If you are turned down at the hearing level you must appeal your denial within 60 days of the date of your denial letter. Appeals go to the Appeals Council. That is a federal organization in Washington, D.C. If you win at the AC level often your case is sent back to the ALJ for another hearing. If you lose at the AC level, you can appeal your decision to the Federal District Court.
You really must have a lawyer at these two levels. Lawyers who handle cases at the Appeals Council and District Court levels are hard to find, and lawyers who handle enough work at that level to get good at it are even harder to find.
I do not like to read webpages that amount to an advertisement, and I have tried to avoid putting any spin at all into this website, but the objective fact is that we are one of the few firms that would be a good choice for such an appeal: we handle appeals in many states; in our home state we handle more District Court appeals than any other firm, and we are steadily expanding the states in which we handle these cases. We handle all our own cases, we handle all appeals for about 20 other law firms, and we handle overflow appeals or difficult appeals for a few more firms. Every year we add states in which we are handling these appeals.
If you are denied at the hearing level, there is a good chance that the lawyer who handled your hearing will not appeal, and there is a good chance that, if you call a lot of lawyers, most will tell you that they don’t handle such appeals. If you have trouble finding a lawyer to do this, we will be glad to talk to you.
Why is it hard to find a lawyer to handle such an appeal? Two reasons: one, because, at the Appeals Council level, the decision is often a rubber-stamped one. That is not true at the District Court level, however! Federal District Judges are appointed for life, and can be influenced by no one. That does not mean they will make the right decision, but it does mean that they will do what they think is right.
Though we win such cases every month, it is harder, and takes more skill, to win a case at the Appeals Council or District Court. Here’s why: at both levels, the test is a different one than at the hearing: at the hearing, the question is whether the judge thinks you are disabled. If there are two equal-looking piles of evidence, one making you look disabled, the other making you look healthy, the judge often has the choice of which pile to pick, so you have at least a chance of winning that case
But at the Appeals Council and District Court level, the question is not whether the appeals judge thinks you are disabled. The question is whether the hearing judge made a mistake. The hearing judge has to pick the pile of evidence that makes you look disabled, or the pile that makes you look healthy. If both piles look about alike, there is no way we can show he made a mistake – even if he picked the wrong pile – unless he made a mistake of law.
We have two strategies for winning such cases: one, there is a lot of Social Security law, and, as written, it is intended to make sure there is a fair outcome. So if a judge turns down a disabled person, there is a fair chance he has made an error in one of those laws. Second, in some but not all cases we can adjust the two piles of evidence, so that the good pile is a higher, or the bad pile is smaller.