The content of your testimony at a hearing before an administrative law judge is important, but so is the manner in which you present it. You want to stay laser focused on the issues that the judge must decide:  Do you meet Social Security’s definition of disabled and, if so, when did you become disabled?

Although you may know people who are far less deserving of disability benefits than you are, mentioning such instances might hurt your case. A judge could think that you are trying to claim disability because the people whose examples you cited were able to get benefits despite not deserving them.

Another ploy that could easily backfire is attempting to gain the judge’s sympathy. Most administrative law judges are experienced enough to have heard about repossessed cars, foreclosures on a house, or bankruptcies. Although these may be devastating consequences of your disability, you are not at the hearing to show that you need money; you are there to present the facts that prove that you are disabled under Social Security Administration guidelines.

A hearing is not a trial of your personal character, and attempts to demonstrate how virtuous you are will not help your case. If you qualify as disabled under Social Security Administration guidelines, then you are disabled, even if you are a bad person, and vice versa. Just as with trying to appeal to the judge’s sympathy, stating information about how good a person you are can hurt your case.

You do not need to tell the judge how honest you are. Your truthful testimony on the pertinent information will adequately prove your honesty. If you explicitly state to a judge that you are honest, he or she might feel that you have something to hide. So, never begin an answer to the judge’s question with: “To be honest…”  This makes it sound like you were not being honest in your prior answers!

Do not discuss your willingness to work or inability to work. Your work record speaks for itself.  There may be people less impaired than you are who receive disability benefits. There may be severely disabled people who work in high-profile jobs. Both examples are irrelevant to your case. Allow the judge to draw his or her own conclusions based on the evidence that your attorney has provided and her arguments about how you meet the definition of disabled.

If your Social Security claim has been denied, tell me about your case.