc. Unless you know what to look for, you’ll never know what is missing. You have to know what to look for, read those records, page by page and know how to ask, and ask until you get them.
(2) Evaluate the records. Social Security has some pretty complicated rules for evaluating some medical conditions. You have to know where the regulations are and then you have to sit and go through the records line by line. For instance, this is just one part of chronic liver disease:
B. Ascites or hydrothorax not attributable to other causes, despite continuing treatment as prescribed, present on at least 2 evaluations at least 60 days apart within a consecutive 6-month period. Each evaluation must be documented by:1. Paracentesis or thoracentesis; or 2. Appropriate medically acceptable imaging or physical examination and one of the following:a. Serum albumin of 3.0 g/dL or less; or b. International Normalized Ratio (INR) of at least 1.5.
This information is not contained in one place, in one page of the records. It’s a puzzle and you have to put together all the pieces of the puzzle. With cases like this (detailed lab test results over time, in several areas), Judges will ask me all the time, “Does this meet listing level?” Of course, I love to announce that it does. But, I sure as heck like to announce that it is so close, that it might as well, and give the Judge the data. The Judge knows you care and have thoroughly examined the record if you can talk intelligently about the detail and data.
(3) Obtain opinion letters or reports from your treating doctors. Doctors write reports for one purpose in their offices– to chronicle your condition and your progress. They do not write them to help a Social Security Judge understand your limitations. But, the second piece of information is as critical to your case as the first.
(4) Meet with the client in advance to prepare for the hearing– not an hour before the hearing–a week or two before the hearing. These are long appointments, and both client and attorney work hard in them. I never want my client to be asked a question that I did not also ask in advance, so I would know the answer.
(5) Write a prehearing memorandum. Not all Judges read these in advance. Some Judges never read them– before or after– but this is as important an opportunity to talk about your case as the first and last question asked in the hearing. You have to know for what the Judges are looking, and set it out in an order fashion, so it is right at their fingertips.
(6) Make sure that ALL the questions that should be asked at the hearing are asked at the hearing, and make sure the Judge gets the information he or she needs to fully understand your case and evaluate it properly.
This is what I do. I don’t like surprises and I like to win.