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It has been 20 years since she voluntarily left a prestigious defense job for which she fought tens of thousands of applicants tooth and nail to secure. This was a dream job for any new lawyer who aspired to be the best in the field. This was the very job that would have paid off her law school loans so long as she could survive working there for at least three years. Her unusually high salary also came with a brand new company car and a signing bonus.
It all sounded so great and impressive so when after only two years she voluntarily gave it all up to start her own solo practice with not a penny to her name, it made everyone question her sanity. What made her leave it all behind?
She had been invited to celebrate a defense victory with one of the firm’s clients, a wealthy and well known OBGYN, who had been accused of having caused severe brain damage to a baby by unreasonable delays in performing a much needed C-section. Only a handful of trusted people knew the real reason for his delay which was the same as the previous three (3) times he had been unsuccessfully sued for causing severe brain injuries to other newborns.
He was an alcoholic who drank while on duty and had a habit of passing out from time to time in one of the empty hospital rooms before being found and awakened by the frantic nurses so he could finally deliver the poor oxygen deprived baby that should have been delivered hours ago, had he only been sober enough to know.
Of course, each time on advice of counsel, he had promptly gotten himself admitted into treatment so he could take advantage of the protections the law granted him for his so called “medical condition.” The poor parents and their lawyer didn’t stand a chance because the law prevented disclosure of his condition or his prior offenses in litigation. With each incident, the case was quietly resolved for a small amount by the insurance company, leaving the doctor’s record intact.
Sadly enough, fearing retaliation, even the disgusted nurses who had helped awaken the drunkard doctor, refused to testify to the truth of his condition. Some happily lied; some reluctantly told half truths; and the rest simply could not recall.
Apparently it was easier for the nurses to protect their jobs by protecting the hospital than to protect the poor helpless baby boy who was left to suffer for life, along with his family. Perhaps the nurses were not aware of the protections afforded to whistle-blowers or perhaps they just found it easier to look the other way and not rock the boat. Either way, the outcome was always the same!
Unfortunately, no one ever teaches law students how to get a good night sleep with such images running through their minds. No one ever tells them about the choices they have to make once they are on the wrong side of a justified lawsuit. All they are taught to do is how to safeguard client confidentiality and fight to the death to keep damaging facts from reaching the other side, no matter what the consequences.
In a perfect world, after the first or at least the second offense, the doctor’s license would be permanently revoked. In a perfect world, lawyers would be required to share the damning information with the other side without jeopardizing their licenses and let the chips fall where they may. In a perfect world, a distinguished and reputable defense lawyer with several awards for ethics and professionalism would not assist in the cover up and instead would convince his clients to pay for their mistakes or at least withdraw from their representation, if they refused to do the right thing. In a perfect world, morality would never be compromised for more billable hours.
But unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world and an expensive bottle of champagne apparently is the proper method of celebration for an alcoholic criminal who beats the system yet again for the fourth time.
Tears began to run down her face when she heard her mentor, the great trial lawyer of the year, tell her to cheer up because it was not her place to judge the client. “We are hired to do a job”, he told her while struggling to pop the cork. “We have done a great job for our client and we should be proud of ourselves,” he cheerfully gloated.
She felt chills running down what was left of her soul and could barely breathe in their presence. “I am not like them,” she kept repeating in her head. “I am different than them,” she kept reassuring herself while fighting to keep back her tears. But she knew in her heart that she had acted no differently than the rest of them. She knew the truth about the doctor’s past just like they did. She too had an opportunity to tell the truth to the grieving parents, the Plaintiff’s counsel, or to anyone else who could make a difference, but she didn’t and couldn’t, at least not without losing her license. She had a chance to make things right but she put her license and her future in the firm ahead of her conscience. Yes, she was in fact no different than them! Staring into the distance, a cold tear drop rolled down her cheek as she silently mouthed the words, “I am them!”
As this realization washed over her, she slowly began to back away from them one small step after the other. She could no longer bear the sound of their laughter while they mocked and ridiculed the poor Plaintiff’s lawyer for each mistake he had made throughout the litigation. Soon, she found herself alone, sitting at the back of the room quietly sobbing for the person she had become in two years.
The bartender approached her and asked if she was alright. She fought to hide her tears by covering her face with the small black cocktail napkin on the table. The bartender was not fooled and placed a cold glass of water in front of her and in a comforting voice directed her to take a sip and told her that everything would be fine. Heartbroken, she impatiently lashed out, “what do you know about anything?” The bartender assured her that no matter what ailed her, she would feel better tomorrow. “Tomorrow I will still be working for a monster and there is nothing I can do about it,” she told him emphatically.
With a confused look on his face, the bartender cautiously said, “if you really hate your job so much, why don’t you just quit?” Furious about his lack of compassion and understanding for the complexity of her plight, she took a sip of water and sternly told him, “It’s not that easy!” The bartender seemingly had had enough of her self-pity so he shook his head in disapproval and walked away mumbling, “It’s all about choices, nothing more…nothing less!”
Feeling attacked and all alone in the world, she closed her eyes, leaned back into the soft leather chair and tilted her head up to prevent her mascara tinted tears from dropping on her designer white silk shirt she had worn that day for the reading of the verdict. As time passed, the bartender’s departing words kept echoing louder and louder in her mind. “It’s all about choices, nothing more…nothing less!”
Those words, seemingly harsh at the time, slowly transformed themselves into a life saving raft to that drowning young lawyer. Suddenly she opened her eyes and could see everything around her with such clarity that it frightened her. A strange sense of euphoria rushed through her body as she got up, took a deep breath and walked over to the trial lawyer who was still celebrating with the shameless doctor, and loudly announced, “I quit.” But before he or anyone else could react to her announcement, she quickly picked up her briefcase and rushed over to the bartender who was at her table diligently removing all traces of her as if she never existed. With a grateful smile, she shook his hand while tipping him and told him, “thank you for changing my life.”
She moved on from there to start her own firm and vowed to spend the rest of her life fighting for justice for the underdog and to represent the hardworking men and women who have the courage not to look the other way. Since then, the only words echoing in her thoughts have been, “a restful sleep in a hovel beats a restless sleep in a mansion!”