A Social Security Hearing Experience Through the Eyes of a Student

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In July, I went to Oak Brook for a Social Security hearing. I was representing a client whose case I had been working on all summer. In preparation for the hearing, I wrote a pre-hearing memo, drafted questions to ask my client as well as the vocational expert, wrote an opening statement, and submitted medical records, support letters, and a pre-hearing memo to Social Security.

I had a lot of expectations going into the hearing. First, after talking to someone who had been in front of the same judge for a separate hearing, I assumed the judge was going to be friendly. I had also learned that the format of Social Security hearings varies between the different judges. I was, therefore, planning to give an opening statement. I anticipated that the judge and I would ask the client and the vocational expert questions. I also understood that Social Security judges do not make decisions immediately following the hearing. I did not think we would find out whether my client was approved for six to eight weeks afterwards, rather than in person.

My expectations did not exactly follow what actually took place during the hearing. First, the judge immediately began asking my client questions and then asked me to give my opening statement following his questions. This format through me off a little and made me nervous. Through my reading about Social Security cases, the normal practice seemed to involve the judge and representatives asking the client questions. At our hearing, the judge asked me the majority of the questions. Although I had a good grasp as to the answers, I was nervous that if I answered a question regarding my client incorrectly, it could ruin her entire case. In addition to asking me questions pertaining specifically to my client, he asked for specific exhibit numbers of evidence submitted to Social Security. This also made me nervous because an exhibit number is not something that is memorized but rather is something that can be quickly identified if the representative is well prepared.

Although the hearing was not exactly as I had anticipated, I was very relieved in the end with how it went. Because the judge asked me, and not the client, the majority of the questions, I was able to advocate for my client and get her story out to the judge. My client was also very nervous, and I was relieved she did not have to answer a multitude of questions. Although I was expecting to cross-examine a vocational expert and knew it would have been great experience, I was thankful the judge did not think it was needed. Instead, he granted my client benefits in person at the end of the hearing. Not only was I pleased at the end of the hearing, my client was very happy as well. Throughout the process, I learned how important it is for a client to have a representative. As a representative for my client, I knew what the best arguments were and how to get my client’s story to the judge. I also learned to be prepared for anything. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences thus far in law school.

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