The Key to Surviving the Pandemic: Surround Yourself with People Who Give A Damn

If at the start of this you told me I’d still have the majority of my legal team in place more than a month after the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order, I would have told you to go take your temperature again.

Our office has never operated remotely. We have never had to be closed to the public. Our workplace has always been lively and full of office buzz. We are used to gathering up every morning in a circle, all 80 plus of us, and getting our motivation for the day. We are used to leaning over and asking each other questions. On the bad days and the good, we have always had each other to rely on.

For me personally, our office is my world. It is not only my business, it is my purpose. The idea that it could just all be put on pause, or maybe even worse, was terrifying. But everyone kept showing up. My amazing attorneys and legal assistants, they kept going. Whether it was by continuing to come in the office in person, or by navigating the logistics of creating a work from home office, they rose to the occasion. They worked together, they worked it out, they dealt with the fact that this is a beyond perfect situation. They are truly remarkable.

And when I say that I mean: my employees have their own health conditions, they have family members, friends, housemates, and clients who have not only been infected by the virus, but who have died from it, they have children to care for, they have bills to pay, and they have had weddings and other big life events that have needed to be postponed or cancelled. They have fought on, and they have kept strong, in spite of all those things. What I mean to say is, THEY ARE TRULY REMARKABLE, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them.

When we hire new employees, we look for two main strengths – grit and a give a damn attitude. Embracing those strengths has been critical now more than ever.

Our firm isn’t just surviving the pandemic – we are evolving. We are:

  • Expanding our practice by frequently signing new clients in places like Alaska, Eastern Washington (Spokane), Idaho and Montana. We believe that every person should have the option of legal representation at their Social Security hearing. It’s not fair for a person to go unrepresented just because there aren’t many attorneys taking on new clients where they live;

  • Dealing directly with the difficult situations this pandemic has caused. Just the other day we were asked to assist a new client who received an unfavorable determination, but needed to file for good cause to show extenuating circumstances for not timely filing an appeal because of COVID-19;

  • Reaching out to clients awaiting hearing dates and reviewing the status of cases earlier and more often than ever before. Our case managers keep very busy making reach-out calls to our clients on a routine basis;

  • Growing our VA practice. Kevin Kerr is committed to making sure our Veterans are not only getting access to the Social Security disability benefits they deserve, but to also making sure our Veterans are receiving the maximum service connected, non-service connected and unemployability benefits available to them through the VA;

  • Helping people sign up for Medicare. My law partner, Amanda Robichaux, has received her certification as a qualified insurance agent. She is eager to help as many clients as possible navigating the often complicated Medicare system; and

  • Assisting our clients with getting their student loan debts forgiven. Yes, that’s right potentially completely forgiven! This is a new and exciting service we are looking to provide to clients overwhelmed by the prospect of repaying student loan debts even though they are unable to work.

With business as usual being thrown out of the window, we are committed to rolling with the punches and creating the best outcomes for our clients. Shirt sleeves up, thinking caps on, we are primed and ready to fight through the rest of this pandemic.

I feel confident we will be just fine as long as we keep our focus on what we care about most – our clients. I think the best way to describe it is like this: our employees are the beating heart of the firm and our clients are what keeps them ticking.

Some folks have called in because of unfathomable circumstances – they’ve been hospitalized and are scared of catching the virus, they are homeless and not sure how to stay safe. Frankly, we may not know how to “fix” a lot of what our clients are going through. But we can listen, and we can be real with them about what kind of solutions we can and cannot offer.

If you or someone you know is struggling during this pandemic, and you think that you or they may qualify for Social Security disability benefits, let us know. We don’t have all the solutions, but we have really REALLY big hearts, and a whole lot of knowledge we would like to share with as many people as possible. Social Security’s rules do require people to have been or be expected to be off work for at least 12 continuous months due to their medical conditions. So, being off work in of itself isn’t going to be enough to qualify. In fact, there are a lot of rules. But that’s why we recommend you consult an experienced law firm like ours.

Our founding partner, Merrill Schneider used to say, “be bigger than the circumstances.” Well, I can’t think of any more difficult circumstances than this. At the end of this we will all have learned a lot about who we are and how big we can be. What I have learned so far is that I am absolutely in the right business, advocating for the right people, with the right law partners, and the right team of attorneys and legal assistants. I am thankful that we are all in this together.

<3 Sara Smith, Partner

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