What can I expect from an Social Security ALJ hearing?

The hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ) is the pinnacle of your disability case. You’ve made sure to meet deadlines, jump through administrative hoops, and have provided what can seem like mountains of information all for your chance in front of the ALJ. Once in the room, such hearings can seem rather anti-climactic. You arrive at the SSA and check in. Eventually a clerk will summon you, your attorney, and any witnesses you have brought. The witnesses will then likely be sequestered. You will be sworn in, as well as any interpreters, and the vocational expert. The Judge will ask if you object to any of the exhibits they have in the record (the CD you were given previously). Your attorney may or may not make an opening statement, then either the ALJ or your attorney will begin to question you. If you have a good attorney you should be prepared for the types of questions you will be asked.  Then you may be asked to leave so that your witness can testify.

Some judges care more about keeping witnesses separate than others. The reason is that they don’t want the witness to conform their testimony to yours, and so that the witness feels comfortable speaking candidly. After witness testimony you will be invited to return. Then your attorney or the ALJ will question the vocational expert. The questions asked may seem strange because it is against the rules to ask about you specifically. Rather, questions must be phrased about a worker like you who has similar disabilities. Finally, your attorney  may request that the record be left open. This means that you will have a few more weeks to submit extra information to bolster your case.

One of the things that makes clients most worried is if the Social Security ALJ hearing appears hurried and it ends early. Further confusing the issue, often attorneys will go right along with this. It may seem that the Judge and your attorney know something you don’t. In fact, the sudden termination of your hearing can be a very good sign. While Judges can’t outright say how they plan to rule, they do sometimes tip their hand. If they say they don’t need to hear anything else and not to bother submitting any extra records for example, it can be a very good sign. If they don’t plan to rule in your favor they have to give you a chance to let you put on your whole case. If they don’t want to waste your time when they have already decided to rule in your favor it is very likely they will dismiss you early. This is not a guarantee but just so you know what to expect, it is important to know what this “Secretive” type of behavior might mean.

Finally, you should be aware that while a very small percentage of cases are approved at the application phase, fully 67% of cases are approved at the hearing level. Some Judges approve nearly all cases they see. Further, 67% includes claimants who have attorneys and those who do not. From an anecdotal perspective, most of the people who are represented are in the 67% of cases, and most of the 33% who lose are not represented. This is because having an attorney who knows the process from start to finish can greatly improve your chances. To retain Garmo & Kiste, PLC, call us at (248) 398-7100  for a free consultation or contact us with a private message.

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