Because the final determination of a state or federal agency is so difficult to overturn on appeal, it is very important to do everything possible to win your case at the administrative level. A lawyer, especially one who is familiar with the agency involved in your dispute, will understand the procedures and regulations specifically applicable to your dispute. Every agency has its own procedures and rules that apply to the adjudicatory proceedings that it administers. While the procedures applied to hearings are published in the relevant statutes and agency regulations, the manner in which they are applied and interpreted by the agency is often not easily discernible.
Many attorneys specialize in practicing in one particular state or federal agency and have established professional relationships with hearing officers and other employees of the agency. These specialized lawyers are most familiar with the internal processes of the particular agency. If you lose your case at the agency level, and have to rely on an appeal to a court of law, the agency’s interpretation of the laws applied to your case will be entitled to “deference.” Generally, on appeal, you will have to show that the agency’s final conclusion was “clearly erroneous” or “unsupported by the substantial evidence of record.” These are very high standards to meet in a court of law.
Generally, you will not be able to submit additional evidence on appeal, and the appeal will be limited to the evidence offered at the administrative hearing. This is another reason to hire a lawyer during the administrative process of your dispute. One thing that lawyers do is well is gather information to build the administrative record. Whether it is medical records or conducting a deposition of an expert witness, a lawyer will be able to gather the evidence that is necessary to address the weaknesses of your case and to bolster its strengths. Failure to present this evidence at the administrative hearing will most likely bar you from introducing it later.
Many citizens who attempt to represent themselves in disputes with administrative agencies do not fully understand the implications of losing at the administrative level. They explain that they will hire a lawyer if they lose and have to take it to court. This is a dangerous line of reasoning, because a lawyer often has his or her hands tied in an appeal, and cannot make arguments that were not raised and preserved for appeal at the hearing level.