I see on the record decisions for Social Security disability claims in two different circumstances.
An "on the record" (OTR) decision refers to Social Security disability and SSI claims pending at the hearing level at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) that are granted on the record prior to a hearing. An on the record decision can only be a fully favorable decision.
The usual circumstance for an OTR decision is the lawyer submits a short letter brief requesting an OTR decision. The letter should outline why the DDS denial was wrong, and why the claim should be granted now.
Sometimes supplementing the medical evidence with treating medical opinion evidence will strengthen a case sufficiently for an OTR. Sometimes the vocational evidence needs further development. Whatever the reason, it is entirely appropriate to ask the SSA to grant a strong case on the record, and scouting cases for possible OTR requests is an ongoing endeavor in my office
The second circumstance for an OTR decision is just prior to the hearing, often the day before. It is not unusual for a judge to look at the cases scheduled for hearing on the following day, and decide that one or more of them could be granted on the record.
Not all judges follow this approach. Some judges believe a hearing is an integral part of the process, and want to see and hear the claimant. Other judges, however, realize that OTR decisions save time a great deal of time, and that the hour scheduled for a hearing of a case to be granted OTR can be used quite productively outside the hearing room. A pair of judges in each of the hearing offices I regular visit (Portland, Maine and Manchester, New Hampshire) regularly grant cases in this fashion.