Jeanette Laffoon was tired of practicing law. It was the mid-1990s, and all she wanted to do was stay home, look after her newborn daughter, and sew quilts.
“The law I was practicing—corporate, litigation, and franchise law—was all about business and less about helping individuals,” said Laffoon. “Just when I decided to quit, a friend who worked for Legal Services called and asked if I would be willing to start a Hospital Project in Denver. The job involved interviewing hospital patients who were unable to pay their bills. Many of them, we discovered, were legally disabled and qualified for Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI),” she said.
Laffoon came to love the law again because of the joy she received helping people who had a physical or mental impairment qualify for disability.
In 1999, Elie Halpern & Associates PLLC offered Laffoon a job practicing SSD and SSI law in Olympia. She accepted the offer, and she and her family left Denver. “After living in a large city for so long, we were relieved to get to a small town with clean air, clean water and huge trees,” she said.
In 2005, Stephen Maddox approached Laffoon and asked her to join his practice so that he could begin easing into retirement. She said yes, and Stephen A. Maddox, Attorney at Law became Maddox & Laffoon, P.S. Ten years later, Maddox is still practicing, though no longer taking new clients, and ten years later, Laffoon is very happy practicing law though she makes sure to find time to sew quilts. “I love my work. We have an awesome staff and we get to help people every day,” she said.
Helping Claimants Qualify for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income Disability
Laffoon loves her work because she is impacting individual lives on a daily basis by helping people who are unable to work pursue SSD and SSI disability benefits.
For 33 percent of claimants, the process is pretty straightforward and they will not necessarily need legal representation. Claimants begin the process on their own by going to the local Social Security office and applying in person, or applying online. However, if they want help from the beginning, the team at Maddox & Laffoon are ready to help.
Most of Maddox & Laffoon’s clients are not working because of mental or physical impairment. But the majority of their cases are mental impairment cases—organic brain disorder, anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD—because the functional limitations are harder to quantify. She explains, “If someone goes into Social Security and says, ‘I can’t work because I have stage four cancer,’ that is easy to quantify. However, if someone goes into Social Security and says, ‘I can’t work because I’m severely depressed,’ that is more difficult to quantify and usually those cases need legal representation.”
The Application Process: Initial Approval, Request for Reconsideration, Court Hearing
Here’s the bottom line: At the initial application stage, only one in three claimants receive approval, a denial rate of 66 percent. At this point the claimant has the option to apply for reconsideration within 60 days of the denial date.
“We get a lot of people in our office after a denial, often in tears because they don’t know what to do next and the process appears so complicated and overwhelming,” said Laffoon.
If the claimant receives a denial after reconsideration the next step is to go to an administrative hearing in Tacoma. “At this point, if the claimant doesn’t have a representative, they really need to get one,” said Laffoon.
Laffoon notes that there is no payment upfront for legal representation. You only pay a fee—a percentage of a back-award—if they win your case. The team at Maddox & Laffoon have over 35 years of success, experience which can make all the difference in the quality of life for a person who can no longer work.
Court Hearing: Local Representation Recommended
Laffoon is proud of the law community in Olympia. She said, “We have very good attorneys locally.” And while she hopes Thurston County residents seeking SSD or SSI disability will choose Maddox & Laffoon to represent them, if they don’t she stresses the need to find local representation.
She explains why, “At the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review in Tacoma, only 10 different administrative law judges conduct SSD and SSI hearings. We know, for instance, that one administrative law judge approves 17% of his cases, while another approves 72%. It is imperative that the claimant utilize a local law firm to represent them, a firm that knows these judges and knows what to expect.”
“There are national firms that are headquartered in Florida or New York,” she continued. “They advertise on television and buy up a lot of ad space online. They have intake call centers that walk you through the application process, which is fine, but here is the problem that I hear from clients who tried that route: You need to have the ability to meet with your attorney before the hearing, and you need local representatives who have good working relationships with local physicians and therapists from whom we obtain medical records before the hearing.”
“At the end of the day, local representation can make all the difference,” Laffoon stressed.
Laffoon and her team will not take a case they don’t think they can win, but she encourages people to at least stop by and take the first step towards disability if they simply cannot work. She admits that it can be a difficult step for many people to take, especially if work was their life. She said, “I’ve seen 50-year-old men who’ve worked their entire career in logging, but now have a bad back. They do not want to be here. Work was their life. I know it can be hard to get help, but at the end of the day it may be worth it.”
Jeanette Laffoon and the Maddox & Laffoon team can be reached at 360-786-8276 for a consultation on your Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits.
Learn more on the Maddox & Laffoon website.