February 22, 2020

Why Does it Take so Long for the Judge to Issue a Decision After my Hearing?

After waiting 18 months, 24 months, or even longer, you finally get your hearing date.  You and your lawyer appear, your lawyer makes a compelling opening statement, you testify and the vocational witness answers “no jobs” to most of the judge’s hypotheticals.

Your lawyer says that the judge seemed to be leaning your way but that you won’t know for sure until the written decision is issued.

Now it has been 4 weeks after your hearing and still no decision.  How long will it take and is there anything you or your lawyer can do to speed up the process?

First, it helps to understand how the decision writing process works.  After your hearing concludes, your judge may take a few minutes to write up his notes and his decision.  If there are outstanding medical records or if the judge needs to review the records again, he/she may hold off on closing the file.

Once the judge has made his decision, he will send the file electronically to a decision writer located in a remote location.  Decision writers are typically lawyers or senior paralegals who spend their days drafting hearing decisions.

While much of the written decision is “boilerplate,” there are about 5 to 7 pages specific to your case. The decision writer has to reconcile the judge’s notes with the specific medical exhibits that are referenced in those notes.

Because of their workload and the current hiring freeze for federal employees, the decision writing process is significantly backed up.  In the past, you could expect to wait 4 to 6 weeks for your decision; now you can expect to wait 8 to 12 weeks, and sometimes longer.

When the judge gets the draft decision back, he/she will review it for possible corrections.  If there are no changes, the judge will sign off of the decision and it will be released to you and your lawyer.

Unfortunately, there is nothing you or your lawyer can do to speed up the process.  Your judge is at the mercy of the decision writing center and has no control over the backlog there.

Occasionally a judge will get backed up in releasing files to the decision writing center – in those situations, your lawyer can contact the judge’s office to ask for an update.  Your lawyer, by the way, can log in to Social Security’s electronic system to see where your case sits in the decision processing system. This electronic docket does not say whether you won or lost but it will tell us where your file is.

Hopefully, Congress and the President will soon lift the hiring freeze so that Social Security can speed u the processing of decisions.  But for now, you wait.