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June 29, 2009

FIT Templates

Scroll down this page for a Flash presentation on using long-form FIT Templates to prepare draft decisions for Administrative Law Judges. It requires software from ODAR, currently version 6, installed on a computer using Windows XP and Word 2003. It will not work with Word 2007 or with Wondows Vista. Installation directions are detailed, and need to be followed carefully. Even if they are carefully followed, the installation will not work on some computers.

WARNING: Previous releases of the FIT Template included a box to check for attorney vs. non-attorney rep, and that seems to be missing from the current release. Attorneys will need to check the language, at the beginning of the decision where their name appears, to make sure that they are referred to as an attorney, and will have to request that the ODAR staff add a page approving the attorney fee agreement. That seems to be a significant oversight, particularly since attorneys are a large potential source of proposed decisions. Did someone want to annoy them and make extra work for them?

Click the object below to see the screencast.

The template offers an opportunity for attorneys to save weeks or months in getting favorable decisions filed, by preparing proposed decisions for the ALJ to review and sign. In some cases, a client may have to wait six months r more for a favorable decision to be written by  ODAR staff attorneys. In exceptional cases, I have submitted favorable decisions and had them signed and filed within a week. It can mean one more way to provide excellent representation for clients, beyond their expectations. However, it requires a very experienced and knowledgeable attorney or non-attorney rep to complete the portions of the decision that are not automatically assembled.

When would you want to submit a proposed Fully Favorable Decision, using a FIT Template?

  • First and most common, when you have a hearing, you are certain that the ALJ will allow benefits, and you know the precise restrictions that the ALJ is going to find, you can prepare a proposed decision. This might happen when an ALJ submits a single hypothetical to a vocational expert in a hearing, and the vocational expert finds that your client cannot do any work within those restrictions. Likewise, if an ALJ announces that he or she will find that your client meets a specific section of the Listings of Impairments, and why, you can draft a proposed decision.
  • Second, if you have a client waiting for a hearing, who clearly meets a Listing, particularly the definition of Mild Mental Retardation under Section 12.05 of the Listings, you can draw up a proposed Fully Favorable Decision. For the most part, though, unless you have a clear winner, submitting a pre-hearing proposed decision is not likely to succeed. The ALJ won’t sign the decision unless you have the restrictions almost exactly right.
  • Third, in rare instances, some ALJs have called attorneys and non-attorney reps, asking if they would draft a proposed decision, and listing the specific elements, or faxing them a list with the elements of the decision. I haven’t heard of that happening in Iowa.

When you prepare a decision, you should give it a name based on the first four letters of the last name, and the last four letters of the Social Security Number. So a decision for James Q. Sample, SSN 123-45-6789 becomes “Samp6789.doc”. Print the file, burn it to a CD, and mail both with a cover letter to the ALJ.  You can also electronically file the proposed decision.

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