What to Expect at a Social Security Disability/SSI Administrative Law Judge Hearing
Part II, The Day of Your Administrative Law Judge Hearing
My previous post (My Social Security Disability/SSI ALJ Hearing Was Scheduled, Now What?) described what to do to prepare for an Administrative Law Judge Hearing. The focus of the previous post was making sure that your file was prepared for your hearing and that all relevant information was submitted to the Judge. This post focuses on what to expect on the day of your hearing. The purpose of this post is to make you comfortable with the hearing facilities, and to explain what the hearing room itself will be like.
- The day of your hearing, it is important to arrive early. You should be at your hearing site 30 minutes prior to your scheduled hearing. If you have not been to the hearing location before, you should plan to arrive earlier. Factor in additional travel time in case you get lost, or you have to deal with unexpected traffic delays. If you are taking public transportation to your hearing, make sure that you can still arrive on time even if you miss one of the scheduled buses on your route.
- Dress respectfully for your hearing. Judges understand that you have a disability that limits your ability to perform work, and expect you to be comfortable, but it is not recommended to wear t-shirts, torn clothes, or sweatpants to a hearing.
- Do not bring a cell phone with you to the hearing room. Leave your cell phone outside of the hearing room or in your vehicle. Turning your ringer or phone off is not sufficient. You do not want any risk of a cell phone ringing during a hearing.
- Decide prior to the hearing whether you are going to bring witnesses. My practice is to use witnesses only when they can add information you cannot provide directly. Repetitive testimony from friends and family regarding your limitations is not normally helpful. Although I would like to have a treating physician or therapist testify at every hearing, usually the cost of doing so is prohibitive. (The maximum fee that I can collect for a Social Security disability claim is $6000, and it is not abnormal for a Doctor to charge $2000 or more to testify.) Instead of calling witnesses, I instead focus on obtaining written information from people that you normally would call as a witness. Having family members or friends complete Third Party Disability Reports or letters are usually just as helpful as any testimony they could provide. I usually ask doctors or other medical providers to complete detailed medical opinions.
- Do not waste the Judge’s time. Administrative Law Judges usually have tight schedules. Depending on your Judge, you may be allocated 30-90 minutes for year hearing. Normally Judges are able to begin on time, but if a prior hearing goes beyond the scheduled time, it is possible that there will be a delay in your hearing beginning. It is also possible that a Judge may ask you to begin your hearing prior to the scheduled time if there was a cancellation or no-show. That is why it is important that you arrive at your hearing at least 30 minutes early.
- The hearing room itself varies based on the location of your hearing. If you are appearing at an Office of Disability Adjudication and Review main office, it is likely that you will actually be in a courtroom. The rooms are usually the size of a small conference room, and the actual courtrooms have a bench that the judge sits behind, and normally a conference table where everybody else is seated. If you are at a remote hearing site, the Judge may even be seated at the conference table with you. There are normally computers in every hearing room so that you can review your Social Security electronic file. (The majority of Social Security files are now in electronic format, and paper copies are not normally available.) If you elected to have the hearing by video teleconference, a large television is present in your hearing room and you will see the Judge on the television screen by video teleconference. There also would be a camera in the hearing room that transmits your image to the Judge’s location.
- During the hearing, you remain seated at the table. There is not a witness stand, and you will normally only have to stand when the Judge enters the room. Everyone testifies from the position that they are seated, and you normally will only be asked to leave the room or change positions if you call a witness to testify.
- Normal participants at your hearing. The normal participants at a Social Security ALJ Hearing are the Judge, a Court Reporter, any experts called by the Judge, you and your legal representative. The Court Reporter is responsible for making an audio recording of your hearing. The Judge may call a Vocational Expert or Medical Expert to provide testimony during the hearing. In Delaware, we normally have Vocational Experts for all ALJ hearings. The Vocational Expert provides details to the Judge about the skills and physical requirements of your past jobs. The Vocational Expert also responds to hypothetical questions from the Judge about an individual’s ability to perform jobs based on physical or mental limitations. (You will be advised in your hearing notice if the Judge intends to call any experts to testify at your hearing.)
- Your hearing is not public and there is no need for spectators. I normally do not advise that you bring anyone else into the hearing room with you. Although some Judges allow you to bring friends or family in for moral support, only individuals that are sworn in are able to provide testimony or interact with the Judge during the hearing. Even if a friend or family member knows the answer to a question that you cannot provide, they are not permitted to interrupt during the hearing. I have found that it is difficult for family members to refrain from trying to help during a hearing, and it becomes disruptive to the process. Due to the difficulty in controlling others, I normally advise my clients to have family members or friends remain outside of the hearing room.
At this point you have taken the steps necessary to prepare for your hearing (My Social Security Disability/SSI ALJ Hearing Was Scheduled, Now What?), and now you know what to expect when you arrive at your hearing. My next post will describe your actual testimony during the hearing, and the types of information that is discussed.
If you have questions about any of the information provided in this post, please use the comment area below. Since this is a public website, please do not include any information in your question that would personally identify you. Your email address is not publicly viewable in the comment section and is only used if I need to directly respond to you.
This article was written by Steven Butler. Steven is a partner at Linarducci & Butler, PA and his practice is limited to Social Security Disability/SSI claims. Steven offers free initial consultations for Social Security Disability/SSI claims to residents of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. To schedule a consultation with Steven, please use the Linarducci & Butler Contact Form or call 302-613-0707 to schedule an appointment.