By: Jamie Collins
Although personal injury law is one of the most prevalent practice areas in the legal arena, it tends to lend itself to a variety of perceptions, and often misperceptions, on the part of the general public. When people hear the words “personal injury” uttered, they typically do one of three things: cringe; get vivid mental images of people wearing neck braces and wincing in pain or falling down at the supermarket, so they can whip out the camera to take pictures; or feel instantaneously compelled to rattle off a few snide remarks or backhanded jokes regarding “ambulance chasers” or “slip and fall guys,” more accurately known as trial lawyers.
To them I say, read this post.
I lucked into the personal injury realm when I accepted a receptionist position at a small firm that handled personal injury and wrongful death cases more than a decade ago. At the time, I didn’t have any definitive career plans, and certainly didn’t view personal injury work as an area of passion. However, I did find the work interesting. Over time, it grew on me. Each client’s case was the same, yet different from all the rest. I viewed each client’s file as a story. Each one had its own cast of characters, complications, and facts. Little did I know that personal injury work would one day become my life’s work. I had no idea that fifteen years later, there isn’t anything else in the world that I’d rather be doing than what I do now – handling personal injury and wrongful death cases alongside trial attorneys.
There isn’t a day that goes by that the importance of what I do is lost on me. Sure, there are certainly a few rare clients I’d rather forget, projects I’d rather not have, papers I’d rather not copy, and files that I’d prefer to drop into that rectangular receptacle sitting desk-side. Yet, there is something to be said for helping people at a time when they need it most.
I’ve had clients chat me up as they nervously anticipate their first round of spinal injections scheduled for the following Tuesday, spoken with those who were unsure how they would ever get over the loss of a beautiful and vibrant, young child tragically killed in a car accident, and talked with countless others who had no idea how they could possibly continue to walk through life with their permanent deficits, daily pain, and limited lifestyle after being hit and seriously injured by a drunk driver on the way to little Johnny’s soccer practice one afternoon.
I’ve stood beside hospital beds, and had clients speak directly to me over any of the suits standing in the room because they felt I understood them, and could relate to their personal plight better than any of the attorneys standing alongside me. I’ve visited clients’ homes and glimpsed a bit of insight into their private worlds, where they eat, sleep, and live. I’ve fielded countless telephone calls from confused clients seeking answers to a multitude of questions ranging from what they should wear to a deposition, to how long settlements take, what happens at a mediation, why their discovery responses are important, whether insurance companies always fight this hard, and what to expect at trial.
I’ve taken calls from potential clients that had experienced such catastrophic losses that their words were muffled in a sea of tears, as they grievously wept while attempting to somehow articulate to me through a cloud of distorted words what had happened the day their world became one person smaller when they lost a child or spouse. I always mentally try to put myself in their shoes, finding it unimaginable how they even found the strength to get out of bed in the morning, much less anything else after suffering such a catastrophic and devastating loss.
I have looked at photographs no one else could bring themselves to look at due to their extremely graphic nature and emotionally jarring content because someone had to do it. And if it had to be someone – why not me? I’ve viewed images of horrific things: human beings burned and charred beyond recognition as they sat trapped in the front seat their vehicle during a fiery car crash; a gentleman whose body was inadvertently pulled into a meat grinder while working at a factory, critically injured or deceased babies, and graphic autopsy photos illustrating precisely what it looks like after the coroner makes a large, butterfly incision across a grown man’s chest. If I could barely bring myself to look at those images, I wondered how in the world this client (or their family) could possibly make it through one more day of emotional torture, tremendous loss, and deep grief, much less all of the years to follow.
We help real people with real problems. We step in when insurance companies fail to extend reasonable offers, when facts are complicated or people need help navigating the complex legal landscape. We take cases to trial. We stand in the courtroom to ask a jury of peers to award our injured clients what they are entitled to. We hold our client’s virtual hands throughout the entire legal process. We answer questions. We provide guidance. We offer care, compassion and empathy to people when they need it most, often when they have encountered the ultimate low in life. We lift them up, help them along, encourage them, sooth them, address their each and every concern, and most importantly, represent their interests by giving a voice to their cause. We become an extension of them. We proudly represent them. We walk with them, talk with them, and at times, become like friends or family to them.
Whether you were rear-ended in a car accident, fell off of a third story balcony at a party, your little boy was bit by the neighbor’s vicious dog and is now missing three fingers and part of an ear or you were rear-ended at a high rate of speed by a 80,000 pound semi-tractor trailer on the interstate – I’m your girl. In case you’re wondering if I’m interested in each client’s plight, the answer is yes. There’s no where I’d rather be. You bet it’s personal. You bring the file to my desk, and I will shake it down twelve ways to Sunday, and serve it up via a grand assortment of well-crafted memos, letters, pleadings, and when I’m feeling really crafty, perhaps even a few fancy charts, tables, and demonstrative exhibits. I will know that file better than anyone who didn’t actually live through it. I consider it a personal mission to make it an extension of myself. I take pride in what I do. I take pride in being an extension of another human being.
You better believe I will know all of the names of key players, who knows what, whom, and when, what time the sun rose that day, and how many seconds there were between the green light and the red light that forever altered our client’s life. I will arrive in the courtroom with every imaginable supply known to man. My attorneys will want for nothing. There will come a time when the opposing attorney will secretly wish he could steal my notepad and pen, as I sit there writing strategic notes to place in front of my attorney to slay each and every witness. I will be an extension of the client and my law firm on that day, and you better believe the job will be done with all of the poise, professionalism, and competence one would expect of a seasoned trial paralegal in a courtroom.
Perhaps you think helping injured people sounds boring, but let me as you this: What if that person on the way to that soccer game now lying in that hospital bed paralyzed who could never walk or work again a day in their life was your mother, sister, father, brother, wife, husband or child? How would you feel about it then? What if the insurance company they were dealing with wasn’t willing to pony up their measly $100,000 auto policy limits when your loved one had incurred over $150,000 in initial ER bills, and was left with permanent injuries from which they would never recover? You interested now? You bet I am.
What I do matters. When that file hits my desk – it’s go time. It becomes a personal mission. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know many clients rather well. I can readily tell you their children’s names, personal hobbies, where they last went on vacation, what they did there, the list of activities they can no longer do each day, their sketchy history of cocaine abuse, and how their married sex lives will never be the same again. Sure, it’s not always pretty. The conversations aren’t always easy. There are certain things I’d rather not know or see or do on a particular file, but at the end of the day, if someone needs to take the call, hold the hand, view the unimaginable images or read deposition testimony armed with a yellow highlighter for so many mind-numbing, countless hours that their eyes might quite literally pop right out of their head – you can sign me up for the Highlighting Championship, because me and that binder are going…all…the…way.
I’m all in.
When a client has a question or needs to better understand what is going on…they call me. When an attorney needs to know if something is inconsistent about a file…they ask me. When a client needs to promptly remove a Starbucks cup or Monster Energy drink off of the table and out of the jury’s sight following a brief trial recess…I’ll be the one to tell them. When you need one document out of a pile of six thousand pulled and on counsel’s table in a matter of seconds…I’ll find it. When the client is on the verge on an emotional breakdown…I’ll step in as a makeshift counselor. When you need someone who cares about that file and client more than anyone else could…it will be me.
Sure, what I do isn’t always fun, and it sure isn’t always pretty, but what I do matters. It matters to clients. It matters to me. I help change lives. What more could one do for a living?
So to those with the ambulance chaser mentality I say, “You better watch those red lights closely.” You just never know when you might find yourself on the other end of the table, in need of someone who cares, listens sympathetically, answers questions, virtually holds your hand, and single handedly funds a highlighter factory.
I’m your girl.
There’s no place I’d rather be.
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Have an absolutely fantastic, l-o-n-g weekend, TPSers! We’ll see you on “Double Monday” – that’s like regular Monday, but after an oh so lovely, long, extended holiday weekend, complete with turkey and pumpkin pie galore! Yep. True story. “Double Monday.” It happens. (Insert universal, paralegal sigh here!) Until then, bask in every moment of your extended, holiday respite!