A Social Security disability hearing is not quite as formal as a regular court appearance. However, the presiding Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) may still wear the traditional judicial robe and, depending on the location of the hearing, may sit on an elevated platform, known as “the bench.” Despite the fact that the proceedings tend to be less formal than a court trial, certain rules still apply. Understanding what is to come will assist you in preparing for your hearing.
What to Wear
You don’t have to wear a suit if you normally don’t do so. However, you should still take a moment to put some thought into how you will present yourself. Skirts should come at least to the knee. Cleavage has no place in at a disability hearing. Similarly, shorts are not appropriate. Nor are t-shirts with slogans or catchy phrases appropriate at a Social Security disability hearing. You should dress modestly, in clothes that are clean and pressed.
How to Avoid Being Late
It is absolutely critical that you be on time for your disability hearing. ALJs sometimes schedule hearings back to back. If you show up 30 minutes late, for example, the Judge may already be hearing the next case and may refuse to hear your case. You may be given the option to reschedule your hearing – but then again you may not.
The best way to ensure that you are on time for the hearing is to do a “practice run.” Prior to your hearing, make your way to the location the hearing is scheduled to take place. Do this at around the same time you plan on leaving on the day of the hearing. This will give you a good idea of traffic patterns, bus or subway schedules, and other factors that could contribute to the amount of time it will take you to get from your front door to the hearing location. Do not forget to allocate time for parking, if you are driving, or unexpected delays, such as unusual traffic. Identify two separate parking options, so that if the garage you identified is full, you will know of another option and can get yourself there quickly.
What to Expect During the Disability Hearing
You can expect a court reporter to be present taking down every word that is said. Because there is a court reporter, it is critical that you respond verbally to questions. In other words, do not nod or shake your head. Also avoid responding with “Uh-huh.”
There may be experts at your hearing, such as medical or vocational experts. You are also entitled to bring witnesses to testify on your behalf. The purpose of these fact witnesses, called lay witnesses, is to testify about your limitations. You can expect to be questioned by the judge, as well.
When You Are Testifying
Before you testify at your disability hearing, you will be placed under oath. It is critical that you understand that this means you are subject to both criminal and civil penalties if you commit perjury by lying under oath. The two most common errors people make are exaggerating their limitations or understating their limitations.
Preparing for Your Testimony
Since you will be placed under oath, and because you know that you will be asked about your limitations, take a few moments to review your current physical, emotional, and/or mental state, depending on the condition for which you are claiming is disabling. This is where a disability diary can be critical.
If you have been documenting your disability on a daily or weekly basis, take a moment to review the documentation, to remind yourself of all the ways you have been limited because of your disability. You should identify and be prepared to describe specific examples of your limitations. Testimony such as “I can’t do anything” is neither helpful nor, frankly, accurate. The Judge will note that you made it to the disability hearing, so you can obviously do “something.”
Rather, “My arm muscles have atrophied to the point I can’t lift my arms above my head. This means I am unable to wash my own hair. I can’t reach into the cupboards to get a coffee mug. Additionally, because of the weakness in my muscles, I can’t lift my grandchild into my lap. I can’t carry more than five pounds.”
Particularly if you have a condition where your symptoms or limitations vary from day to day, you want to identify concrete examples of your limitations on your worst days, your days that are neither good nor bad, and on your best days.
Similarly, you may ask your lay witnesses, if you have any, to prepare a descriptive narrative of what they have observed about your current and past lifestyle and limitations.
Answer the Question That Was Asked
If you are asked questions by the Judge, it is critical that you listen to the complete question and then respond to only that question. There is no need, for example, for you to recount your medical procedures if the Judge doesn’t ask about them Your attorney will have already provided that information to the Judge. You can expect that the Judge has read your file and is already aware of your medical procedures. Your testimony, and that of your lay witnesses, is designed to provide first-hand information about your daily life and how your condition affects and restricts your life.
Understand Your Attorney’s Role
Your attorney is there to represent your best interests. Your attorney also knows the legal standard in Social Security disability cases. If your attorney believes there is critical information about your case that has not been brought out during questioning by the Judge, your attorney may opt to ask you questions so that you may provide that information to the court.
It is not uncommon, however, for your attorney to not ask any questions. This does not mean he or she is not advocating for you. Nothing further may be needed to put on the record since:
- the legal standard is clear;
- you already submitted pertinent information regarding your disabling condition;
- you have provided testimony regarding how your condition affects you and limits your abilities at work and in your daily life; and,
- expert and lay witness testimonies have also been provided.
For More Information About How to Prepare for a Disability Hearing, Contact Us Today
A qualified attorney will explain in more detail how you should prepare for your Social Security disability hearing and what you can anticipate to occur during it. For more information, contact Liebenhaut Law today.