Luck of The Draw—The Difference The Judge Can Make in a Social Security Disability Case in Southern Illinois

Tuesday, 09 August 2016 11: 13
Written by Joni B. Bailey

social security disability insurance Southern IllinoisWhen my clients from Southern Illinois meet with me the first time they almost always want to know what the chances are that they will be awarded Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.  I always explain that there is no way to predict who will win and who will lose their claim.  For cases that go all the way to an administrative hearing the outcome can depend greatly on the judge that is assigned to the case.

Where can I find out more about the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who will hear my case?

The Social Security Administration publishes data for all Administrative Law Judges at this site:

Here is a table of the data for judge from the Evansville, IN and Paducah, KY Offices of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR):


You can see that between the highest and lowest there is a large range.  This table shows that most of the judges from the Evansville, IN ODAR enter a fully favorable decision between 35% and 40% of the time.

The raw percentages don’t tell the whole story because each judge is an individual and brings his or her personal experiences along.  Some judges are more open-minded about certain impairments.  If you do not have a representative, you will not have any insight into the personality and hearing style of your judge until you are at the hearing.

What can my Southern Illinois disability attorney (or representative) do to prepare me for a hearing with a particular ALJ?

If you have filed a Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim, you need to make three important decisions:

  • Will I hire someone to help me with my claim or represent myself?
  • Will I hire an attorney or a non-attorney to help me with my claim?
  • Will I work with a local attorney or a big nationwide group?

This blog will highlight some important factors to consider when making these decisions.

Will I hire a Southern Illinois disability representative to help me with my claim or represent myself?

Some claims are approved at the initial decision level within a few months of filing without a representative.  Assuming that the claimant alleged the correct onset date and that the claim was approved with the alleged onset date, clearly this is a situation when representation was not needed. 

But when a claim is denied at the initial decision level, you know that there is something in your record that has convinced an adjudicator that you can work.  Unless something changes in your record, the ALJ will probably make the same decision at the hearing.

Hiring a representative after the initial denial can help you win your claim at the reconsideration stage or at the hearing stage in the following ways:

  • The representative can get a copy of the electronic record and see why your case was denied.
  • The representative can see if the adjudicator gathered all of the medical records.
  • The representative can get medical opinions from your doctors.
  • The representative can gather and submit missing medical evidence.
  • The representative can clear up issues like working after the alleged onset date.
  • The representative can gather statements from people who know about your impairments.

Since a representative’s fee is 25% of the past due benefits and is currently limited to $6,000.00, the only reason you would not want to hire a representative is to save money—if you win your case.

By contrast, the advantages of hiring a representative are enormous.  The Social Security Disability claims process looks simple, but it is based on complex laws and regulations.  Favorable decisions in many cases hinge on one critical issue or fact.  Having an experienced representative makes life easier for you while the claim is pending and increases your odds of receiving a favorable decision.

The costs of losing a claim are hard to measure, but they include:

  • the claimant will not receive monthly disability benefits (past or future) on that claim (unless it is reversed and approved after another hearing years later),
  • the claimant will not qualify for Medicare before 65, and
  • the claimant will receive a lower monthly benefit when they retire.

Will I hire an attorney or a non-attorney to help me with my claim?

If you have weighed the pro’s and con’s of hiring an attorney or going it alone with your Social Security Disability Insurance hearing and have decided you are going to hire a representative, you will find you have many options.  A simple search on the internet for “Southern Illinois Social Security Disability Representative” yields hundreds of results.  You can hire a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability attorney or work with a company that uses non-attorneys.  Before you make the final decision about who you want to represent you on your claim, you might want answers to these questions:

  • What is the name of the person who is going to be with me at the hearing?
  • Is that person an attorney?
  • Are they a Southern Illinois Social Security attorney?
  • When will I meet that person for the first time?
  • How many hearings has that person handled?
  • Will I be able to discuss my case with that person while the case is being developed?

Will I work with a local attorney or a big nationwide group?

If you have decided you want an attorney to represent you on your claim and at your hearing, you will need to decide whether to work with someone near you or a big national group.  The important thing is to find someone qualified, responsive to your questions, and experienced with your local judges.

Before you make the final decision about choosing someone local or someone far away, you might want answers to these questions:

  • How many hearings have you had with the judge assigned to my case?
  • Do you get along with the judge assigned to my case?
  • How many hearings have you had with the hearing office that is handling my case?
  • Is there anything about my case that is going to be especially challenging given the judge that is assigned to my case?
  • When will we meet for the first time?
  • How much time will the attorney spend with me between now and the hearing?
  • What do past clients say about the attorney?

Choose your representative carefully.

Whether “Luck of The Draw” goes your way or not, you are probably going to need all of the professional help you can get to develop the record thoroughly and present the evidence of your impairments in a compelling way to the ALJ that is assigned to hear your case.   Claimants who live in Southern Illinois are fortunate; they have many options to choose from.  Choose your representative carefully because he or she will be handling the single most valuable resource you have accumulated during your working years.


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