Jun 8, 2017

Why So Many No-Shows?

     Sam Johnson, the Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, asked Social Security's Inspector General to look into the question of how many no-shows and postponements there are for hearings before the agency's Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). Here's some of the response:
In FY 2016, the national hearing no-s how rate was 9 percent. The New York, New York, Hearing Office had the highest no-show rate at 15.9 percent while the Franklin, Tennessee, Hearing Office had the lowest no-show rate at 1.2 percent. In FY 2016, the national postponement rate was 8 percent. The Anchorage, Alaska, Hearing Office had the highest postponement rate at 20.4 percent while the Ponce, Puerto Rico, Hearing Office had the lowest postponement rate at 2.7 percent. Our interviews with office managers representing hearing offices with the highest no-show and postponement rates identified a large number of unrepresented claimants and a transient clientele as reasons for no-shows and postponement.
     Here's an interesting chart from the report, showing a significant rise in the no-show rate in recent years:
     Why would the no-show rate have gone up significantly over the last few years? My guess is that it's related to an increase in the rate of claimants who are unrepresented. I'm pretty sure there are more unrepresented claimants now than there were a few years ago. Normally, attorneys only get a fee if they win. Attorneys avoid cases they think they are unlikely to win. It's become harder to win cases. As a result, attorneys tighten their intake criteria leaving more claimants unrepresented. For reasons I've never understood, Social Security never releases information on the percentage of claimants who are and aren't represented. However, I know that my firm and every other firm I know has tightened its intake criteria.
     By the way, the implosion of Binder and Binder probably affected the availability of representation in New York City. Also, by the way, Anchorage is notorious for being the harshest hearing office in the country. As a result, claimant representation in Alaska has collapsed.


Anonymous said...

The two judges in the Anchorage ODAR grant 21 and 24%. That ODAR covers the entire state of Alaska. You can't run a Disability practice when you win only 1/4 or 1/5 cases.

Dan Smith said...

Isn't Alaska in the 9th circuit? Seems to me like that's reason enough to have a disability practice up there.

Margaret Kibbee said...

9:53 is right. You would have to do this is a hobby out of your kitchen. It would not support an office or disability practice. Being in the 9th circuit only helps if you take everything to court.
A few years ago, judges had to consider jobs in national AND regional economy. That would have made it possible to find other work in a place like Alaska (or Mississippi where I am) more difficult. Now numbers in the national economy are all that have to be considered. 100,000+ jobs in the national economy that no one ever heard of really isn't a lot, but some would say that means those jobs exist in 'significant numbers'. Back when regional numbers were considered, an ALJ told me that 500 surveillance monitors in the state of Mississippi was not vocationally relevant and found my claimant disabled.
Legal Services once did lots of representation. They were not under the economic constraints that precludes representation of questionable cases. Their funds have been cut so drastically that they can only do some cessation cases.

Anonymous said...


Substantial evidence is a low bar even in the ninth circuit. Gutierrez v. Colvin, 844 F. 3d 804 (9th Cir. 2016) springs to mind.

Anonymous said...

Several things here. While it has very recently improved there was a problem with hearing notices sometimes not going to the most recently provided address for the claimant. Second longer delays for hearings = more opportunity for losing touch with a claimant due to homelessness or some other reason. Sam, it's on you and your friends in congress to adequately fund the agency to address the backlog. I expect you will see a reduction in no shows after that.

Anonymous said...

You say -"I know that my firm and every other firm I know has tightened its intake criteria."

Can you publish your intake criteria so folks in need of help know when not to waste their time contacting you? Businesses try to follow a basic rule to make as much money as possible with an understanding that even some winners/sales end up costing more than the time and effort spent to get that win or make that sale. It usually comes down to some version of cost/benefit/return, even when including sound business practices for the expenses needed for good will and customer service. After all, when it is your money you are spending and not your neighbors' cash, you are more attentive to your bottom line.

It would be helpful to see a demographic review of cases accepted vs. rejected for law firms. Would it show any potential favoritism for racial, gender, age, or ethnic criteria? Perhaps this is something other law firms should explore to promote equal justice for all. After all, SSA would be found to be greatly at fault if anything was even alleged that SSA "tightened its intake criteria."

Anonymous said...


I can't speak for Margaret, but I'm uncertain why race, gender, or ethnicity would have any impact at all in regard to the likelihood a claim would be awarded.

In my experience, the only change in our intake criteria is we now require treating sources issue a statement prior to our signing the claimant up as medical treatment is fundamental to a claim of disability.

In regard to SSA tightening its intake criteria, SSA doesn't control it's intake so they could not be at fault. In regard to other law firms exploring the field of disability, I think the general response from disability firms would be "go for it!" More help is always needed.