When people are denied Social Security disability benefits at the initial application and reconsideration levels, the next step in the appeals process is the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing. Understanding what to expect at the hearing can enable claimants better prepare, increasing their odds of winning benefits.

Who Will Attend the ALJ Hearing?

ALJ hearings often take place in smaller conference rooms or are conducted via video conferencing and they are not open to the public. People who accompany the claimant will generally need to wait outside the courtroom unless they are providing witness testimony.

The people who typically attend an ALJ hearing include the claimant, the administrative law judge, the claimant’s disability attorney or advocate, an assistant who will record the proceedings, and a vocational expert. In some cases, additional expert witnesses are hired by the SSA to provide responses to questions pertaining to the claimant’s case and conditions.

What Will Occur at an ALJ Hearing

There are five things claimants can expect to happen during a social security disability hearing.


Claimants will undergo questioning by the ALJ. Questions will center around specific medical issues, treatments, educational background, past employment, and the impact the disabling condition has on the claimant’s daily life. The claimant should be prepared to discuss specific limitations resulting from his or her medical condition and how it has affected his or her lifestyle.

Attorneys Can Speak on the Claimant’s Behalf

Disability attorneys or advocates often speak on the claimant’s behalf during the hearing. These individuals may ask the claimant additional questions regarding the condition to provide the judge with more details that support the claimant’s case.

Expert Witness Questioning

Expert witnesses who appear at the hearing will also undergo questioning regarding the claimant’s condition and the type of work the claimant would be able to perform despite his or her medical problems.

Additional Questioning by the ALJ

The judge may ask additional questions at the end of the hearing. Then the ALJ will invite the claimant to make any comments regarding his or her case or condition.

Up to a 30-Day Waiting Period for a Decision

Claimants won’t generally receive a decision on the day of the hearing. It can take as long as 30 days to receive notification of the judge’s decision. In some circumstances, however, the judge may issue a bench decision to let the claimant know whether or not the claim will be approved.

How Disability Attorneys Help Claimants Prepare for ALJ Hearings

In most cases, disability attorneys will help claimants prepare for ALJ hearings by reviewing common questions asked by administrative law judges, familiarizing their clients with the hearing process, and submitting evidence in advance.