It's Really a Meeting
When we meet with our clients to prepare for a Social Security hearing, we describe the Social Security hearing as more of a meeting than a formal hearing. It is certainly not like a state or federal court trial, but there are formalities, and a process.
The Judge Runs The Hearing
First, Administrative Law Judges have their own style of running a hearing. Some will take charge early on, and start out by asking you questions. Sometimes, the Judge will ask your lawyer questions as well, just to get background information. Some Judges are more interested in prior work than others. Some Judges have a set outline that they use in every hearing. These outlines can be short, or long. It depends on the Judge. We are familiar with many of the Judge's at the hearings office, so we will give our client's a heads up on how the Judge likes to run the hearing.
Telling Your Story
No matter what your disabling condition is, the questions are generally the same. You will be asked about your past work. You will be asked about your medical problems. When we ask our clients questions at a hearing, we start out by asking about symptoms. Then we get into how those symptoms affect our client with day to day activities.
Judges generally cover the same thing, but sometimes they will flat out ask you why you think you are disabled.
We meet with our clients before the hearing to strategize and plan. We review the claims file, summarize it and study it. We then work with our client to develop an outline of questions ready to go. Even if the Judge goes first, we almost always have more questions for our client. We want to make sure the Judge knows your story.
After the Claimant testifies, a witness such as a friend or a family member may testify as well. Again, this depends on the issues in the case, the Judge hearing the case, and what is in the exhibit file already. Another option is to have the witness submit a statement. We often interview witnesses prior to the hearing to determine the best way to present their testimony, if at all.
The Vocational Expert
At almost every hearing, there will be a Vocational Expert. This is an expert that is not a an employee of Social Security, but is an independent contractor. This expert has no interest in the outcome of the case. This person, who is a vocational counselor, responds to hypothetical questions about whether a person with your same work experience and education can do certain kinds of work. The Judge is creating these hypothetical questions from information in the claims file. The Judge should present several hypothetical questions, and then determine which hypothetical scenario best represents your physical and mental abilities or limitations in the work place. We are also able to pose our own hypothetical questions, depending on the evidence in your claims file.
The Medical Expert
In some cases, the Judge will have a medical expert present at the hearing. This person, usually a medical doctor, or a psychologist, reviews the medical records in the file, and forms an opinion about whether our client "meets a listing." These doctors will sometimes ask our client some questions to get more information about your condition. We are also able ask the doctor questions.
Hearings usually last about an hour, but again, every case is different.
After The Hearing
Sometimes, based on how the hearing went, we can tell whether the Judge will grant benefits are not. The hearing may also be "continued." This just means that the Judge decided that more information is necessary to make a decision. This could mean anything from asking us to get updated medical records to scheduling an appointment for you to see another doctor for an evaluation.
If the Judge has all the evidence needed to make a decision, then the record is "closed." This means that no more information is submitted to the Judge, and he or she will put together a Decision. We always advise our clients that it could take at least two months for the Judge to issue a Decision. Again, this depends on the Judge's work load.