The Case of the Disappeared Plaintiff

I’m having the strangest experience. During the process of filing a grievance against my personal injury lawyers (the whole history is under the Sidelines category “Problems with your lawyer”), I demanded that Dinkes & Schwitzer — who claimed that my entire file was just sitting at their offices, waiting for me personally to pick it up (all 25 pounds) and shlep it home — send it. You know, like mail it or whatever.

What a surprise! They did.

And I’ve been reading through the entire thing, every paper, every item, every line of every item, dating from February 8, 2008, when I retained them.

I’m performing a post mortem on a body that is still alive. Four years worth of legal proceedings and decisions represented by papers I have never seen until now. My name is on all of them, but rarely am I referred to.

I warn anyone who hires a law firm with an m.o. similar to Dinkes & Schwitzer’s that you as a person, as a client, could disappear entirely, except for your name in the caption. There I am, “NAOMI FEIN, Plaintiff,” but, aside from a few signatures, I am nowhere else. Occasionally a lawyer mentions my name during depositions — depositions to which I was never invited and never told about and how strange is it to read this testimony and see what lawyers I never met did or didn’t do for me and my case — but that’s pretty much that.

I have disappeared. For more than four years, I existed only as that capitalized name and a scraping of signatures.

It’s an amazing experience, one I’ve never had before. But it reminds me that I recently met a woman, a very successful businesswoman, who told me about her lawsuit for (roughly) breach of contract involving a lot of money. She was growing uneasy about her lawyer. When I asked her a few basic questions, I realized that she’d never talked to the lawyer about being kept informed, had none of the papers her case must have generated. She just didn’t know what was going on.

What was going on could very well be good lawyering. But she won’t know that until she asks her lawyer to talk to her about the whole thing, and to answer whatever questions she has. She has a right to that. It’s her case.

She should have claimed that right, but didn’t want to bother. Maybe, like this woman, you think you don’t want to know what’s happening with your case. I believe that’s a mistake. As I look through these papers, I can see errors that “my” lawyers made — errors of fact that would so easily have been avoided had they simply called me. Phoned me up, filled me in, asked a question or two.

But they didn’t. So now I have a long list of questions to ask them, particularly why what has been purported to be my whole file is missing quite a few elements. And why certain decisions were made without asking me whether I agreed or not.

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