Testifying at Your Disability Hearing
March 29, 2020
Social Security Hearings are informal. There is not a jury present, there's no judge's gavel and it is non-adversarial. There is not a lawyer present representing the interests of the Social Security Administration. However, there is a judge present with his assistant. You do not have to ‘all rise' when the judge comes in.
In fact, the judge will already be sitting there more than likely. Social Security Hearing rooms are not designed to be an intimidating or frightening experience for you. If you relax ahead of time, you'll be your best witness. Be yourself.
What to wear:
This isn't a wedding or a funeral. But, it is an informal setting before a judge. Dress appropriately. No shorts or short skirts. Rather, dress business casual for example, and make sure you're comfortable.
Arrival at Court:
Disability hearings usually start on time and are serious business. This is Federal Court with Security, and others present. It is not a time to discuss your case among strangers who can overhear. Arrive at Court about 30 minutes early. This will give you time to have your things checked by Security, and have a seat.
Though your lawyer has already reviewed your file, there will be time within that 30 minute window to go over your case to determine if there have been any changes. For example, in your physical Range of Function (RFC), general questions you may have, mental inquiries including focus changes or memory or changes in your medical evidence.
Called to the Hearing Room:
This is not a public hearing. Hearing rooms are larger than a conference area, but not as large as a District Courtroom. When you walk in you'll see the seal of the Social Security Administration and a flag. You will sit at a conference table equipped with electronics and video equipment. There will be a microphone for you to speak into. Your lawyer will sit next to you. The Administrative Law Judge's assistant will sit at the same table, on the side usually, and transcribing and making an audio recording of the court session.
The judge's chair is raised slightly above the conference table and the judge wears a black robe. On some occasions a video monitor may be used for the conference, and the judge will be able to see and interview you. Only an audio recording will be made for the court though. Further, on some occasions the judge will call you if you cannot make the court hearing.
Remember, this is an audio recording and shaking your head ‘No' is not enough. You have to speak clearly into the microphone. You will want to avoid ‘uh….' and focus on ‘Yes' or ‘No' answers.
Because this is not a public hearing, anyone else in the room must have your permission to be there. If you have a witness they may be asked to sit in the waiting room until their testimony is needed.
Administrative Law Judge:
The Administrative Law Judge commands the same respect as a judge in any other courtroom. You are able to talk to the judge in a regular manner, and it is preferred. A judge is a fact finder. Their job isn't to cross examine you, or trick you into saying something that you don't mean. I can't stress enough how important it is to just be yourself and answer, or give an explanation to the judge's questions candidly and truthfully. The judge has already read your file and knows your case.
The judge will go over your case history and state the issues which are in need of resolution. Specifically, based on your age, other work for you which exists in the national economy, education and prior work history, and whether you are unable to work. The judge may ask you all the questions during the Hearing.
An independent decision is rendered by the judge as to whether you are disabled by the definition of Social Security, or not. Your prior denials are not included in this decision process. If you happen to say something different than what you have said before in your applications and prior submissions, clarification will be needed from you.
The Vocational Expert:
Besides the judge, his assistant, your lawyer and you, there will be another person in the room via telephone over speakerphone. Sometimes they may be in person. A Vocational Expert provides their expert opinion, relying on your record before the Court, and based on your abilities when the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determines whether you meet the criteria for a disability. A Vocational Expert will also quote their resource(s) they're using when basing a recommendation before the judge.
The Vocational Expert does not provide their opinion on your medical evidence. They also don't state whether a job vacancy exists, or whether you would be hired. The judge will ask the Vocational Expert a series of hypothetical questions, based on limitations in your record, in order to determine whether based on your medical record and testimony if there is a transferable skill you possess for another job, or if another job is suited for you based on your past relevant work.
On occasion, and if necessary, your lawyer will cross-examine the Vocational Expert to make sure there is a legitimate basis for which their job recommendations for you are being based.
Conclusion of the Hearing:
The judge will ask if you'd like to add anything else, and give your lawyer an opportunity to add a closing argument. You won't know the outcome, until the written decision is issued. You'll receive the results of the Hearing in the mail.
This blog is intended for information purposes only and does not establish legal representation or financial guidance.