What is a Social Security Hearing Like
A Social Security Disability hearing is held in front of an Administrative Law Judge. It is usually a disability claimant’s best chance to win their case. A disability hearing is held after a claimant has been denied twice by Social Security and it usually takes about a year and a half to two years from the date of the application to get to this hearing. Understandably, many clients are very anxious about what happens at these hearings, here is a synopsis.
In Northeast Ohio, Social Security hearings are held in Cleveland and Akron. The Akron location is located in the Fifth Third Bank building on the corner of South Main Street and E. Mill Street. The Cleveland location is inside of Tower City on the side of the building known as the Skylight Office Tower. Neither location has any sign on the outside of the building indicating that there is a court or a Social Security Office inside of it.
When you get to your hearing site, you will usually have to go through security. You are often required to go through a metal detector, you will need to remove items from your pockets, your bags will be searched, and you will usually be asked to provide identification. After getting through security, you will need to check in with the clerk behind the window. Then you will wait in a large lobby surrounded by small conference rooms. Before your hearing, your lawyer will want to meet with you for a few minutes in one of these conference rooms. At our firm, these meetings are typically for quick updates or last-minute reminders as you should have attended either a phone or a face to face prehearing conference with one of our lawyers a month or so before your hearing. Many large national firms do not offer these prehearing conferences and their lawyers might be talking to you for the first time right before your hearing in one of these conference rooms. In our opinion, that is not the right way to practice law or represent the disabled.
Disability hearings usually start on time, so make sure you are not late. When the Judge is ready for the hearing to begin, a hearing monitor (an individual assisting with the hearing) will come out to the lobby to call in you and your lawyer. While your family and friends can wait with you in the lobby, Social Security discourages them from going inside of the hearing room.
The hearing rooms are relatively small compared to a normal courtroom. They are typically about 20 feet by 20 feet. There is a large table in the center of the room that you and your lawyer will sit at, and there is a raised bench on the other side of the room for the Judge to sit at.
Social Security Hearings are held Monday through Friday, typically between 8:30 Am and 3:00 PM. The average hearing lasts between 45 minutes and an hour.
Those present at the normal hearing for an adult disability case include the claimant (the individual alleging to be disabled), the claimant’s lawyer, the Judge, the hearing monitor (sort of like a court reporter), and a vocational expert (an independent witness called by Social Security who is an expert on jobs). Sometimes a medical doctor is called to testify by Social Security. This is a doctor who you have never met, but who has reviewed your file and will be stating his or her opinion on your work-related health restrictions. In Akron, I would estimate that these doctors are called on less than 10 percent of adult disability cases.
In a child’s case for disability the participants include the child claiming disability, their parent or guardian, their lawyer, the Judge, the hearing monitor, and often a reviewing and non-examining medical doctor. I would estimate that about 50% of child disability cases have a medical doctor called as an expert witness. Usually in a child’s case, the child will talk to the Judge for about 5-10 minutes, then they will need to sit in the lobby with another adult while their parent/guardian testifies for the remainder of the time. This is done to protect children from hearing any sensitive information that may be discussed regarding their limitations.
Note there is no lawyer at the hearing representing Social Security. Therefore, everyone in the hearing is either neutral (Judge, job expert, doctor, hearing monitor) or on your side (you and your lawyer).
An adult’s hearing usually starts with the Judge asking your disability lawyer some questions about the file. Then, your lawyer will typically give a brief opening statement summarizing why he or she feels you are disabled while citing to the most important evidence that supports this argument. At Smith Godios Sorensen, Inc. our lawyers also write pre-hearing briefs to the Judge describing your legal arguments and supportive evidence in more detail. This part of the hearing takes around ten minutes.
For an adult hearing, you will be asked basic background information like your name, social security number, height, weight, address, education, and household composition. You will then be asked about the different jobs you may have worked at over the last 15 years. Then you will typically be asked to generally describe why you feel you are unable to work. Next, the Judge and your lawyer will be asking you more specific questions about how each of your medical conditions impact you. Common questions ask you to describe your pain, where the pain is located, how intense the pain is, how it affects performing your daily activities, and how it affects sitting, standing, walking, lifting and using your hands. If you have mental health concerns, you will likely be asked to describe things like crying spells, anger outbursts, panic attacks, problems concentrating or thinking clearly, issues leaving your home, and difficulties in social functioning. The questions asked depend upon your health conditions and how they impact you, but the above are common for cases involving pain or mental illness. You are likely to be asked questions for about 30 minutes.
At the end of the hearing, the vocational expert will classify your jobs under a government publication called The Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Then, the Judge and your lawyer will ask the vocational expert about different work place restrictions and whether said restrictions would prevent gainful employment. Usually, your lawyer and the Judge will present a few sets or work-place restrictions (called hypotheticals) to the Vocational Expert. Likely the vocational expert will identify jobs for some sets of restrictions and will say that there are no jobs for other sets of restrictions. The goal is to persuade the Judge that your restrictions are similar to one of the hypotheticals for which the job expert said there are no jobs. This part of the hearing takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Some judges rule on disability from the bench, but most of the time you will need to wait a few months (1-3 months is normal) after the hearing for a written decision.
After your hearing, your lawyer will likely want to talk to you for a few minutes in one of the conference rooms to make sure you are okay and that you understand what to expect going forward.
Hire a Lawyer
You wouldn’t go criminal court alone, you wouldn’t go to court for a car accident alone, and you wouldn’t go to court alone if you were suing for medical malpractice. Don’t go to your disability hearing without a lawyer!
There are many intricacies in Social Security law that you are likely unaware of, there are likely many records available that you have not included in your file, you likely do not know how to assess the importance of your varied medical records in a disability setting, there is likely the possibility of obtaining valuable assessments from your doctors that you have not sought, and it is likely that you do not know how to present your case to a Judge as well as a lawyer. Most important, in this area of law, lawyers do not charge a fee unless they win your case and that fee is never more than 25% of any past due benefits (benefits for the time frame before the favorable decision). Thus, anybody can afford a disability lawyer.
If you, a friend or a family member have an upcoming disability hearing in Northeast Ohio, please give our disability law firm a call. We can help guide you through the process and we can help present your best case to the Judge.