California applicants may go through a lengthy process with extended waiting periods after applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Even though these benefits may be crucial for a person unable to work due to disabilities and injuries, it can take a very long time to wind through the appeals stages, especially after an initial denial. Still, many applicants are surprised when they arrive at the final stage of their appeals only to find themselves at a very short hearing.

In general, hearings on disability benefits before an administrative law judge can be quite short (perhaps only 10 to 15 minutes in length). While this may seem insufficient, many of these short hearings include approvals of claimants’ applications after two prior denials. This is because the administrative law judge ruling on the case has access to the full file and record before the actual in-person hearing. If the judge has decided to approve the claim, there is little to debate or discuss with the applicant’s lawyer. In addition, the judge can read through medical records and other information to inform a decision early on.

On the other hand, some hearings may take longer, especially if expert witnesses are involved. Judges may request that a medical expert attend the hearing or seek out a vocational expert to assess the claimant’s ability to find other work. Expert witnesses can communicate with the judge and the applicant’s lawyers about hypothetical scenarios designed to evaluate the applicant’s abilities, the types of jobs available and the mental and physical function of the claimant.

Reaching the disability hearing level after a lengthy Social Security Disability Insurance benefits application process provides the greatest likelihood of success for an applicant. Having a disability lawyer can significantly improve the potential for a positive outcome in a hearing with an administrative law judge.