My friend is a lawyer of the old school. He is honest, ethical and keenly aware of his responsibilities to his clients and to the judicial system.
But he couldn't play the role of the professor in "The Paper Chase" because he's too compassionate.
A few days ago, a man came to see him. The man said, "My name is John Doe. I need a lawyer, and my friend Sam Soandso recommended you. He's the building engineer in this building, you know. He says you're a fine man."
"What is your problem?" the lawyer asked.
John Doe said his wife and daughter had been riding in the family car when it was rammed from behind by another driver and burst into flames. Both women were injured. The wife died, the daughter was still in the hospital. Doe had gone through great anguish and much expense. Now he was emotionally and financially drained. He didn't even have bus fare to travel to the lawyer's office, and when the consultation was finished he would have to walk all the way home. He wanted to know if there was some way he could get help with his daughter's medical expenses.
The lawyer told him that there were indeed some possibilities for financial help. Investigation might indicate that the driver of the other car was responsible for the accident, and that he or his insurance company might be liable for substantial damages. Then, too, if it could be shown that the wife's car exploded into flame because of a defect in its design, the manufacturer might be subject to suit.
"Give me a day or two to do some preliminary work on the case," the lawyer said. "I'll phone you after I have a better idea of what's involved."
"Fine," John Doe said as he pulled out a credit card. "This is my name, and I live right here at this address on Newton Street, and this is my phone number."
The lawyer said, "Very good." Then he took several greenbacks out of his pocket and said, "Here. You'll need a few dollars to tide you over until I get in touch with you."
John Doe thanked him and took his leave.
Two days later, the lawyer called the number John Doe had given him. When a woman answered, he asked if he could speak to Doe.
The woman sighed. "Are you a lawyer?" she asked. My friend acknowledged that he is a lawyer. "Did you give this fellow some money?" the woman inquired. Alarm bells suddenly began to ring in my friend's mind. He said he had indeed given the man some money. "I'm sorry to tell you this," the woman said, "but there is no John Doe here. There never has been. But in the last weeks I've gotton a lot of calls from lawyers who said they gave John Doe money -- maybe 30 or 40 lawyers -- and I'm getting a little upset about it. But I suppose the lawyers are even more unhappy about it than I am."
My friend said, "Thank you for contributing to my education, madam," and quietly hung up the phone. He hopes that some of his colleagues will read this column and become educated without paying quite as much tuition as he paid. POSTSCRIPT
While we are on the subject of lawyers and auto accidents, I have a bit of good news for Joe Shafran.
Joe was in a taxi that was hit from behind recently. There was no damage to either vehicle, so both drivers went on about their business. But the next day Joe, who had gotton " a good jolt," woke up with a stiff neck and back. And a week later he told me, "I still hurt."
Joe says he had always thought he had programmed himself to handle any contingency (he had automatically jotted down the license numbers of both the cab and the car that hit it), but when the chips were down he was "too embarrassed" to insist on a police report at the time of the accident, so now he's out of luck.
However, my lawyer friends tell me that Joe's failure to holler for the cops at the time of the accident does not necessarily mean he has lost his chance to bring legal acton. "The first thing he needs is legal advice," one learned attorney told me, "and not legal advice from a newspaperman."
I don't know why not. My advice is free and worth every penny it costs. LIFE IS LIKE THAT
President Reagan was not wearing a bullet-proof vest when he was shot, but the FBI insists that his accused assailant must wear one.