All parties have the right to be represented prior to and at the hearing by an attorney. However, they are not required to have one. If they decide to be represented, it is their responsibility to choose their own attorney. Neither the agency, the opposing party's attorney, nor the ALJ is allowed to recommend an attorney.
In most cases, they will have to pay for the attorney themselves. However, sometimes, particularly where public benefits are involved, a free or reduced-fee attorney may be available to represent them.
In worker's compensation claims, the attorney generally receives a 20% contingency fee. This means no fee is paid unless and until the attorney recovers compensation for the party they represent.
If it never a good idea to wait until the last minute before deciding if to hire an attorney. Many attorneys will not take a legal matter at the last minute and the ALJ is unlikely to give an attorney additional time to prepare. Nor is the ALJ likely to postpone a hearing to give a party additional time to search for an attorney. It is important to decide early on to hire an attorney and to begin the search for one immediately.