Social Security Disability Hearing Procedure

The Social Security regulations do not describe hearing procedure in much detail. They provide that “[a]t the hearing, the administrative law judge looks fully into the issues, questions [the claimant] and the other witnesses, and accepts as evidence any documents that are material to the issues.”

The ALJ “may receive evidence at the hearing even though the evidence would not be admissible in court under the rules of evidence used by the court.”

Witnesses will testify under oath and the ALJ will allow parties to question witnesses. The ALJ may decide when the evidence will be presented and when the issues will be discussed.

Each ALJ conducts a hearing somewhat differently from every other ALJ. An individual ALJ may use different procedures when conducting a hearing involving an unrepresented claimant than those used in a hearing when an experienced attorney is representing the claimant. For example, the length and content of opening statements by ALJs vary greatly, as does the degree to which an ALJ questions the claimant, and whether the ALJ questions the claimant before or after the claimant’s attorney asks questions. Some ALJs ask witnesses to remain in the waiting room while the claimant testifies; others do not.

There are, however, broad similarities in the way disability hearings are conducted around the country because, to one degree or another, individual ALJs follow procedures set forth in the Social Security Administration manual called HALLEX..