Over the past couple of years, Social Security has changed its procedures to offer less information to claimants and their lawyers. Staring in January, 2012, for example, SSA began deleting the name of the judge from hearing notices. Thus, when I meet with my client to prepare for an upcoming hearing, I cannot speak to the likes and dislikes of a particular judge because I do not know who that judge will be.
It is my understanding that the purpose of this particular change was to prevent “judge shopping” whereby a lawyer might tell his client to move rather than appear at a hearing before a judge who rarely grants cases. It seems to me that claimants and the entire disability adjudication system benefit more by having their lawyers better prepared than SSA benefits from rare instances of judge manipulation.
Another change I have noticed involves SSA directives discouraging judges from announcing their decisions. In years past, judges would sometimes announce favorable decisions in cases where the evidence was clear. Now, judges rarely announce their decisions directly even if all of the evidence and testimony points towards a favorable decision.
From my clients’ perspectives, of course, this mystery is extremely frustrating. Imagine waiting 2 years to get a hearing, then to discover that it may be another 6 weeks before a decision is announced. [Read more...]