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Many Social Security disability claims are not approved until a hearing is held before an administrative law judge (ALJ).

The preparation in advance of the hearing represents most of the work done by a Social Security disability lawyer, and that preparation will usually determine the outcome of the claim.

Preparation for an ALJ hearing is

Social Security's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently completed an audit to determine "what factors may account for any variance in decisional allowance rates and productivity" among administrative law judges (ALJs). Here is the link to the OIG report

The report is usually referenced  as the report on the "outlier ALJs," and it is

Photo: Bridget having a snack

Today is February 29th, a date that only occurs every four years. So I wanted to reflect briefly on the past four years of my life and practice.

A lot can change in four years.

Most of my clients were able to work productively four years ago. It is

When you receive a written decision from a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), in almost all cases the decision is drafted by hearing office staff using the Findings Integrated Template (FIT). The template allows the person drafting the decision to input information regarding the claim and the judge’s determination, and the template spits out a completed written decision, which is then reviewed and signed by the judge. The result is a written decision that is mostly boilerplate language

The FIT template has bothered me for a long time, because parts of the actual written decision produced by the template are simply untrue. The decision states that the judge considered numerous specific issues, and it is highly unlikely that the ALJ actually made all of the findings that are described in the boilerplate language contained in the decision. Often there is little or no relationship between the language of the written decision and the actual facts of a particular claim. If you look at 10 (or 20, or 100) written decisions, you will see the exact same language over and over again. It is disturbing.

Disability claimants who receive an unfavorable ALJ decision are often surprised by the language in the decision, which typically questions the claimant’s credibility. However, it is all part of the boilerplate language contained in the template.

Social Security ALJs are tasked with deciding 500-700 claims per year. That is a huge workload, and the Findings Integrated Template helps to get that many decisions out the door. But at what price? In my view, a disability claimant who is denied benefits (for which he or she has paid a mandatory premium through FICA taxes withheld from wages) deserves better. 

Continue Reading Social Security’s Findings Integrated Template

I got one of those sad calls this week from a person who attended her administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing unrepresented. A friend of hers told her that she did not need a lawyer, and she took that advice.

Her expectation, completely unrealistic, was that she would go to the hearing, tell the judge

HALLEX section I-2-6-76 provides:

The Social Security regulations provide that, upon request, the ALJ shall allow claimants a reasonable time to present oral argument, or file briefs or other written statements of fact or law. Absent special circumstances, the ALJ need not fix a time limit on oral argument. Oral argument should be recorded and

Beginning last week, Social Security's hearing offices do not disclose in advance of a disability hearing the identity of the particular administrative law judge (ALJ) that is assigned to a claim. So your hearing notice will arrive in the mail without stating the name of the judge that will hear the case and decide the claim.