A Social Security disability hearing is typically about 45 minutes long, but could be as short as 5 minutes or take over an hour. The hearing is adjudicated by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). In addition to the claimant, the claimant’s attorney and the ALJ, a court reporter and possibly a medical and/or vocational expert could be present. If the claimant is a juvenile or unable to testify on their own behalf, a family member or other person that knows the claimant is typically permitted to testify at the hearing.

Social Security hearings are inquisitive in nature, meaning the purpose of the hearing is for the claimant and claimant’s attorney to present evidence to the ALJ so the ALJ can determine if the claimant is disabled under the rules of Social Security. There is no opposing attorney or anyone else that is arguing that the claimant is not disabled.

A typical hearing can be broken down into three sections.

  1. At the start of the hearing the ALJ will ask the claimant’s attorney some administrative questions and ask the attorney to give a brief overview as to why under the rules of Social Security the claimant is disabled. The ALJ will also make all people giving testimony swear or affirm to tell the truth.
  2. Next the ALJ and claimant’s attorney will ask the claimant questions. The questions typically fall under three categories:
    1. Work history for the past 15 years
    2. A description the claimant’s physical and/or mental conditions and how those conditions affect the claimant
    3. How the claimant’s physical and/or mental conditions limit their ability to perform activities of daily living
  3. After the ALJ and claimant’s attorney have finished asking the claimant questions, the ALJ and attorney will then ask questions to a medical or vocational expert, if one is present. A medical expert is asked if the claimant meets a Social Security listing or what limitations that claimant might have as a result of their medical condition. A vocational expert is asked what jobs, if any, are available to a person with limitations similar to the claimant.

After expert testimony the ALJ will often ask the claimant or the claimant’s attorney if they have any closing remarks. It is within the ALJ’s discretion to issue a decision the day of hearing, but typically the ALJ chooses to issue a written decision which is sent by mail to the claimant and the claimant’s attorney.