Who shouldn’t sue?

“Lawsuit mania”…a continual craving to go to law against others, while considering themselves the injured party – Cesare Lombroso, The Man of Genius

For a number of reasons I’ll dip into more thoroughly, when a lawyer says he won’t take a case, it’s because he doesn’t think the prospective client has one worth pursuing. As I’ve said, I’d tend to trust a lawyer’s judgment on this. But then, I’m sane.

There are people who don’t accept a “no” from a lawyer, people who’d call our law firm from the rural south or west about injustices that sounded real and serious, often against local government or local uniformed services.

To a man and woman, these people told me they couldn’t find a lawyer in their area who had the “political courage” to take their case. Given my northeastern urban attitude toward what is called “America’s Heartland” (I am a proud and thankful denizen of America’s Headland), I was at first willing to believe their difficulties in finding a local lawyer who’d brave the political establishment.

Until I told Dave the Dude about one of these phone calls. “If she hasn’t been able to find a lawyer,” he said, “if lawyers have turned her down, you can be pretty sure there isn’t a case.” He went on: “If a case is solid, there will always be a lawyer who’ll take it.”

Those were the callers with whom I was, at least initially, sympathetic. But some of the people who called were lunatics. A few true tales:

Bandaged Guy. Previously I told you about our star attorney, Baron von Terp, who had a generous heart but no time to check out potential clients personally (one of his associates generally did an initial review of cases). During an unsolicited phone call, a distraught man had convinced an associate that he had a terrific, i.e., terrible case. The man claimed to have been beaten up so badly by racist cops he had become totally disabled. The associate was moved and disturbed; Baron agreed to meet the man.

The guy was wheeled into our office with his body and head so immobilized by dramatic bandages and splints we had trouble easing him through the conference room door. His entire extended family accompanied him. Baron sat down with Bandaged Guy, listened to his story and, still big-hearted (“Did you see that poor guy?” he asked me later, even before we managed to navigate him out the door), agreed to take a look at the case. Please send me whatever documents you have, Baron told him. (Baron was assuming this potential client knew, long before I told him in this blog, to Make A Record.)

The day after Bandaged Guy’s appearance, our fax machine was clogged with pages and pages of crazier and crazier descriptions of the incident, mixed in with fat bills and slim reports from the many doctors he’d seen who’d been told that we’d now be picking up the overdue tabs. (That’s one way of defining “contingency.”) I read quickly through the doctors’ reports and realized that none of these many doctors had actually found anything medically wrong with Bandaged Guy. (Who bandaged him? It remains a not-very-compelling mystery.)

Baron had his associate draw up a formal letter turning down the case. But for a full month thereafter Bandaged Guy kept sending us faxed bills with threatening “past due” notices. He had drawn his own fax cover sheets portraying himself as a martyred (and heavily bandaged) Jesus, affixed to the cross.

Pursued by multiple forces of evil. A young woman called our law office saying she desperately needed us to represent her. She yammered at me for quite a while. She was hiding out in a motel, wouldn’t, couldn’t give me the location because she was being pursued by major governmental agencies, the Mafia and other forces of evil for reasons she wouldn’t, couldn’t elaborate upon.

A constant shift in living arrangements and mysterious coded threats popped up into the narrative, as did drugs, aluminum foil, an ex-boyfriend.

I listened for a long time, tacitly but moderately entertained. (I’m an addict of spy novels and other thrillers but am therefore critical about plot lines, storytelling and believability.)

Finally, she took a long breath and in a brief moment of startling clarity asked me, “Tell me the truth. Do I sound crazy?”

“Yes,” I said, kindly. “You do.”

She sighed deeply, thanked me and said goodbye.


  • Don’t fake or exaggerate injuries.
  • Don’t run up medical bills for fake injuries and don’t fax them to a lawyer who hasn’t yet taken your case.
  • Maybe you can fool one lawyer and his associate once but you can’t fool his office staff. Ever.
  • If you’ve got a problem that involves persecution by sources you dare not name, do get yourself first to a therapist and ask her/him, “Should I be talking to you instead of a lawyer?”
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