Female judge holding a wooden gavel.

Tips for Appearing in front of an ALJ

Marken Law Group, PS, has helped hundreds obtain Social Security Disability benefits. If you don’t get benefits you never owe us a fee. It’s that simple. What follows is some helpful tips for appearing in front of an administrative law judge if you are not represented by an attorney.

Well you have been denied at initial, appealed in time (60 days) and then were denied at reconsideration. You then appealed that decision, have waited likely months and months and the day has come to have your hearing for disability benefits in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

The biggest problems facing claimants who are not represented by an ALJ are not understanding the hearing format and unaware of the medical and other evidence in their file!

The single biggest obstacle is the medical file. When unrepresented it is YOUR responsibility to make sure your medical records have been properly submitted to the hearing office and have been placed in your electronic file for the judge to review. This is NOT Social Security’s responsibility. No records, or not an adequate file typically leads to frustration with the judges and a possible unfavorable decision for an otherwise great claim. How do you go about fixing this problem? When the hearing office schedules your hearing (typically more than 75 days out) they will mail you a CD with your file. You need to ACCESS this record and see what Social Security is MISSING from your medical record. Social Security must have records pertaining from your onset date to shortly before your hearing. The ALJ’s tasked to decide your case cannot award benefits if there are no medical records for the time in question. For example if you allege disability from 2016 but only have records beginning 2019, the judge WILL NOT find you disabled prior to the medical records on file! You can request your medical record from your providers at little or no cost to you directly from the provider. This then must be submitted NO LATER than 5 DAYS prior to hearing via fax, mail, etc. Do NOT bring records with you to the hearing unless you HAVE TO (i.e., just received them).

The second biggest obstacle for unrepresented claimants is they are unaware of the hearing format. It is NOT a tell the judge whats wrong and why they should find you disabled. The ALJ WILL ask you SPECIFIC questions about your daily activities, where you worked and the reasons behind leaving work. It is not, in other words, an open forum for you to discuss your problems. It is detailed, specific and if you are not prepared the burden is on you, not the administration.

Some other tips:

Don’t interrupt the judge.

Answer the judges specific question. A question about your past work is not a entry to discuss your back problems. The judge knows about your back problems, they want to know about the question they asked.

Come prepared with recent medical evidence already submitted well in advance.

Arrive early to your hearing. Most offices will screen you for drugs and weapons and have forms to fill out, do NOT BE ON TIME. ON TIME is LATE.

Dress comfortably but respectfully; no logos or political statements.

Show the judge respect. “Yes your honor” or “No your honor.” They are judges and expect to be treated respectfully. They are the sole decision makers of your claim, so it always helps to show respect.

Marken Law Group, PS, does not charge a fee unless you get the benefits you deserve. Call today for a free consultation!