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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lawyers: Selfless or Narcissist ... What Do You Think?

Here's a great example of the difference between selfless people, those who go into the caring professions (veterinarians, nurses, social workers, etc.), and narcissists (the antonym of "selfless"), those who go into other professions, usually more prestigious and lucrative.  Can you say attorneys?  Sure you can!

I have seen literally hundreds of clients (I am a licensed psychotherapist) free of charge, "pro bono", hundreds, over the last 22 years, yet I have not and will not brag about it and would never think of mentioning it publicly except to highlight a poignant example, as I am here.

This particular lawyer, who I am sure is not an evil person and in-fact helped my wife get her attorney in her recent successful lawsuit, bragged about HIMSELF on Facebook yesterday (see referenced post below) about how he "waived" an amputees expenses "AND" ONLY CHARGED HIM HALF OF HIS NORMAL FEE ... ONLY HALF OF WHAT, $250 AN HOUR?  This poor man with only one leg had to pay just $125 an hour!

Here is his post:
"I am so humbled by the faith people put in me. I am also overwhelmed by the perspective my clients have despite facing the worst tragedies. I just settled a case today for a man who suffered a leg amputation when a car pulled in front of his motorcycle. Over the time I have been his lawyer, I never heard him complain ONCE about how he felt or how his entire life has been re-written. He was surely in pain, scared, frustrated -- but his attitude was always shockingly positive and upbeat. This client trusted me sight-unseen on the recommendation of a mutual friend. He lives half a country away, and could have picked any of the lawyers knocking on his door. But he chose me. His attitude and spirit prompted me--after our very first conversation--to waive his case expenses AND more than half of my usual attorney fee. So I am thankful to know this client, and I extend boundless appreciation to him  and our mutual friend who put us on the other's path."

When I think of pro bono, I think of the legal profession.  We always hear about attorneys who take pro bono cases for the poor or disabled right?  The problem with that is those cases are usually high-profile cases, the ones that make it on television, shows like 48 Hours, 60 Minutes, or one of other well known programs.  The others are usually during highly publicized trails like Casey Anthony, Jodi Arias, or Robert Zimmerman to name a few recent examples.  Why is it that only these people get “pro bono” defense?  PUBLICITY, that is the reason, tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in FREE PUBLICITY … how altruistic those lawyers are!

This guy sees himself as a hero because he reduced his fee by half and ate the expenses, which normally do not add up to much or are highly inflated in the first place.  Here is a poor guy who lost his leg and probably cannot work, and the lawyer probably ended up with between $60,000 and $140,000 of the man’s money!  They probably settled out of court too, saving the attorney a hundred or more hours work while raking in the same (or more) than he would have if it had gone to trial.

Let me tell you a brief, "hypothetical", story.  A law firm takes on a case for national origin discrimination.  The big cheese, the guy the firm is named after makes only rare appearances, during the first meeting and when they go to mediation.  The rest of the time his “staff” works on the case only when they have time, rarely returning phone calls or emails from the victim because they are focused on bigger issues, other cases.  The entire firm spends minimal time, all the while telling the victim “you have a great case, we’re going to get you close to $500,000!”, which is a pittance compared to what she should receive for having her reputation ruined and losing her career.

As the trial date approaches, the lawyers realize that they have not done enough work, also called due diligence, and dropped the ball, so they ask for a five month extension from the court and it is granted.  Five additional months of stress for the victim and her family, needless stress because the law firm had higher priorities elsewhere.  Only then do the depositions begin, depositions that should have been happening months ago.  They have not even contacted the victim’s top witness yet and do not do so until she insists.  This is just a week before the mediation, which comes out of nowhere to the victim only a month before trail!

In the interim, the big honcho (he even wears a cowboy hat) is taking care of other cases and not even thinking about the victim’s case.  Now, finally, in the few months directly before the mediation and trial, his cronies (low-wage lawyers – compared to the honcho anyway) are finally spending some time on the case.  They probably spent no more than  50 to 60 hours total, and that is probably a stretch, on the case before the surprise mediation (an event the victim was told nothing about until last minute).

As they go into mediation, the honcho is finally there with his crisp brown Stetson, along with his two cronies.  The mediator comes in, a retired judge, and it is like “old times”, the honcho and mediator obviously knowing each other rather well.  The mediator admits that he knows little if anything about the case because he “just received it”, so the honcho starts laying out the victim’s case, a very complex case with hundreds of pages of evidence, over a just a fifteen minute period?  Honcho even forgets several extremely critical points and it is not his cronies that chime in to correct him, it is the victim’s husband!  And that is it, the judge says “got it” and scurries off to meet with the defense team across the hall.

The negotiations start off just below the figure mentioned above, but the numbers quickly drop as the mediator goes back and forth like a ping pong ball.  As time goes on, even though he knows little about the case, the mediator is making judgments, saying “you don’t have a very strong case” and “only 38% of plaintiffs are successful in Missouri”, and the victim’s attorney is agreeing with him!  What?  What happened to the great case the victim had?  Well, then it was time for lunch.

The honcho was gracious enough to offer to buy lunch for the victim and her husband at a French restaurant downstairs.  While the victim’s husband used the restroom, Honcho and his male crony ordered Maker’s Mark whisky on the rocks, in a glass the size of the Hulk’s fist, filled to the brim.  Must have been at least a triple shot!  Honcho’s wife, the other crony, ordered a glass of wine, so when the husband returned, Honcho said “we’re having one, you might as well order one too”, so he order a glass of wine   The victim does not drink and stuck with just water.  Less than half way into lunch, Honcho has already polished off his whisky, orders another, as did his sidekick, and here come two more tumblers full of alcohol.  There must have been AT LEAST 6 ounces in each glass, for a total of 12 ounces EACH over lunch…in less than an hour!

Things started heading downhill, to put it mildly, after lunch as the mediator became more negative and offensive and honcho getting more impatient with every minute, becoming hostile, raising his voice, and stomping out of the room at one point.

Looking back, it seems like a big production, a well rehearsed one at that, as honcho and his cronies started to insist the victim had a poor case and that she should think seriously about accepting an offer that was a fraction of the starting number.  They said “you’ll be lucky to get this much in court, if you can win at all”.  Wearing her and her husband down over several hours, which seemed to be the goal, honcho became enraged when the husband stated “I thought you said we had a good case, we were hoping that you would advocate for seeing this through to trial, we wanted to hear you say “let’s fight this and beat the bastards!’.”  At that point honcho stood up, cussed at the husband, saying “we’ll do whatever you want”, while his cronies kept pushing the victim harder and harder toward a settlement.

It all made sense now, “good cop, bad cop”, wear the subject down until they cannot take it any more, then go in for the kill!  Honcho and his cronies had everything to gain and nothing to lose by settling now.  They would receive 40% and much more than their hourly rate based on the small amount of work they had obviously put in, and would save themselves a great deal of work during the most intensive period, just before and during trial.  Win-win for the lawyers!

In the end, the victim received a little more than 10% of what she was told would be an equitable result, “making her whole”, an amount that would barely pay for a mid-priced car these days.  And that was supposed to make her whole after having lost a $65,000 a year job and a 20-year career?  I think the lawyers came out on top in this case, them and the mediator who charged thousands for a days’ work.

I would tell you about my personal experience with lawyers, an experience even less positive than this, but I will save that for another article, a book maybe.  All in all, I think Shakespeare was right when he wrote:

The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.” - Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78
I do not mean that literally, but maybe the world would be a better place if there were not any in the first place.  Which brings me to the question: Selfless or narcissist?  Every lawyer I have ever met, with one exception out of hundreds were selfish, arrogant, narcissists.  Have you had a different experience?   I hope so.  If you have or have not, let me hear your opinion, about your experience with the legal profession.  

Key Words: lawyer, attorney, legal, court, mediation, case, trial, victim, plaintiff, defendant, defense, judge, narcissist, selfless, arrogant, viral, institutional, terrorism, InstitutionalTerrorism, CombatActivist

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