Let me first apologize to the good lawyers out there. I know you exist, just as I know good tech support people exist. I also know that sometimes you may get blamed where you don't deserve censure; we see the same thing in tech support.
And yeah, tech support people get poked fun at. There was that Saturday Night Live guy.. and a lot of techs could see little glimpses of ourselves there. But you guys.. oh my.
My first experience with a lawyer involved an accident on Rte 1 in Dedham, MA. My wife was on her way to pick me up at work. We only had one car then, so this was an every day trip. Our baby daughter was in the front in a car seat. Not a car seat like we have now, nothing that buckled in or really would provide any protection: its basic function was to keep the baby from rolling off the seat.
My wife stopped at a red light with two cars ahead of her. She glanced in the rear view mirror and saw a car barreling down her lane. There was nothing she could do: she couldn't go forward because of the cars ahead, she couldn't turn left or right because of the guard rail and other cars. It was all too fast anyway: within a second or so the car crashed into her rear at approximately 50 MPH.
The car was totaled. The police later said that they were surprised no one was killed. Linda was briefly knocked unconscious and our daughter was thrown to the floor of the car, covered with broken glass. Linda remembers getting out of the car and hysterically handing our daughter to someone who had come to help.
The other car was driven by the 16 year old son of one of the big Route 1 car dealers. He hadn't had a license long. He wasn't really speeding, but something had distracted him. He wasn't seriously hurt either.
Linda did hurt her back. She had a pre-existing back injury; this just made it worse. As we later learned, she also suffers from degenerative joint disease and has had ruptured disks since then. Who knows how much this accident added to her misery..
Of course we got a lawyer. No Internet then to search for legal counsel; we went with my father's lawyer. He of course was not a personal injury lawyer; I don't even know if that term was in use back then. He was a "business lawyer" and I bet he had very little experience or knowledge in the personal injury area. A month later he advised us that we should "settle" for $1,000.00 (of which he took $700.00 for his trouble). I felt that was low and that we should wait and see if Linda continued to have back problems or if our daughter had suffered any unseen effects, but he counseled us that this was a very "generous" offer. We were young and stupid; we took it.
My next legal problem wasn't a matter of incompetence, just arrogance. I did some computer work for a Boston firm. I remember their offices well: fancy address on Constitution Wharf, oak paneled walls, expensive looking paintings lining those walls.. I don't remember what I did for them, but they were late paying my invoice. I called to see why and spoke with the partner who had hired me. I asked if anything was wrong with the work I did. No, everything was fine. I asked why I had not been paid. He said quite directly, "I'll pay you when I feel like it". I protested, he laughed and asked "What are you going to do about it, sue me?".
Yes, he did eventually pay, but that one incident made me leery of working for lawyers.
Our next foray into the legal world was when Linda made a disability claim. As noted above, her disease got worse over time. It's maddening to be in constant joint pain, but the worst part of it is sleeping. You see, with this disease, you actually feel better when you are moving around. Sitting still or trying to lie still is much more painful than moving about. Of course there's a Catch-22: moving too much causes more joint damage, so enthusiastic exercise may make you feel much better (both from the movement and endorphins) but you'll pay the price later. But sleeping is the worst: the pain would keep her awake, force her to get up and move around. She was horribly sleep deprived. The pain medicines she took only only added to her mental confusion, of course.
If you've ever been in this situation, you surely know that it makes you stupid. Linda had a good job as an office manager/bookkeeper and her boss of ten years really appreciated her attention to detail and accuracy. Unfortunately, as her disease worsened, she got a new boss. He was not appreciative of the useless bimbo who made silly mistakes and seemed unable to remember things he told her just hours earlier. The lack of sleep, the constant pain, the pain medicine: it all made her a very poor employee. The quite understandable attitude of her boss didn't help her cope, of course. He wasn't overly nasty, but he wasn't helpful either.
After talking to her doctor, Linda applied for disability. She was only a few years from retirement, but we couldn't see how she could keep going. I wouldn't have been surprised if she had been fired and I really wouldn't have blamed her boss. She was really incapable of doing even mediocre work by then.
Social Security and her work disability insurer both approved her claim quickly. That was a little surprising: we had heard that Social Security would be "tough", but on the other hand her X-rays and her long medical transcripts told the story. So, all was good. She was now able to sleep later, catnap during the day - she still has a lousy life, but is a little less drowsy at least. The combination of Social Security and the private disability didn't quite match her working pay, but we weren't suffering.
So, that was good - until her private disability company sent her for testing and decided that she was capable of working. Of course that was never the issue: she IS capable of working - if she gets enough sleep and she isn't overly medicated that day. There is that little matter of being distracted by pain even on the best of days.. I really can't see that she could keep any job for long. Get hired? Sure, she has the qualifications and experience. But actually perform at an acceptable level? Not a chance. But they terminated her insurance payments and of course we went looking for a lawyer.
This time we used all the appropriate resources and found someone supposedly versed in this field. He screwed it up royally and accomplished nothing. We found another lawyer, no luck there, same incompetence. Very good at sending invoices though - aren't they all? Finally we did find someone who did know this area. He reviewed the case, said that we definitley should win, but.. it was too late. The previous lawyers had screwed things up badly enough that we could no longer pursue the suit. You probably can imagine how happy that made us.
My most recent lawyer debacle came as a result of seeking advice on an elder law case (I won't go into details here). I contacted a local lawyer to see if he knew anyone with expertise in this kind of problem; he said that he did and gave me this other lawyer's phone number.
Understand that we've been involved in this mess for several years; we've worked with several lawyers and had disappointing experiences. The problem always seems to be that advertised expertise is not present in fact and that the average lawyer seems to have the attention span and memory capacity of a six year old. We found that we were constantly repeating ourselves (at hourly rates, of course) and that our "expert counsel" was amazingly ignorant of cases and resources we had researched on the Internet. That's why we were looking for yet another lawyer.
This man confirmed that he had expertise in elder law. At this point I was of course mistrustful and suspicious, so I asked pointed and direct questions. This self proclaimed legal expert could not answer these to my satisfaction. Of course in that respect he was no more (and no less) useless than our other lawyers. We finally decided to stick with what we have and hope (pessimistically) for the best.
As I said at the outset, I'm sure there are honest lawyers out there. People who know their craft, listen to what clients say, write it down and even review their notes prior to the next expensive meeting. I know there are such legal practitioners.
I just wish they were easier to find. Don't bother telling me about the Bar Association and their referral services: been there, done that, have nothing good to say. I don't want to paint the whole profession with the same brush and certainly my experiences may be atypical. I have no way of knowing that so I can only go by what I have personally endured. And that, my friends, leaves me very jaundiced toward the profession. I hope never to need a personal injury lawyer again; I hope not to need ANY lawyer ever. It's more than not wanting whatever troubles might cause that need: I don't want to get reamed over by legal incompetence yet again!
No doubt there are lawyers who feel the same way about computer techs, right? Yeah, of course there are. That doesn't change my attitudes, though.
Know any good lawyer jokes?
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2012-07-11 Anthony Lawrence