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The Secret Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)

Recently, the Social Security Administration has announced that they are changing their procedure whereby the claimant is informed of the name of the administrative law judge who will decide their case prior to the date of the social security disability hearing. The new procedure in place no longer informs the claimant of the name of the ALJ prior to the hearing. The only way to find out the name of the ALJ in your case is to appear at your scheduled hearing where the identity of the "secret judge" will be revealed.

After handling social security disability claims for over fifteen years, I have seen a lot of changes made by the Social Security Administration. Most of the changes have been for the better in term of improve technology which has addressed some of the problems that have caused major delays in obtaining a hearing date and alleviating some of the backlog. However, I can honestly say that this most recent change does not make a lot of sense to me.

I have spoken to many of my colleagues and like myself they are all scratching their head as to the need for this rule change. Some speculate that the anonymity of the ALJ is to prevent judge shopping by the claimant when they are assigned to the National Hearing Center in order to force SSA to hold an actual in person hearing with a different ALJ.

I find this hard to believe. The average time to get a an actual hearing date from the time of the initial social security disability application is usually anywhere from 18-24 months. Most of my clients have very little income and are in dire need of income and medicare/medicaid benefits that go along with their claim for SSD/SSI benefits. The last thing my clients are interested in doing after waiting for what seems like eternity to get a hearing date, is to postpone the hearing in an effort to manipulate the system in order to obtain a different ALJ.

From a logistical standpoint I feel that this new policy is a bad idea. One of the benefits you gain when one has been handling social security disability and supplemental security income claims for so many years is the familiarity you get from appearing before the same judges in a particular region. As an experienced practitioner you learn how to effectively deal with the ALJ on an individual basis as each judge conducts their hearing in a different manner. It greatly helps in terms of preparation for the particular ALJ which any good advocate must do prior to a hearing.

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The Bernstein Law Offices - Philadelphia Social Security Lawyer
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