An independent study of administrative law judges who work for the Social Security Administration is underway, with findings due out next year. The review is being conducted by the Administrative Conference of the United States. The government-policy think-tank is likely to issue new policy recommendations to judges on how to handle SSD cases. These policy changes could have an impact on SSD attorneys, both positive and negative.
The Social Security Administration ordered the study because of reports of inconsistencies that award rulings were inconsistent from judge to judge. Critics pointed out that over 100 judges approve more than 85% of cases, while one judge in Tennessee had a 99% approval rating. Conversely, a judge in Texas approved only 13% of his cases.
Another factor which sparked the investigation was the length of hearings. While most cases last about an hour, some judges were found to make snap decisions in just a few minutes. The backlog of over 770,000 disability claimants could be a factor in the rapid decisions.
The Social Security Administration has halted the process of informing applicants of which judge will preside over their hearings. This practice will prevent SSD attorneys from “shopping” for a lenient judge.
However, if judges become stricter in their approval standards, it could prompt more applicants to seek professional representation to increase their chances of being one of the 10,000,000 Americans who will receive their share of the $130,000,000,000 in SSD claims in the coming year. This could help SSD attorneys and representatives increase their number of clients in the long run.
The recommendations that result from the study are scheduled for release in November, 2012. The new procedures will be non-binding, but are geared toward refining and leveling the approval process.