Social Security disability hearings are conducted by an administrative law judge (ALJ). Even though ALJs conduct hearings in a less formal manner than a courtroom judge, you should pay them the same degree of respect.

It is the ALJ’s job to render an independent decision on your entitlement to disability benefits. This decision should not be influenced by the denial of your initial application or the reconsideration of that decision. Nationwide, more than half of ALJ decisions favor the claimant – the hearing is your best odds at any step in the Social Security appeals system.

Unlike a court hearing, there is no lawyer on the other side to cross-examine you. The ALJ is neither your advocate nor your adversary; his job is to find out the facts about your claim.

Do not take out your anger on the ALJ; he is not responsible for the way the system has treated you. You can be sure that the ALJ has heard it all a million times, so do not waste his time complaining about the system or asking questions like, “Why have I been denied?” or “Why has it taken so long for me to have a hearing?” The only time you should ask the judge a question is when you do not understand what he is asking you. Like lawyers, judges often have the bad habit of asking simple questions in complicated ways. Do not be embarrassed to ask for clarification.

You should treat the ALJ with the courtesy and candor that you would show an old friend. Imagine that you are simply bringing him up-to-date about all of your problems. It’s okay to use “regular” words – the ALJ doesn’t expect you to speak like a lawyer.