I shadowed my supervisor to a hearing. As part of the application process for disability benefits, the applicant may appear before an administrative law judge for a hearing. As far as legal procedures go, it’s fairly informal, but still really important.
My supervisor Kyle and I showed up at the hearing office. Kyle’s client was already there. We talked about what to expect in the hearing, including what questions the judge may ask. The client had applied for these benefits years ago. Because of the backlog of cases, hearings take a long time to get scheduled.
When we were called, we filed into the hearing room. The judge said hello and started talking about some preliminary matters. The client was sitting next to me. I could hear his breathing get heavy, and looked up to see his eyes tearing up. He was crying.
After Kyle gave his opening statement, the judge asked the client a few questions. At one of the questions, the client started choking up. He started sobbing. He has had a really tough life, and had been living with his disabilities for a long time. He had made some mistakes and done some bad things. But he was also trying to turn his life around.
The judge commended the client for his efforts to turn a new leaf. He said that he had enough evidence to support a finding of disability, and would grant the benefits.
We exited to the hallway. With tears streaming down his face, the client reached out and embraced Kyle. He then embraced me. He thanked us for helping him get this far.
I became a lawyer to help people. I wanted to help those in need navigate the byzantine tangle that is our legal system. Kyle’s client did an excellent job advocating for himself. He is strong. But he also needs help. And our system is set up so that those who are disabled have a hard time getting the help they need.
This work will be hard. I can tell. But it’s moments like this hearing that remind me of why I do what I do.