Unlike the formal criminal proceedings seen on TV, Social Security hearings are far more informal and less restrictive. There will be no prosecuting attorney, jury or audience. The judge will be present, as will a secretary who will record the proceedings, the claimant and the claimant’s attorney. Occasionally the applicant may bring along other persons for support, which they are free to do, or the judge may have a medical or vocational expert present who will testify regarding the claim.
More than half of the claims at this level are approved, so if the claim proceeds this far, there is a good chance that it will succeed. However if the claim is still denied, then the applicant may appeal to the Social Security Appeals Council, who will then review the Administrative Law Judge’s opinion. There is only one Appeals Council for the entire nation and it is located in Falls Church, Virginia. Neither the applicant nor their attorney will be present at this stage.
If the Appeals Council also denies the claim, the only recourse left is to file a civil lawsuit and request that court, the United States District Court, to review the claim and the Social Security Administration’s decision. The claimant is free to pursue their claim all the way to the Supreme Court if they choose, but very few ever reach that stage.