Preparing for Your Hearing
After a long wait, it is finally time for your Social Security Disability hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Security Administration conducted its hearings in person or by videoconference. Since March 2020, however, all hearings have occurred by telephone. Sometime thereafter, SSA began offering hearings via Microsoft Teams videoconference.
Whether your hearing is by phone, video, or in person, it is important to be prepared and know what to expect. Our attorneys will meet with you beforehand to discuss the process in detail. Here our some of our best tips:
Don’t dress up. If your hearing is in person or by video, we want the Judge to see you as you normally look every day around the house.
Tell the truth. Do not overstate OR understate your problems. The Judge needs to understand why you are unable to work.
Listen to the question. Let the Judge or your attorney finish the question before you start to answer.
Answer the question that you are asked. Don’t explain your answer unless asked to do so.
Don’t question the judge.
Don’t comment on the evidence or offer your suggestions or thoughts to the Judge.
Don’t “think out loud.”
If you do not know the answer to the question say so, do not guess.
If you are unsure of an answer, it is perfectly acceptable to say: “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.”
If you do not understand a question, ask that it be repeated or explained.
Speak up so that you can be heard and understood. This is especially important for phone hearings.
Do not try to put on a brave front. If something hurts, testify honestly about how much and where it hurts. If you cannot do something, testify that you cannot do it. You cannot expect a fair decision from the Judge unless he or she knows the true extent of your impairments.
If, because of your condition, you need to stand up or walk around during your hearing, do it. If the hearing is in person or by video, it is wise to ask the Judge for permission to get up. If the hearing is by phone, tell the Judge that you got up, otherwise he or she won’t know that you are changing positions. Remember that, if you testify that you can only sit 15 minutes at a time and then sit in agony through a 45-minute hearing, the Judge may doubt your credibility.
Think “head to toe” when describing your problems. It is normal to be nervous while testifying. One way to be sure that you tell the Judge about all your problems is to describe them from “head to toe,” that is, start at your head and describe your difficulties going down your body.
Be prepared to estimate your abilities and limitations. You may be asked, for example, how long you can sit or stand before you have pain. The Judge is looking for an average; we know that every day is different and that your abilities and limitations may vary.
Notwithstanding, you should be prepared to answer some or all of these questions:
How much can you lift? In other words, how much can you lift comfortably without a great deal of pain.
How far can you walk? In terms of city blocks or in minutes, how far/long you can walk at one time without a great deal of pain.
How long can you stand? In other words, how long can you stand comfortably before you need to sit.
How long can you sit? In other words, how long can you sit comfortably and before you have to get up or otherwise change positions.
In the context of mental limitations, be prepared to discuss what makes your symptoms worse, any difficulties that you have concentrating or focusing, whether you struggle to keep a regular schedule, etc.
Be prepared to explain why you stopped working and when. An answer such as: “Because my health would not let me continue” does not tell the Judge why you stopped. An answer such as: “Because I had too much pain in my legs” provides useful information that can help the Judge decide your claim.
Think about your daily activities and hobbies. Judges expect you to testify that you cannot work and therefore try to find out indirectly whether you can do so.
If you testify that you cannot concentrate long enough to hold a job, the Judge may ask whether you like to read or attend church services. If you testify that you read several hours each day, or spend all day in church on Sunday, the Judge may conclude that your ability to concentrate is greater than you claim. Be prepared to describe what you do on an average day from the time that you wake up until the time that you go to sleep.
Be flexible and trust our experience with your Judge.
Bring a list of your medications to the hearing.
Arrive early for your hearing. If your hearing is by phone or videoconference and you are participating from our office, please arrive 30 minutes before your hearing to settle in.
If your hearing is in person, arrive 30 minutes early to sign in. You and your belongings will be searched; do not bring any items that could be considered to be dangerous. Rochester hearings are typically held at one of the following locations:
- 100 State Street, Rochester, NY 14614 (between Church and Andrews Streets in the City of Rochester). The hearing office is on the 4th floor (room 4140). Street parking is very difficult in that area; we recommend using a nearby surface lot or parking garage (such Sister Cities Garage).
- 200 East Main Street, Rochester, NY 14604. The hearing office is on the 3rd floor. Street parking is very difficult in that area; we recommend using a nearby surface lot or parking garage (such as the Mortimer Street Garage or South Avenue Garage).
- 4050 West Ridge Road, Rochester, NY 14626 (in the Kohl’s Plaza). The hearing office is on the 2nd floor. There is free parking at this location.
We look forward to presenting your case to the Judge.