A Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is a judge appointed by the federal government to make decisions on Social Security disability applications. ALJs conduct hearings with applicants who were initially denied benefits and appealed their claims.
ALJ hearings take place at local review offices. During the hearing, a judge listens to applicants appeal their disability claim, reviews the evidence, and decides whether to approve or deny the applicant. Most states have several review offices, with multiple ALJs who conduct hearings.
Social Security Disability Administrative Law Judge Hearing
A Social Security disability hearing is a step in the appeals process. In most cases, before granting an applicant is a disability hearing, the applicant must receive denials of both their initial claim and a written appeal. The disability hearing is thus the third step in the process, and according to public data files, it is the step where applicants have the highest approval rates.
What to Expect at a Social Security Disability ALJ Hearing
It is best to think of a Social Security hearing as a three-step process. What happens at each of these steps determines approval or denial for disability. There is the pre-hearing phase, where the ALJ reviews your evidence, and you work with your lawyer to build your claim. Then, you will partake in the hearing itself, where you and your lawyer present your request and take questions from the ALJ. The post-hearing is where the judge reviews everything he or she has heard and then renders a decision.
Before the Hearing
Before your hearing, the ALJ typically reviews your:
- Exhibit file, a folder containing your previous application and appeals
- Medical records
- Work history
- Additional documentation
- Reason for denial
From this information, the ALJ can script out a list of questions and clarifications for the hearing. Your attorney can help you anticipate these questions and draft responses to them.
During the Hearing
On the day of your hearing, you will appear in front of the ALJ. We recommend that your lawyer joins you.
Also present at many ALJ hearings is a vocational expert (VE). The VE is familiar with the job market in your local area and gives an opinion on whether your condition prevents you from doing all available jobs for which you are qualified. You and your attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine the VE.
Aside from the VE, a medical expert (ME) might also be present. The ME’s job is to interpret your medical records and offer an opinion on your physical and mental limitations.
After the Hearing
Following your hearing, the judge reviews the evidence in your file as well as the information and testimony you presented at the hearing. The ALJ then makes their decision. They can approve your claim, allowing you to receive benefits. They can deny your request, at which point you can move to the next step in the process, the Appeals Council.
Which Administrative Law Judge Will Hear Your Case
Your local review office is likely to have several administrative law judges. It could even be a dozen or more, depending on the size of the city and the size of the office. Among these judges, approval rates can vary significantly.
ALJ Hearing Example
One judge in the downtown Atlanta office heard 245 appeals between September 2017 and April 2018 and approved 224 of them, more than a 90 percent approval rate. Another ALJ in the same office heard 234 appeals, approving only 100, well under 50 percent.
You cannot choose which judge in your local office conducts your disability. Many accomplished Social Security disability lawyers are familiar with the different judges at the local review offices and know what tactics tend to be successful with each judge. This kind of information is invaluable and can boost your approval chances. It is therefore always a good idea to sit down with a lawyer once you get assigned a hearing date.
Free Case Reviews Available Before Your ALJ Hearing
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod & Baril, PLLC, understand the administrative law judge hearing process. We have fought and won many ALJ hearings for our clients, helping them receive the Social Security benefits they deserve. We want to help you win your hearing and start collecting disability. For a free case evaluation, call our office today at 866-628-8179.