Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why I Like Being A Lawyer

Recently a former client whom I represented in an auto accident years ago came to me with a problem. She politely asked me if I could help her since this was not a "personal injury" case.

She worked years ago for a local institution and was eligible for a small pension. When she turned the correct age she inquired as to when she could expect to receive her benefits. She was told they had no record of her being eligible, and promised to get back to her.

Weeks went by, and she heard nothing so she inquired again. She was told they were "still looking into it" or words to that effect. Weeks turned into months, so she called me. I told her I would look into it and wrote a nice letter to the institution on her behalf. No response.

So I wrote letter no 2. Finally heard from a representative. After a few weeks, the person acknowledged that she was entitled to her benefits, with interest, and offered an amount, which was accepted.

Almost three months passed and still no payment. Yet another letter was sent and ignored, so I finally initiated the nuclear option: I drafted and sent a copy of a lawsuit and explained that I would be filing it if there was no payment in full within 7 days.

Lo and behold, the check arrived--but not without the threat of a lawsuit, and after the passage of over one year.
I have no earthly idea why it took those efforts to get a large institution do what it was obligated to do. After 25 years in this business, I've stopped trying to figure out why corporations or people do what they do. But it ticks me off that people simply trying to enforce their rights are often labelled as "sue happy" and "greedy" and nonsense like that. This nice person only came to me after getting nowhere by simply inquiring on her own and trusting that people would do the right thing. And it gives me a sense of pride to know that we can accomplish a result with some persistence and simple steps to get people to do the right thing.

But it reminded me yet again of the frequent imbalance of power in situations like this. There is a real movement afoot to chip away at our legal rights brick by brick. Most of this stuff flies under radar, and the public is largely ignorant of all of it...until it affects them. But at the end of the day, when all "nice" or informal efforts at resolving disputes fail, the lawsuit is the great equalizer. It allows the little guy or gal with little to no resources to take on someone or some entity much larger.

To be sure, there are some really stupid and frivolous lawsuits out there, and they deserve all the criticism they get. But just remember: almost every lawsuit "reform" measure proposed by astroturf  "concerned citizens groups" is seeking limits or legal shelter on even legitimate wrongs and disputes.

You know--the old saying about the baby and the bathwater. Something to think about the next time you hear some politician or group clammering for (more) legal "reforms."    

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