The unfortunate truth of the Social Security disability system is that which judge hears your case can have the biggest impact on whether your application for benefits is approved.
The site disabilityjudges.com keeps track of the award rates of every administrative law judge in the country.
Nationwide, the approval rate for ALJs is currently 45%. A quick review of the site will show that indeed most judges have approval rates around that number.
But there are also drastic differences among judges, sometimes in the same hearing office. It’s not unheard of to find judges with approval rates as high as 70%, or as low as 20%.
This can also relate to how judges conduct hearings. Some judges are known for having very brief hearings that last only 20-30 minutes and making many favorable decisions from the bench.
Others are known for regularly having hearings that last for more than an hour. Often, these judges will have exhaustive lists of questions and want to know every detail about a claimant’s treating history over the last several years.
While most administrative law judges conduct the majority of questioning themselves, a few will turn the hearing over to an attorney to handle most of the questioning.
Disability hearings are intended to be informal and non-adversarial and the majority of administrative law judges handle cases in this way, however, some judges act more formally than others and some judges also tend to be more accusatory and argumentative in their questioning. And yes, these are typically judges with lower award rates.
If you know which judge will handle your case, you can look him or her up online, but keep in mind that every case is different, and having a specific judge does not guarantee you will win or lose your case. I have won cases with judges with extremely low approval rates, and lost cases in front of judges with high award rates. Each case is different, and an outcome is never guaranteed.
Also, odds are good that your disability attorney has appeared in front of a judge several times in the past and knows how they conduct hearings, so if you have specific questions about what to expect, you can always ask your attorney.