The Way It Ought To Be

About ten years ago, my then-law partner and I tried a personal injury case in Sacramento.  It was a difficult case to prepare because the plaintiff had treated with a great many doctors and the nature of his medical treatment was very complex, involving two separate injuries, so we had to piece out what damage had been caused by the first trauma and what had been caused by the second.  Complicating matters was the fact that the plaintiff treated with doctors in the Sacramento area, around his hometown in Lake Tahoe, and in the Reno-Carson City area.  One of the doctors had moved his practice to Santa Rosa.  All of them had to be deposed.

This was, of course, very expensive and time-consuming, especially for lawyers based in the Los Angeles area.  The plaintiff’s attorney was also very busy and he enjoyed a thriving practice with a lot of clients, but he did not have a lot of staff support to help him out in his practice.  Consequently, we shouldered a lot of the administrative and logistical burden of getting these depositions lined up, and the plaintiff’s attorney spent a lot of time travelling around playing catch-up with us.  Coordinating things was something of a challenge.

As is sometimes the case, the parties had dramatically different views of what the case was worth.  We were looking at a result in the mid-five figures; the plaintiff was looking at low sevens.  We came up quite a bit in settlement talks and the plaintiff came down quite a bit, too, but we never quite settled it.  It took three weeks to try the case to a jury.  The result came in numerically closer to where we were coming from as the defendants, and an order of magnitude less than the plaintiff wanted, but still an order of magnitude more than we wanted.

Since then, I’ve referred some cases in Northern California to this attorney.  He was always a strong advocate for his client, smart, courteous and professional to us, and took care to show respect for a couple of young guys going out on their own.  Today, my former law partner sent me an e-mail from our former adversary indicating that he had fallen on unfortunate circumstances and had to retire for a medical reason.  The odds are not wonderful for him.

I corresponded with him directly and expressed my regrets.  I’d have been willing to help him out in any way he needed to help him wind his practice down so he can concentrate on his personal issues, and told him that to this day I considered his handling of the case we litigated together to be a model of professional behavior to which I aspired.  I meant it too.  He was gracious and warm in his response.  Of course he took care of all his professional obligations already and doesn’t need assistance from me in that regard or any other — but that’s not the point of making such an offer.

The point of the story is, every once in a while there comes along a reminder that law is not just a job.  It’s a profession.  It’s a way of life.  This fellow never once put his sword or shield down when we were litigating, and never once wanted me to, either.  And when the time for litigating was done, he was as friendly and courteous and generally pleasant to be around as anyone could possibly have asked for.  It made litigating the case pleasant and it created a mutual admiration society that I was pleased to see lasts to this day.

Every once in a while, there comes along a reminder that practicing law can be a really good way to not only earn a living, but to live a life.  I think that’s as good a note as I could have hoped for to end another year in my practice.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.