Hearing Before An Administrative Law Judge

What is a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge?

A hearing is a second appeal that you can file within the Social Security Administration’s appeal process. It follows a reconsideration denial or a reconsideration decision that was only partially favorable. At a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) hears your case.

You will testify as to your level of impairment due to your medical conditions. This is your chance to give voice to your claim.

You and your attorney can also call and question witnesses, cross-examine witnesses that the judge calls and submit depositions.

Social Security disability hearings do not last as long as you may think.  Most are typically short and can last anywhere from 5 minutes to over an hour. Many SSD claimants mistakenly believe that their hearing will be similar to a civil court jury trial. However, ALJ hearings tend to be more  informal than that and are supposed to be non-adversarial (non-confrontational). In fact, disability lawyers usually advise their clients to dress for their hearing as they would normally dress going out to dinner with some friends (but no hats, tank tops, or revealing clothing), and not as they might dress for a job interview.

Even though the hearing is informal, the judge is likely to be wearing a black robe and sitting on an elevated platform. Hearings typically take place at the nearest SSA Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (“ODAR).  However, depending on how far away the applicant lives from the ODAR hearing office, the “hearing site” may take place at your local SSA District Office, in a conference room at a nearby hotel, or in a conference room at a local governmental office.

These days, the hearing may also take place via video conferencing (although you have the right to request an in-person hearing).

A vocational expert (VE) will usually be at your hearing, as well as a court reporter. Sometimes there will be a medical expert there as well. You can also bring witnesses to testify to your limitations.

More people are approved at hearings than at reconsiderations and one of the reasons is that the judge, who is the decision maker, sees you and hears about your medical condition directly from you.  For more information about disability hearings, please visit our Social Security hearings video collection.

Your Testimony at The Hearing

The court reporter will swear you in, along with the Vocational Expert (“VE”), and any other witnesses. The judge may begin by asking you questions about your educational history, your past work and your limitations. Once the ALJ has finished his or her questions, the Judge will allow your attorney to ask you additional questions to further develop the claim.

Once you are done testifying, the ALJ will ask the VE hypothetical questions about what jobs someone like you with your limitations could do. For additional information on VE testimony, read our article on the importance of vocational expert testimony at hearings.

General Tips

The hearing is short and you have waited a long time for this moment, so be sure to arrive to the hearing site on time. ALJs typically schedule 4-8 hearings to take place back-to-back on hearing days.  An ALJ  may decide not hear an applicant’s case if the applicant shows up too late for his or her hearing. How late is too late will depend upon the individual ALJ in question and how densely packed his or her hearing schedule is for the day. Generally speaking, arriving more than ten minutes late will be enough for an ALJ to refuse to hear a claimant’s case. As such, you should always try to arrive at the hearing site at least 30 minutes prior to the start of a hearing to get properly situated.

If you do arrive too late for a hearing, you will be issued an “order to show cause” notice and asked to explain why you were late. Your explanation is commonly called a “Good Cause Statement”. Providing an acceptable reason for appearing late (extreme traffic problems, unforeseen car problems, or getting hopelessly lost) may convince a judge to reschedule your hearing to a later date.

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