Obviously a good hearing is one where the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) says he or she will award your case. Unfortunately only a minority of judges will announce their intentions openly. Some do go a step further and award your case with a “bench decision”. A bench decision occurs when the ALJ states the decision into the audio recording of the hearing. Bench decisions are the best of all possible outcomes because they speed the processing of your benefits.
If the ALJ does not state what he or she will decide you will likely have to wait for the written decision to know whether you won or lost. There might be clues in the hearing, such as whether the judge asked you to change the date you claimed your disability began or the judge’s response to testimony by the experts. It’s usually a good sign if your hearing is very short (less than 15 minutes) and the ALJ takes little testimony from you.
Your attorney might be familiar with the judge’s tendencies and be able to predict the outcome of your case. If you had no attorney you can try finding the ALJ’s award rate online. Go to http://www.oregonlive.com/special/index.ssf/2008/12/social_security_database.html?app. This website, run by Delaware Online, provides the percentage of cases awarded by ALJs up to 2009.
You can find the most current statistics at: http://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/03_ALJ_Disp.html
Unless you walk away from the hearing knowing you won, the best type of hearing is one where you have no regrets afterwards. It’s important to be respectful and honest at your hearing, but it’s also important to take advantage of your day in court. Your hearing is your opportunity to tell your story and the judge has an obligation to hear you out.
Twenty pages about applying for and winning Social Security Disability benefits in Heard & Smith's guidebook. Get the guidebook now.
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