My fellow Coast-to-Coast co-host, Bob Ambrogi, tagged MIPTC to participate in the "Lawyers Appreciate ..." 10-day countdown. Although I'm not completely sure of the reasons behind its origin, I believe it's an effort to wind up the year on a positive note. To follow a number of other appreciative posts, here's MIPTC's thoughts as 2006 draws to a close.
Lawyers appreciate (at least this one does) the opportunity to extend a helping hand when someone needs it and can't do it on their own. Throughout the last 20 years of my practice, I've had that opportunity too few times. Times when it truly makes a difference in someone's life when you use your skills as a lawyer to get them out of a jam. I'm not just talking about the everyday practice for paying clients, but the extraordinary opportunity to help someone who can't afford your assistance, but who really needs it. And I'm not just taking about the Public Law Center type help (which is certainly an organization deserving of all lawyers' time); I'm talking about the kind of one-on-one help that changes someone's life.
As a young lawyer, I first had the opportunity to extend this type of help in the most unlikely of situations, and that experience changed my perspective on how to practice law. As regular readers know, I've ridden a Harley-Davidson for a long time. My first bike was a ramshackle conglomeration of a bunch of different parts from different bikes to make up one bike. Others who know better would have called it a "basket bike" - a motorcycle that started its life as a group of lifeless parts in not much more than a basket.
Even though my bike was nothing great to look at, it ran thanks to a man who had repaired motorcycles his entire life and was well past retirement. He graciously took my parts, married them together into a working bike and kept it working. He had done the same for many others. Once in awhile, though, his customers wouldn't have the money to pay for his work once their bike was put together, and he'd have to sell the bike in a lien sale to recover the cost of his labor.
Unbeknownst to me, he had done just that that several months before I walked into his shop, and had been consequently sued by the owner of the basket parts because the customer wanted his now-built bike back (now sold in the lien sale), despite his inability to pay. The customer had hired a lawyer to sue the repairman.
The customer's lawyer promptly sent out discovery and had placed my repairman in the untenable position of facing terminating sanctions because the repairman couldn't afford to pay for a lawyer to represent him and didn't know how to respond to the discovery. The repairman had hired a lien-sale company to sell the parts bike, and they had done everything by the book. The repairman, however, was about to lose the case and have a judgment taken against him for something approaching the value of a new Harley because he didn't respond to the plaintiff's discovery. He had only a one-room garage where he repaired bikes and was about to lose it, along with the ability to make his livelihood, due only to a procedural technicality.
When I walked into his shop, he asked me - knowing I was a lawyer - to help him with the "paperwork" he had received from the plaintiff's lawyer. I recognized the dire straits he was in, but also recognized that his lien sale company had done everything right and that the plaintiff really had no legitimate case. After sending a detailed letter explaining the entire situation to the opposing counsel, along with a stern warning should a dismissal fail to follow quickly after the receipt of my explanation, the case went away, and the repairman (and now his son) continue to fix Harleys for riders to this day.
This story points out how something that took a relatively small amount of time and expense for me as a lawyer to accomplish can instead make all the difference in the world for someone who doesn't have those skills. MIPTC encourages other lawyers to be on the lookout for those situations where your help will make a difference, and with the benefit of this story tucked away in your memory, also choose to act.
It's a wonderful life, especially when you participate.