Yesterday one of our clients received a bench decision at his hearing. When I told him the good news, he was happy but confused. "What's a bench decision?", he asked. Good question.
Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) sometimes issue decisions "from the bench", meaning that a decision is made the day of the hearing. Bench decisions are always favorable to you. Unlike a written decision, which can take months to arrive in the mail, a bench decision is immediately read into the electronic record. You receive a shorter, summarized written decision within a few weeks (as opposed to months). Most importantly, you get paid sooner.
Bench decisions are increasingly rare. You need to have a strong claim in order for an ALJ to consider issuing one. Your medical records must be up-to-date. You must have compelling evidence; medical source statements from your treating physician are preferred. Your file must stand out from the rest in order to be considered for a bench decision. Our office is experienced in developing claims and encouraging bench decisions. In fact, we receive several bench decisions per year.
Even if your ALJ does not issue a bench decision the day of your hearing, do not be discouraged; this is a rare practice and most favorable decisions continue to be issued via complete written decision. Either way, make sure you have an experienced disability attorney helping you with your claim.