The best way to prepare for a hearing is to appear neatly and cleanly in front of the Administrative Law Judge. It is not necessary to wear a suit. Normal every day attire is fine but is best if it is neat and clean.
An effort should be made to minimize revealing clothing. If possible, an effort should also be taken to cover up any tattoos or piercings. Revealing clothing, tattoos and piercings usually are not taken positively.
As far as the hearing is concerned, some of the hearings are in person in front of a live Judge, but many of them are held via “video hearings” where the Judge appears on a television screen.
Regardless of the hearing, there are 3 general rules for the hearing.
The three rules below are very important and deal with perfecting your ability to communicate your disability to the Judge most effectively. The 3 rules are as follows:
1. Make sure you hear the question, understand the question and know the answer. Many people are so nervous at the hearing that they just want to get it over with and will “blurt out” virtually anything in order to move it along. This can cost you dearly. You are sworn to tell the truth. Telling the truth does not mean that you are a good person or that you are religious. To tell the truth means that you must accurately describe your condition to the Judge. It is impossible to describe your condition if you do not hear the question, understand the question and know the answer. We always advise the client that if for any reason they don’t clearly hear the question, understand the question or know the answer, to say that rather than attempt to guess and answer what they “thought” they had been asked. The mistakes made by clients in hearings almost always occur when they have misunderstood the question, didn’t hear it properly, or tried to testify to matters that may not be accurate because of a faulty memory.
2. Avoid answering questions “Yes” or “No.” It is usually much more effective and accurate to tell your story in your own words. For instance, if one is asked “do you cook,” rather than answering “Yes” or “No,” it is much more productive for you to explain exactly what you do as far as cooking is concerned. Do you use a microwave, cook small meals on the stove, cook Thanksgiving dinner or are you a chef in a restaurant? Obviously, the term “cooking” includes all of the above. The question that needs to be answered is what you actually perform when you cook! Similar situations occur when asked if one drives, shops, does laundry, mows grass, etc.
3. When telling your story, it is more accurate to avoid numbers which are normally “time”, “weight” and “distance”. Most of the time the claimant is merely guessing at how long or how far they can walk, how much they can lift, how long they can sit or whatever. Once again, it is more accurate to simply tell a story about what a person actually can lift, what activities a person actually does perform, where a person goes, where a person walks or how they engage in activities rather than trying to make up a number that may or may not be accurate. For instance, if a claimant were to routinely pick up items such as a 6 pack or 12 pack of soda but would avoid lifting and carrying a case of soda, it is preferable to indicate that to a Judge instead of trying to guess the weight of the item. If you testify to the items you do or don’t lift, it is not necessary to know how much they weigh. If you indicate to a Judge what you do when you walk, i.e. do you walk to the grocery store, do you use an assistive device, do you use a motorized cart, that is more instructive than coming up with some arbitrary number. Invariably, when people say they can lift “5 pounds,” walk “100 feet,” or sit for “15 minutes” they are usually just guessing and that can get a claimant in trouble.