I had a hearing recently with a terrific Social Security administrative law judge. The experience got me thinking about the characteristics you want in a judge. Here are a few:
Good listener – the purpose of a Social Security disability hearing is to take testimony from the claimant. You want a judge who is actively listening, and who has not pre-judged the claim based upon the written record.
Empathy – this is such an important quality. A good judge will understand what effects claimants' symptoms have on their lives. By the way, this is an important quality for a disability lawyer, as well.
Unemployment benefits – this may be a corollary to empathy, but a good judge understands why a disability claimant might have taken unemployment benefits during the disability period. A person who has not been adjudged disabled, who is willing to try to work, can receive uneployment benefits. Accepting unemployment benefits is not necessarily a black mark on the claimant's credibility.
Announce decision at end of hearing – I cannot tell you the relief that is felt by claimants when a judge states at the close of the hearing that benefits will be forthcoming. From application to hearing, a Social Security disability claim can take 2 years (sometimes longer). Waiting even longer after the hearing to know the result is difficult. Announcing the decision at the close of a hearing is very considerate. A bench decision is even better.
Other characteristics of a great ALJ? Please leave a comment.