Restoring The Public’s Faith In Lawyers, One Client At A Time

The wonderful struggle

October 18th, 2013 | Posted by Scott in perspective and stories - (0 Comments)

I had a great weekend.  I worked in the yard and in the house.   The kids helped until I turned them loose to do their own thing – riding bikes, skating, playing with friends – as kids should do.  As my father did with me, I require my children to work around the house and in the yard.  I don’t spare them from difficult, tedious, or dirty jobs.  In fact, the dirtier, the better.  They moan and groan, of course, but they know they must work before they can play.   It is the struggle we all face and I believe it best to teach them these lessons early.

And then there’s Monday morning.  As every Monday, I wake early to swim before work.  Strenuous exercise tends to clear my mind.  And then, it’s off to work.  The relaxation of a great weekend is instantly gone as I return to the daily grind.  I’m not complaining, as this work is an integral part of the reason I was placed on this earth.  But it’s not easy.  I struggle with the usual difficulties of litigation every day, and suffer the anxiety and stress that comes with it.   And I worry about all the usual things, not just about work, but about things with my family.

And then I meet with clients, and am instantly reoriented to the notion that my troubles are fantastic luxuries in comparison to the typical plight of my clients, who endure hardships I do not know.    During a typical day it is not unusual to hear of a child’s disabling and permanent injury, leaving parents like broken shells and trying just to hold on.   I speak with fathers and husbands so overtaken with stress and worry at their inability to work and provide for their family that they do not know whether to cry or curse, and often do both.   I speak with mothers overwhelmed with the daily trials of life in ways that I worry for their continued sanity.   I see children dithering along behind their near broken parents, the innocence of their childhoods left behind them like toys in a resale shop.   A man who has become my friend wept openly yesterday in my office as he told me of his inability to buy his son new sneakers for the new school year.  It is tragic to witness these things, but these are the stories of my clients’ lives, and they are mine to carry.  I am proud to hold them, and to let these stories tumble around my head until I find ways to put the pieces together in compelling stories for a judge or jury.

And so my problems, I know, are not problems.  They are blips on the radar compared to the storms my clients typically face.  They are my luxuries.  We are blessed in every way, and I thank God for my wonderful struggle.

“Out here we used to call them bank robbers, now we call them personal injury lawyers.”   This catchy line was boldly printed on a political flyer I received in the mail several years ago by a campaign of an individual running for state representative in Louisiana.   The flyer remains posted in my office as a reminder that this sentiment is held by members of my community.   It saddens me that such a statement, which would be universally rejected as offensive if directed at any other profession, was so popular that it would be offered almost like a campaign slogan.   But I get it.

Personal injury lawyers are not well-liked.  We are seen, somehow, as a pariah, a public menace.  I ask myself how that can be.  I have devoted my professional life to this work, to helping people when they are down, often at great risk and expense to myself and my family.   When my clients’ medical bills are out of control, when they are out of work – unable to work, when their whole life is upside down and the family is in utter disarray, when all plans for the future are shattered and gone, I step in to try to help.  I come in to spend my time and money because I believe they have been wronged and need my help.  Sometimes we win and I recover the money I have spent to help the family, often paying light bills, mortgages, auto payments, grocery bills, school supplies, etc.  And sometimes I lose, and lose all money I have offered in the name of help.  I’m not complaining about occasionally losing that money – it’s what I signed up for and is an integral part of what I do.  But I don’t deserve to be called a bank robber.  And to be sure, my clients don’t consider me a bank robber.

So, how did we get here?   The answer is multi-factorial.  For starters, the insurance lobby is stronger and more well-funded than just about any other.  Insurance companies don’t like it when attorneys make them pay for the harms and losses experienced by others because of the carelessness of insureds.  Of course, we all have auto insurance to pay for the damages we may cause by our carelessness in causing a car wreck.  We all try not to be careless, but even the best drivers can make careless mistakes, and someone will have to pay for the harms caused.  It wouldn’t make sense or be fair for the non-negligent person to pay for the damages, so the insurance company of the at-fault driver must pay.  That’s why we have insurance.  But the insurance companies don’t like it.  I suppose the insurance industry is the only industry which hopes and wants its customers to never use its product.

But there’s more.  There has been abuse in the system.  It’s gone on for years, I suppose.  But, candidly, there is very little.  Judges have a keen eye for baseless cases and are quick to dismiss them, and lawyers can be sanctioned for bringing frivolous cases.   Defense lawyers are also very sharp and frivolous complaints don’t get by them.  And then there is the ultimate safeguard – the jury.  It’s possible to have one or two, or maybe three unreasonable jurors on a jury, but the odds of having a jury of twelve people (sometimes less) return an unreasonable verdict are extremely remote.  Sometimes they get it wrong, I’d say, but its very rare.

But still, lawyers like myself are demonized.  We’re “bank robbers.”  Shame on the politician for the name-calling and lack of respect shown to hard working men and women like myself.   And I’ll leave you with this rhetorical question – if the family member of this politician I mentioned is badly injured by a negligent driver, doctor, or product manufacturer, of if his insurance company refused to pay a claim to him that should be paid, do you think he will call a lawyer for help?