How Do I Talk to the Judge at a Social Security Hearing?

What Should You Say at Your Social Security Hearing?

When you go before an administrative law judge (ALJ) for your Social Security hearing, it helps to know how to best communicate with the judge. I always give my clients three rules to follow:

  1. Be truthful. This may seem obvious, but it is extremely important. The ALJ will be focused on whether you are testifying honestly and may even ask a few questions to test you. So it is important that you are focused on it, too. What if you don’t know the answer to the ALJ’s question? Then tell him or her the truth: that you don’t know.
  1. Be direct. Only answer the question you are asked at your Social Security hearing, either by the ALJ or your representative. For example, if you have an elbow injury and the ALJ asks you, “Which elbow hurts?” all he wants to know is right or left. Nothing more. Don’t tell the ALJ how you hurt it, or where, or when, etc. Tune in to what the ALJ is asking and limit your response accordingly.
  1. Use numbers to be specific. If the ALJ asks you at your Social Security hearing how long you have had a certain problem, and you say, “A long time,” the ALJ will not know what that means. But if you say, “I have had that problem for 5 years,” or “since 2009,” then the ALJ will know exactly what you mean and he or she can move on to the next question.

This is not an exhaustive list. The tips I hear from other representatives are endless: say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ not ‘uh-huh’ and ‘uh-uh’; keep your voice up when testifying; don’t interrupt the ALJ; etc. They are generally excellent suggestions. But you will likely have a lot on your mind during that Social Security hearing. You may find it difficult to remember every instruction you have been given. If you just follow the three rules above, you will do fine.

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