[S]He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. – Rafael Sabatini, Scaramouche
That’s who I am.
Did you know that the swashbuckling character called “Scaramouche,” with whom I claim a shared spirit, was by profession a lawyer? Indeed, he was; indeed, I am not. From your point of view as a troubled potential plaintiff, I’m much, much better.
Unlike lawyers, who view a case from the exclusive citadel called The Law, I’m experienced in every phase of a lawsuit from everybody’s perspective. I am possessed of philosophy, politics, lawyers’ secrets, a naked assessment of my own fuck-ups, empathy, funny and agonizing stories, psychotherapeutic and physical tools and techniques.
I muck around with one foot outside the citadel.
I drew up a fine case status chart that elaborates upon every stage of a lawsuit from the lawyer’s perspective. From my own perspective, I know how to spy on the enemy and do enough legal research to challenge lawyers without behaving like a lunatic and making them resent me any more than lawyers ordinarily resent their clients. Which I can tell you they do.
How do I know so much? For sixteen years I was the legal administrator, paralegal and great friend and supporter of a couple of big-time attorneys on a large number of major cases. Really major cases.
Loved that job. I worked on entire lawsuits, from the first client meeting through boxes and boxes of discovery documents and, eventually, onto the settlement checks. Every day I wandered into “my” lawyers’ offices to ask questions, to listen to their stories and strategies. To learn, to contemplate what I learned, and then to apply the knowledge.
So, long before I became a litigant myself, I had lived through every stage in the legal process and had asked the questions you, as a plaintiff, wouldn’t know to ask.
Okay, so I know lawsuits. And I know what goes on inside lawyers’ offices and inside lawyers’ brains.
But even before I became one, I empathized with plaintiffs.
Since ours was a small firm, I was usually the person who answered the phone. Thus, I became the default responder to our distressed clients. Quickly I came to realize that what most upset plaintiffs – after the injustices that caused them to become plaintiffs in the first place – was their sense of helplessness. They didn’t understand what was going on. Not knowing can drive anybody crazy.
And they weren’t going to learn much from their lawyers. Even brilliant lawyers – and “my” lawyers were brilliant – are by nature bad, brusque, condescending communicators with anyone, such as a client, who isn’t another lawyer. So I, the non-lawyer with my head in law and heart with our distressed clients, found myself interpreting for plaintiffs, converting legalese into vernacular English, explaining the steps, the abstruse minutiae, the lingo and the bewildering digressions that are always part of the legal process.
Understanding lawyers while simultaneously understanding and explaining things to their clients is much like holding two opposite ideas in one’s head at the same time. If it doesn’t make you nuts, it makes you wise.
And I am not nuts.