What will my Social Security disability hearing be like?

We get asked this question by almost every client. While each hearing may differ in terms of the people involved, legal questions in issue, medical conditions, and in other ways, there are a few commonalities that are present in almost every case.

1. There’s going to be a long wait to get to a live hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Based on current statistics, there is an approximate 16 month wait to get to hearing AFTER your case has been reviewed and denied at the lower two levels of review (Initial and Reconsideration). The lower two levels of review typically take 8 months to navigate after you file the initial application. The ALJ is free to make a fully independent decision in your case.
2. Social Security hearings generally last about an hour, but may be a little shorter or longer depending on the issues involved.
3. The system does not allow you to manipulate which judges are assigned to your case.
4. The hearing does not take place in a large courtroom. In fact, it takes place in a small, private courtroom room, with barely enough space for the judge, the court reporter, a medical or vocational expert, you and your lawyer.
5. Baring unusual circumstances, you will be required to testify, under oath or affirmation, at the hearing. You may ask the judge to allow another witness to testify as well if that person has some special knowledge or insight into your particular case (ie, spouse, physician, pastor, former employer).
6. If your medical or mental health condition requires that you stand up during the hearing, you may do so with the permission of the judge.
7. The hearing is recorded. Please speak loudly enough to be heard and remember to limit any non-verbal communications (head nodding, pointing to body parts, etc.) as they will not show up in the transcript.
8. The medical or vocational expert at the hearing has been asked to be there by the ALJ. They are impartial witnesses that answer questions about the existence of medical conditions, the severity of the symptoms, the availability of jobs and other matters. You or your representative may ask questions of them after the ALJ. They are not present in every hearing.
9. It’s OK if you become emotional during the hearing. You have waited a long time to have your case heard. Sensitive, life altering topics are frequently discussed at the hearing. ALJ’s understand these facts and will typically allow a brief break if needed.
10. The decision in your case will most likely not be given at the hearing. You will usually receive a written decision within 6 to 8 weeks after the hearing date.