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Bad Lawyers

© November 2008 Anthony Lawrence

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?

Got something to add? Send me email.

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Mon Feb 9 17:56:00 2009: 5356   livinginpain2

I think you have been more than fair in your remarks regarding lawyers here. I have complex medical challenges including moderate to severe degenerative joint disease though out my neck and spine, as well as major depression and post traumatic stress disorder due to horrific childhood abuse. Like your wife I worked as long as I possibly could. My employer finally asked me to take a medical leave until my problems resolved, but they only got worse. So I ended up filing for SSDI. I believe that I am incredibly fortunate, because my disability lawyer has been the epitome of professionalism. He runs a successful and compassionate practice with a top notch staff and recently won my case for me without a glitch.
However, my best friend of 30 some years, whose health is almost the mirror image of mine was represented by an attorney on a par with the ones who represented your wife. To my horror and dismay her case was totally sabotaged by her incompetent attorney. My dear friend has been totally devastated by the loss of her health and her livelihood and the tremendous stress has made her even sicker.
I have referred her to my attorney but she has been told that due to her prior idiot attorney her case my never be won.

Tue Feb 10 12:30:44 2009: 5357   TonyLawrence

Yeah, that's what we were told also - too much damage.

We see another example right now with another family member. Advice from an incompetent may put them in bankruptcy. I feel it's partly their fault for being so trusting, but they will suffer - he won't.

Tue Feb 10 14:47:57 2009: 5358   BigDumbDinosaur

There's a parallel here between an incompetent lawyer and an incompetent IT tech. Lots of people pass the MCSE tests but can't fix a busted computer to save their lives. Many would-be barristers also graduate from law school and pass the bar exam each year, yet are completely useless as litigators. Relatively high paying professions tend to attract a lot of unqualified people seeking to cash in. Law is definitely one of those professions. Computers used to be like that as well, until the bottom dropped out and all the work went to India.

Wed Apr 1 20:28:55 2009: 5951   suetiggers

I never understood why there were so many jokes about bad lawyers. Then, my son, who happens to be mentally ill got falsely accused of sexually molesting a child.
It has been 14 yrs. of hell and still unresolved and I think he's had more than his fair share of bad lawyers from the first one who waited till the last minute to "encourage" him to take a plea, which he never should have done. This lawyer never answered me when I asked if he was going to have a felony on his record (he was). He got very angry and dramatic (jumped up from his seat) when I suggested we think about it and said "ok we'll go to court then" ...not exactly what you want for an attitude if you feel you must go to court... and since this, my son's case was under appeal forever and got denied. The girl has since grown up, admitted she lied ( why? jealousy because of my son's involvement with her older sister, who happened to be a drug addict/prostitute who my son planned to reform and help get off drugs, then marry). This girl was also encouraged to lie by her grandmother and a nosy neighborhood watchwoman who didn't like my son's looks (and he was too friendly and trusting) so they thought he was "wierd". He was and is sick and he lives in total isolation now due to all this. Before this happened, he was someone who liked people. Now he's very paranoid and has moved away from family, friends who care about him.
The lawyers he went through were not all bad. But, they did not represent him well for a number of reasons. One lawyer got angry with me because I wanted him to call the original lawyer in the case to the stand for the appeal. He did not want to take on this lawyer (who's well known in Baltimore) and he yelled at me when I asked if he thought the original lawyer would lie on the witness stand. His answer "off the record, YES, or he will make you look as bad as possible and you won't win"...
My son never won. This girl writes letters from prison apologizing (she's a prostitute drug addict, like her mother and sister who both died from drugs.) The girl gave a deposition to my son's lawyer with very strong statements saying she would have admitted to lying if anyone had ever asked her to take a lie detector test.
It seems no one cares about these kind of cases. And I have found out more than I care to about these kind of cases, that the media has had a field day with (and politicians and yes, lawyers)...there's a lot more cases out there like my sons' than most people know.

Wed Apr 1 20:39:33 2009: 5953   TonyLawrence

That's sad - I'm very sorry.


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