The below article was written in 1992, and submitted by someone whom the Weekly Universe has verified to be a California attorney. The names have been changed. The rest is all true.
HOW TO MAKE MONEY IN SOFT TISSUE INJURY
by Anonymous, guest contributor. [April 18, 2012]
[WeeklyUniverse.com] "First thing, forget all that stuff about just telling the truth. Insurance companies are just looking for an excuse not to pay."
She said it. I was there. I'm a witness. Forget all
that stuff about just telling the truth. It's not something lawyers
say in public, but they say it behind the shield of attorney-client privilege.
First day on the job. I sit across from Betty Barracuda, one of the
firm's personal injury attorneys, as she explains the preparation of plaintiff
witnesses for deposition. Much time is spent "preparing" them. Important
they all tell the same story. Inconsistencies don't look so good.
"Most cases are won or lost in deposition," says Betty. "If you have
a good witness, the insurance company will settle before trial. That's
how we make money."
Earlier that day, back in 1992, I answer a help wanted ad in Los Angeles's
legal trade paper, The Daily Journal. High hourly pay for
part-time legal work, no experience required. I'd rather do entertainment
law, but this sounds like easy money for easy hours. It'll give me
time to pursue my writing.
I'm offered the job thirty seconds into the interview. As Sid Shyster
explains it, "I like you." It's as simple as that.
Sid shows me my new office. Drab paneling, metal furniture, dusty
windows overlooking mid-Wilshire. Lawyers nest among their own breeds. Entertainment attorneys flock to Century City. High-powered tax and
corporate types settle downtown. Mid-Wilshire has the ambulance chasers. That slip & fall species who advertise on TV, the yellow pages, and
bus stop benches.
Sid hands me practice guides on auto injuries and admission of medical
evidence. Big binders containing blank contracts and court documents. It's how real lawyers practice law. The publishers print new pages
every few months to stay current. Lawyers charge clients to fill
in the blanks. Now available on CD-ROM.
"We specialize in soft tissue injury," says Sid.
"You mean whiplash."
"Right," he smiles. "Mainly incurred in auto accidents."
I feign interest in the practice guides. They're not something you're
likely to hear about in law school, which avoid teaching the practice of
law. Instead, you learn to argue Socraticly. You argue the
merits of Constitutional originalism vs. textualism. You can graduate
with honors without ever seeing a court document, or knowing how or where
to file a motion, or how to manage a law office, or price your services.
Practical knowledge smacks of trade school, and that's beneath the dignity
of law professors. They'd rather analyze the medieval origins underpinning
the rule against perpetuities, or deconstruct the phallu-centric biases inherent in Western jurisprudence. They can't spare valuable brainpower
teaching students how to file papers in the local courthouse. Only
clients care about that, and professors don't need clients, they have tenure.
Law schools expect students to learn the actual practice of law after graduation,
possibly by asking someone who knows. Such as a working paralegal.
At least I had Sid's practice guides. My yellow brick road to the
high-paying, part-time world of soft tissue injury.
I should be so lucky.
Several days later, Sid laments, "We can't use you part-time. I took
another look at the books. We can only afford full-time attorneys."
Full-time. Damn. Lawyer hours are long. And whiplash
is a far cry from the glamourous world of entertainment law. Oh well. At least there's the high hourly wage ...
Sid frowns, shaking his head.
Feels like bait & switch to me.
I'm now earning significantly less at a full-time job than I was to get
part-time. At least Sid promises to train me in litigation. You don't learn that in law school.
At Sid's behest, I sit in on several events.
Event #1: Deposition at an insurance defense firm.
Betty Barracuda files her nails while the defense attorney grills our client. Grills him slowly. See, our client is badly confused. And he
doesn't speak English, so we have a translator, who further slows the proceedings.
"Where were you born?" asks the defense attorney.
El Salvador, we are told via translation.
"How long have you lived in the United States?"
Twelve years, I wonder. And no habla English?
Betty files her nails. I tap the carpet with my foot. The insurance
company's counsel drones on. For two hours.
At one point the defense finds a hole in our client's story. The
attorney digs in, chewing on the inconsistency like the rabid dog everybody
hates in other attorneys, but wants as his own. I suppress a smile,
silently cheering our opponent. I got a bad feeling about our client's
veracity. About his alleged injury. About his alleged lack
I hope we lose. I still get paid the same.
When it's over, I feel a need to justify my presence by contributing to
"my side." I offer Betty a moral-boost. "I thought it went
"Yeah," she sighs, "except that my client kept contradicting himself."
Back at the firm, Miguel Mouthpiece furthers my training. "The first
thing we look for is liability. We don't bother with cases where
there's a serious question of liability. We're only interested in
cases where there can be a quick settlement with the insurance company. That's how we make money."
They must rake in plenty. The firm is extensively decorated with
southwestern Indian art, valuable enough to protect behind glass cases,
all indirectly paid for by insurance policy holders. But don't let
Miguel's pricey art or conservative suits fool you. He dresses for
the Eighties, but his walls evince a Nineties sensibility. Huge plaques
from trial lawyer associations, signed by bar presidents and judges, attest
to his noble service to justice and humanity.
I ask Miguel about damages. Damages is legalese for money. That word they do teach in law school.
"Mainly lost wages, medical expenses, and emotional stress," he says. "Since our clients tend to be low earners, agricultural and factory workers,
often itinerant, the real money is in medical treatment."
What is the treatment for soft tissue injury? Massages and
heat packs administered by clinics that seemingly specialize in this sort
of thing. Many insurance defense firms question the dollar amounts
these clinics charge, or if the treatment was even required, or if it was
Or if the clinic even exists. Apparently, some do not.
Insurance investigators, and private detectives on insurance retainers,
make their money ferreting out phantom medical clinics and repeat whiplash
claimants. That's not Miguel's job. His job is to be an uncompromising
advocate for his client. His job is to resolve all doubts in favor
of his client. His job is to provide the finest legal representation
possible to his client. His job is to look the other way.
Investigating fishy claims is how insurance investigators make money from
soft tissue injury. That's not us.
Event #2: My first arbitration.
Bad news for our side. The arbiter questions the amount in our client's
medical bill. More bad news. Our client has failed to show
Betty tries to settle for anything she can get. The other side senses
our weakness and considers withdrawing their offer. We're not talking
lotto money. Standard soft tissue settlements at this firm range
from two to seven thousand dollars, including auto body repair work. So how can they afford pricey art?
Volume! Volume! Volume!
File cabinets, shelves, tables, even the floors, are layered and stacked
and piled with files. Each file is a claim against an insurance company. Most will never see trial.
After arbitration, Sid buttonholes me. He's seen my résumé. BFA from NYU film school. Sid is curious. He confesses a yen
to segue into entertainment law. Wonders if I service any entertainment
clients on the side. Suggests we might team up.
Event #3: My second deposition.
Our client is suing for worker's comp benefits. Our client does not
speak English. The insurance defense attorney comes to our firm for
the deposition. A nice gal, but green. The kind of attorney
everyone praises, and nobody wants as their own. She's intimidated
by us. She doesn't protest when our shark objects to her questions. The deposition drags on without event.
That day, Betty gives her two weeks notice. After a screamfest with
Sid, she quits effective immediately.
Later that day, Sid introduces me to two new hires: Blossom and Manuel. Manuel is fresh out of law school, mouth watering to sink teeth into insurance
dollars. He pumps my hand, announcing what a pleasure it will be
to work with me.
Blossom describes herself as an entertainment attorney.
Sid gives my office to Blossom, then shows me my new office, which looks
exactly like the first one.
Event #4: Monday morning. Another deposition.
I meet Sally Sue in a North Hollywood coffee shop. Sally is a contract
attorney. Not the kind that drafts contracts, but the kind who contracts
out their services to other lawyers. The kind who seek the challenge
that comes with not being tied down to one firm. The kind who enjoy
never knowing where their next job is coming from. The kind who can
neither find a steady job, nor get clients on their own.
Sid contracted Sally last Friday night over the phone, sight unseen, to
train me now that Betty is gone. Sally will accompany me to the deposition. We both understand, or think we do, that I am in charge. Sid said
so. Even though Sally knows a whole lot more about depositions and
personal injury than I do.
At the coffee shop, Sally frets over our client's evidence. She says
the accident appears faked by both sides. That happens. The insurance company pays, then the "opposing" clients split the take.
I respond with, "You know what I just realized?"
"It was at this very same coffee shop, five years ago, that I took a meeting
with my second literary agent and the third producer to option my second
Sally agrees that it's a small world.
We meet our two clients for the first time. A Latin couple, neither
of whom speak English. That was expected. What surprises the
defense is that our firm sent two lawyers. Neither Sally nor I know
how to explain ourselves. I defer to Sally, who states that she is
"making a special appearance on behalf of Sidney Shyster."
"What kind of special appearance?" demands the defense counsel. "And who is Sidney Shyster?"
Sally is stumped for an answer, and so she restates her previous statement
several times, until she is finally removed for trespass.
After that, things take a turn for the worse.
Defense counsel demands the photos and documents they requested some time
ago. This is news to me, and so I state that I am unauthorized to
hand over any documents until I have instructions from my office. Defense
counsel allows me to use their phone, but Sid won't be in until 10:30 that
Defense counsel makes additional requests, all of which are news to me.
I repeatedly state, "I am unauthorized to blankedy, blank, blank until I receive instructions from my office."
The stenographer can barely contain her laughter.
I wish Sid would hurry.
Defense counsel states for the record that she is unable to conduct a proper
deposition without such documents. And that my clients have failed
to show on two previous occasions. And that they may hit my firm
with sanctions. Then counsel sneers at me, "is there anything you can do without authorization from your office?"
As the stenographer chuckles, and without authorization from my office,
I make an executive decision. I give defense counsel a copy of one
client's social security card. She snatches it, sneering, "Let the
record show that I have been handed a photocopy of a social security
card, numbered ..."
And from this shark I learn something else they don't teach in law school. All of her statements are civil and polite, yet every word is uttered as
a sneer, a threat, voice always raised, angry, on the edge of screaming. Of course. What a neat trick. The immigrant plaintiffs stare
huddled and afraid, intimidated by the angry voice shouting unknown words. The transcript will only record the polite words, not the threatening tone.
Of course, I can always state for the record, "Will defense counsel please
stop shouting." Which, of course, she'll deny for the record. Anyway, our clients have good reason to be huddled and afraid. As
Sally earlier indicated, they're probably guilty as sin.
And as I don't want to be hit with sanctions, I make another executive
decision: we begin the deposition. Shortly thereafter, Sid phones
to cancel it, charging that as defense counsel removed plaintiff's attorney,
Sally Sue, the deposition up to this point is void.
"But I thought he was plaintiff's attorney!" screams defense counsel
into the phone, jabbing her finger at me.
I thought so too.
So did Sally.
So said Sid.
Defense counsel is screaming, lobster-red. The stenographer is laughing
hysterically. I bite my lips or I may join her. The immigrant
clients stare at us blank-faced, uncomprehending.
Back at the firm, Sid says not to worry, and that he fired Sally because
she was incompetent. Then we drive to a company lunch at a sushi
grill in honor of the new employees, of which there are several.
I ask Sid why Manuel is not present.
"Oh, I fired him. I hired you instead."
"But ... you hired me first, and then you hired him. Remember how you brought him over to me, so we could all shake hands?"
"Hey, my handshake ain't worth shit," Sid laughs. "Ask anyone."
I attempt small talk with one of the secretaries, remarking on the client
who can't (won't?) speak English after twelve years in the U.S.
She grows indignant. "Just because they've been here for twelve years
is no reason to expect them to know English!"
I feign agreement.
Driving back to the office, Sid relates his own current lawsuit against
an insurance company, regarding some soft tissue injury he recently sustained.
"How bad is your shoulder?" asks Blossom.
"I don't know," Sid laughs. "I haven't decided what kind of car I
want to buy yet."
Back at the firm, I help Sid move a file cabinet.
"Don't hurt yourself," he warns. "I don't want you suing us."
"You know, Sid," I joke, "during lunch, when you mentioned firing Manuel
just like that, that made me feel a lot of stress. And now
you're having me engage in physical labor, which makes me feel less secure
in my position as an attorney because it implies a decrease in status,
which compounds the stress--"
"Hey, he's learning fast, man!" Sid laughs. "Better watch out
Sid is a happy man. He laughs a lot. He enjoys his work. After we move the cabinet, Sid shows me my new office, which I am to share
with another attorney. This office has no windows, just lots of files,
layered, stacked, and piled.
I receive my schedule for the week. Tomorrow morning, downtown courthouse,
then an afternoon appearance in Huntington Park. Next day, Inglewood. Those last two are near South Central, and it's only a month after the
Sid grins. "I'm gonna make 'a man of the people' out of you yet."
I make a mental note to term the riots a rebellion, so everyone will know
I'm a "man of the people."
Sid also assigns me to an Orange County status conference. "Those
rednecks will just love you down there."
I interpret this to mean that "men of the people" are unpopular in conservative
Orange County. A tough market for making money in soft tissue injury.
Event #5: Morning, the downtown L.A. court appearance.
I am to receive the judge's verdict on a motion to withdraw representation. One of our clients has vanished and the firm no longer wishes to be the
attorney of record.
Motion denied without prejudice.
Translation: Our firm didn't follow proper procedure in filing the motion. But that's okay. We can re-file.
Back at the firm, I am shown to my new office. My fourth new office
in ten days. This one contains neither windows nor walls, just a
desk amid the secretarial pool. I see some new faces since yesterday. And several faces missing. In other words, a typical day.
An hour later, I am called into Sid's office. I am fired.
"You're just not a litigator," Sid explains. It's as simple as that.
But there's a silver lining. A nice severance bonus because Sid "doesn't
want any dickering." More than I deserve, really. More than
if I'd gotten the original part-time job advertised in The Daily Journal.
I wonder, is Sid wary of a wrongful termination suit?
But then I recall the layers and stacks and piles of client files, and
I realize, what does he care? It's not his money.
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