Archive

Archive for March, 2012

Life in the Newbie Lane

March 25, 2012 2 comments

To my loyal readers…the number of which, I suspect, approaches the mass of a quark—the next installment. Before I left my starter job behind, I pulled off a few coups. (The beginner’s mind has some advantages.) I got no credit for the creativity of things I did—but even while I slowly gained confidence from listening to the other partners and taking every class they had at the Summit Organization , I went ahead and settled some of the “dog” cases they gave me in some excellent ways.

Looking back, I suppose that, at a minimum, the fact of my hire was not regretted.  I did  not screw up a single thing.

My most creative settlement was the Pinto case. As best I can recall, I got the file the day of trial—which (in those days) meant the settling discussion would happen at the last minute, at court. They always did. The reason this case was a dog is there was no insurance. A less altruistic (and hungrier) firm would never have taken the case at all—and now, probably no one would. Then, I was too new to ask why these women did. I do know they all had husbands who paid the bills, so making their “nut” was not much of a consideration.

The driver who caused the accident—the defendant—was on drugs and hit our clients, a Mexican family driving a Pinto on the 210 freeway—from the rear. Luckily the gas tank did not explode. (Remember the smoking gun memo about the costs of repair vs. the costs of paying wrongful death cases? (And you thought corporate greed was new!)

I knew the agreement we came to might never result in any payment… so I decided to demand an apology to my clients from the uninsured defendant. (Who, oddly, had a lawyer. Which just now struck me! I have NO idea how he was paid.)

So this guy walked over to my clients in the courthouse hall and apologized. But the best part is THE GUY PAID!! In installments–like clock work. It seems this accident was a wake up call for him and he changed his life. As I live and breathe he did. Decades later, I realized my insistence on an apology served him in the making of amends. I didn’t know that then—as so often I just did what came to me from what I now recognize and “guidance.” I don’t know if he paid the entire judgment—but I am pretty sure that even then it was nondischargeable in bankruptcy so maybe he did. I moved on long before he could have paid it all. But I was a “holistic” attorney… in 1982. I had no idea—I just winged it. The most FUN case was the priest and the bus driver and the Bishop.

Yep! Stay tuned, loyal quarkers.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories: Uncategorized

From “Wet Behind the Ears” To “Hits the Ground Running”

March 17, 2012 2 comments

I survived the first months of being a lawyer with a caseload recently transferred to me from someone with more then a day or two of experience. (I know Sandy took the more important PI cases-but I never knew which ones.) I did get to keep a divorce case, with kids, in which we represented Dad, who suffered from what we now know was PTSD. (Back then we only knew some men came back from Vietnam a mess.)  In retrospect I had terrific instincts—but I didn’t know that then/ All I knew was I was responsible for the well-being of real people. This chap was one of them.

I could not let any of these people or opposing counsel know I was clueless. This is a most daunting task–I don’t know how anyone survives it. The step by step practice guides help—until you have to talk to someone! It was a daily gauntlet of agony… but I was young and God knows I was determined. So I listened to how the other attorneys did the phone calls… and I nerved myself to do so even when I had a terror of being found out for an incompetent.

I remember going to mediation with he Dad whose name I do not recall. You cannot accompany your client into these mediations –which are mandatory in California Family law–you just go along for moral support-and this guy needed moral support. He had nit wanted the divorce. He had stayed home with the kids while wife worked as he could not. (Remember, this was 1981– back when no one understood PTSD.)

So the poor bedraggled guy needed spousal support and child support—and visitation was an issue. Wife (of course) didn’t want to pay—and I think wanted HIM to pay. I remember him threatening to live under a bridge if he were ordered to pay child support.  I don’t actually remember what the wife was demanding–I just know my guy was in a state. So the day of the mediation I went along. What I will never forget is how he looked when he emerged.  There was a white area all around his mouth—I could see he’d been licking his lips for who knows how long.

Now I may have been new to law—but I was a human being and had been for 32 years. I saw with crystal clarity that this was causing him unspeakable stress. (literally .He could not say so.) I may have gone over the entire file during the mediation, or after it. That is lost to the “mists of time”… But I remember suddenly realizing he did not want to fight. He did not want spousal support. (Yes, he needed it—and maybe the stress was the ONLY reason he did want to fight—but it was his life and his case.)

I had gotten the impression my predecessor enjoyed the battle–but this Vietnam vet (who had probably never even treated for his PTSD or given any service connected disability) did not have any fight left–if he had ever had any to begin with. So I called opposing counsel and told him I had taken over the file and my client wanted some changes made.  We quickly settled the mess and the guy perked up and seemed to be doing better and better when I last heard. He was living somewhere—not under a bridge—and seeing his kids. Odd how the truth can work wonders!

I think I knew I had done a good job–even clueless. Whew. (I am sure many attorneys would say–WILL say- I should have fougt. I know better. I saw the despair lift from a shattered man.)

Next segment, I will tell you about the 2 cases I settled in my own  quirky way and ended up at a PI defense firm where I was eventually told I was the first attorney they had ever hired who “hit the ground  running,.” And how the Summit Organization played a part.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Happy Ending… Sort Of

Shadenfruede… taking joy in another’s misfortune. I’d like to think I don’t experience it much and I think I felt guilty back in 1985.. but the death if Mr. Enciso was good news to me. In case you are just coming into my world and my saga, Me Enciso was ‘torted” by the Los Angeles County Hospital. Yes, I am pretty sure he was. They should never have kept on is stomach with his implant and all unable to move. Nasty

 

So why wasn’t the county negotiating? I remember Sandy being frustrated and I think surprised by their refusal to negotiate once we had filed and served. Some time went by—I don’t remember what she did during that time—I think probably  sent letters and made calls—the usual strategy for settlement back in the halcyon days when insurance carriers settled cases. (This was in the days of Royal Globe. Cases settled.) One thing is sure—I always knew what was going on with everybody cases. We had a small office and cubicles and we all talked about cases, I learned a lot from overhearing the various partners’ calls.

I felt daunted by the fact that I had no clue what to do at first—I would stare at the phoned an try to decide what I  would say when I got opposing counsel on the line. Luckily. I had a few successes negotiating a small collateral insurance policy and discovered I had a knack for negotiation, But first, the sad story of Massey Enciso.

Some time into negotiations—I remember how wrong it seemed at the time—the County revealed to us that there had been an early claim against the County made by Mr. Enciso. You see, the dance is, you file a claim, the public entity denies it (yes always) and then you get permission to sue. Then you have a short widow of time in which to do so.

 

Well, it seems prior attorney Mr. Enciso had failed to mention had done this–and the prior attorney had not filed within the statute. His case had been bared when he came to us. We were dead in the water.

Sandy and whoever else was involved had not met with Mr. Enciso—being he was paraplegic he had not come into the office. I will never know if there was a question that should have been asked and wasn’t—I would tend to think so. “Have you sought legal counsel before  now?” *There was some delay after all.) “What treatment have you sought?” I know I always asked such questions when I was solo. But maybe not. Maybe Mr. Massey Enciso lied. I don’t know—I wasn’t there. I just signed the pleading due to quirk of timing. (I will also never know if my intuition made me a better interrogator of potential clients, or if I just learned a useful lesson from this. I do know I was seldom if ever blindsided by a client.)

So, some time later when Mr. Enciso died, the case against me and the firm also died. There are no lost wages when  an indigent  client dies—and pain and suffering dies with the person no matter what was  done  to them. I was off  the hook. Oddly, in retrospect, I remember arguing for and (I think) negotiating a small sum being paid to the common law “wife” (who was really just his girlfriend under California law) as her loss of consortium claim was thin, and I felt sorry for he, So she got some money. I doubt she appreciated it—but I felt it was right. And back then carriers settled cases and that ended this one… except if I ever apply to be an attorney in another state. Sigh.

Next—suffering through incompetence.

Oh Sh*t—Now What Do I Do?

I thought of giving this segment of the saga a cutesy name—but I couldn’t. Trust me—when you are a lawyer overnight, and we all are… this is pretty much how you SHOULD feel.

You see, unlike doctors (who get out through a really long and painful—serious sleep deprivation included, no extra charge—residency) lawyers don’t. You get your Bar Exam results, you get sworn in and presto change-o—you are a lawyer. You are licensed and you are free to do whatever work you can ethically do… see Ethics Rule 1.1. (Yes, yes,  I know—it is a popular belief that lawyers have no ethics.  But in 1983 advertising was still prohibited–and some of us lawyers did follow the MANY ethical rules. Still do. Yes, I know—hard to believe—thank you, Larry Parker. But true.

So I was sworn in December 12, 1983. I guess it must have been December 13 when I showed up at work  newly minted—but I remember  very well what my first act was that day. (Well I had forgotten until I started to write this, but it came back pretty quick.) I got to the office in Glassell Park, probably just before 9:00—I tend to be early—and the two secretaries were there, but none of the partners. The secretaries were quite upset, because they had found a nest of mice. It was my job to deal with this emergency. Lucky for me, I am not in the least afraid of mice.

I captured them—they were teensy and really very cute—in a waste basket. But then, what on earth was I to do with them? I think I couldn’t bring myself to drown them… and so I think–I KNOW– I dithered for some time, until Sandy showed up and (bless her forever) told me to take them across the street and “tell them to go play.” I will be forever grateful. I am, to this day. I am sure Sandy forgot it the next day. Not me. Nosiree.

And thus I began the practice of law. I don’t recall precisely when I signed my first pleading. (Magically, I had this power!! My signature carried the weight of all the causes of action this person had–I was speaking to the court on his be behalf! This is far more earth shaking than it may sound.)  I do remember what it was… as it ended up being a fateful turn of events. It was a personal injury case (our office did all sorts of law, but Sandy did mostly PI. Her husband was a physician which came in very handy.) One Massey Enciso was suing the County Hospital of Los Angeles.

Of course, suing a county, or any public agency, is not so simple, so there had been plenty of work done before that day. (All government agencies make it very hard to sue them. The steps in the dance will be relevant later.) I did not do much, if any, of these prerequisites to getting permission to file. I never met Mr. Enciso and I did not make any of the decisions that led to the complaint we filed–the partners just let me sign the darn thing because I could. It’s a pretty big deal. I am thinking it may have been December 1983. I am not sure. But let me assure you, I am very sure I learned what not to do from that case!

The details of the gentleman’s problems are fairly gruesome. (One thing about law—it is NOT boring—not when you are actually doing personal injury work it isn’t.) He had an injury to a very personal part of his anatomy. (We had three such cases for a while, and the joke around the office was that at Grayson Maxwell & Sugarman, “PI” did not mean “personal injury, it meant “penis injury”…)

If anyone knows what a decubitus ulcer is… he had one. Yes, there. (Do NOT look at the link if you have a weak stomach.) He had it there because he was paraplegic and had been having his OTHER decubitus ulcers debrided. (Cleaned.) As I said, a tad gruesome. If I told you the main reason that part of him had that pressure sore, it would be too gross. Just take the fact that he was a paraplegic and had certain issues (and a “common law wife—which is not possible legally but…) and put two and two together. Or write to me if curiosity is really killing you. But he had it– and it was most unfortunate for his ability to make use the device which caused it. If you follow. Hey– this was my initiation into law—what can I say?
So, bottom line, the hospital had indeed screwed up. Hospitals are supposed to help people like paraplegics, who get these nasty problems, not GIVE them to them. Even if they are essentially destitute.  (As many paraplegics are, for some strange reason.) Slam dunk, right? Well, that’s what all three partners thought. Wrong. After I left the firm, in 1985, I had the thrill of being served at work with a malpractice lawsuit. I can’t tell you what a treat that was. Served AT MY OFFICE (where I was now defense counsel for Hartford Insurance.) Ouch.

Why was that served on me—who had done zilch? (And when the partners really had not done any “bad thing” –id est, commit malpractice?) Well… I’ll get to that. I am pretty sure I hold the distinction of being the first person in my law school class to be served with malpractice suit. I was shocked–and saw it as a “live by the sword die by the sword” sort of moment. (Just so you know–the story has a sort of happy ending—for me, not for Mr. Enciso.) And when I went to aply to the Arizona Stare Bar guess what I had to report! Yep. that lawsuit.  They don’t go away.

Next time I will explain how THAT joyous experience–the one thing lawyers all dread—came to be. “You have been sued.” (And served at work.)   And I will also explain the  true meaning of the word Shadenfreude

Surprise—You’ve Been Promoted!

March 6, 2012 2 comments

As some of you will recall, I went to work for Grayson Maxwell & Sugarman before I knew whether or not I had passed the terrifying Bar Exam. I wish I could say I remember those first months well-but I don’t. I remember I had to get a “professional” wardrobe—after all, my last job was in the USAF and I had green fatigues on every day! So I did. That I recall.

I seem to remember doing some really boring things like updating practice guides. The law changes every time a new case comes down—and sometimes when a legislature changes things. So the handy-dandy guides which tell lawyers what the law is and how the heck to do various things (trust me, we can’t read the statutes either—they are gibberish) change about twice a year.  These are in large ring binders and only some pages have to be replaced and if you mess up and replace the wrong page the books are FUBAR forever. BORING. This is my WORST thing on the planet Earth… Mindless tedium with stress. Thank God now I never need to do this any more.
But at least I got familiar with the darned things—they are very very useful. In any case, I suppose the partners must have given me SOME real work to do…for reasons which will soon become clear. Because what I do remember is the day I got my Bar results. Now this was back when there were two ways to find out—wait for the mail or go down to downtown LA and look at the posted results at the State Bar offices.

Those of us with jobs (and a low desire to suffer crowds of stressed out humans) waited for the mail. So one fine day in late November I was at work when I got a call from Jeff. Remember him? He was my boyfriend at the time and my class mate and fellow results awaiter. (He had sworn, when we were taking the test in 2 different locations, that he blew one of the essays completely…) Seems he had gotten the mail….. The results were in the mail… And HE HAD PASSED!

So I knew for sure MY mail had MY results—we lived not that far apart. And I knew if he had passed I didn’t I would die. So my bosses took pity on me, and let me go home right after that call.

My job was in Glendale (Glassell Park, really) and home was Sierra Madre. It was probably a half hour drive at non rush hour—which (to the best of my recollection) this was. So at, maybe,  3:30 I got home and parked at the top of the long sloping driveway. The mail box was at the bottom. We had been told a fairy tale that if you got a thick envelope it meant you had failed (I guess because they return your essays.) In any case, I went down the hill and opened the mailbox and there was a thick seeming envelope from the State Bar. ALL I REALLY remember is the looking at the contents of the envelope–on the ground–as I tried to see what,exactly, was in there. Then I remember seeing the words “The Committee of Bar Examiners is pleased…”

I read no farther. I think I called Jeff and then work. I felt oddly numb. Relieved the ordeal was over—but not elated as I had expected.

What else I don’t remember is if the partners waited… or if they fired the other associate immediately. Seems they had planned to ditch her if I passed. Bingo—I had a full caseload. I’d been promoted!!! I was an attorney. A real attorney. Clueless me. Oddly depressed me. Clients lives were in my inexperienced hands. Oy vey. (I wonder if the ditched associate still hates me?)

Stay tuned…

Enhanced by Zemanta

Legal Rebel—Should I Yell?

Ah, law school. Today I read and listed to several blogs and podcast about law and law school. It was all negative, and probably all true—for the traditional law school–which bullet I fortunately dodged. (As I have mentioned before.) I think I have been a “legal rebel” from the git go—which seems to be more fate than logic. NOW the ABA (American Bar Association) is coming on board. see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOTtgzuGscY&feature=player_embedded

So now to my next magic trick—finding my first job on the last day of the Bar Exam.

So there I was, Day Three of the ordeal. On Day One I had had another mini-melt down but  called a fellow test taker—not Jeff– and then got over myself and went out to jog–my all-purpose magic pill for everything. I knew yesterday was over so… I got ready for the next day. (Which was, I think, all essays– including one on Evidence and Torts which I swear I nailed.)

By Day Three –the so called “Multistate” portion which is multiple choice–all that work I had done memorizing VERBATIM the Black Letter Law was paying off. (Oddly, one still sticks in my mind: “Burglary is the breaking and entering into the dwelling of another with the intent to commit a felony therein.”  Believe it or not… every word of that is key.  EVERY WORD—except maybe “is”.)

So, feeling amazingly good going in to the homestretch I decided to ask a total stranger to have lunch nearby—and off we went. The only place nearby was fairly upscale,  but we explained to the waitress we were on a tight time line and we ordered.

Soon at the table next to us sat down… 4 women. I overheard the word “deposition” and realized they were all attorneys. I jumped up (God knows how I was dressed for the bloody Bar Exam) and introduced myself. Sandy Sugarman gave me her card, and I guess we finished our food and paid and went back to finish up the test—4 more hours and then DONE. (It now occurs to me to wonder what my lunch mate thought of this…) I remember that on the last day I finished before  time was called and left early. I never saw my fateful lunch mate again.

So after the final day Jeff and I went off on a camping trip. We went up the California Coast to Hearst Castle and just hung out, both of us well aware there would be no time for such things all too soon. I forget how many days we took but it was a great break from the intense work we had done for 2 plus years.
Eventually we got came back to Pasadena and got down to the business of looking for a job—even though results from the Bar Exam were not due until November. (This would have been July 1983.(  Somehow even in the absence of Facebook—or even email—we all kept in touch and supported each other in this search. To the best of my recollection Steve Tully was the first of my buds to find a position—he was Jeff’s best friend. I think it was with Farmer’s Insurance, but I could be wrong. It’s been a few years.

At some point I think I called Grayson, Maxwell and Sugarman. (You don’t exactly have a resume at this point… but hey—maybe I did, I don’t really remember.) Long story short, I interviewed and was hired—I think I September of that year. Sandy Sugarman, Myrna Grayson and Barbara Maxwell, an associate whose name I do not recall… and me. Sandy said at some point that they “liked my chutzpah.” (For any of you who don’t know—this is usually a compliment when used by Jews–and Sandy, Myrna and I were all three Jews. Barbara was the token goy. Actually, they were all long time friends and had matching Jags.)

Every singe job I have had since that day has come from someone I knew. Every single one.

Fate?

More about this adventure soon…I had a surprise in store!

Enhanced by Zemanta