Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years On

There are no favorite stories from that day. My story is that of waking up to a horror after a restless night of sleep anticipating a futile minor-impact car wreck case in the most rural magistrate district in the County. Rural in this case meant a conservative jury, which meant it was going to be a bad result for my client. I called the Judge to see if he wanted to postpone the case until another day due to the attacks and he replied, "I don't see why we would do that." Maybe the significance had not hit him at the time, stuck in his office with no access to television to watch the events unfold. Maybe he didn't much care what happened way up there in New York City. Maybe he felt the best way to move forward was to keep on doing his job and letting the wheels of justice turn and crush my crappy little case.

We weren't going to win. There was no way my client was going to get a dime. I had the case as it was assigned to me by my boss who took every case that came through the door. He grew up in one of the mill villages in Columbia and had seen his parents and neighbors crapped on for years, working long hours for whatever it was the mill felt fit to pay. He got his revenge by getting into law school and taking on as clients all those neighbors and their brothers, sisters, and cousins. All they had to do was come in and tell him they had gotten hurt and it was somebody else's fault. He took the case and, if it wouldn't settle, it would come down to one of the junior attorneys to try it. "Hi. My name's Junior."

I explained the realities of the case to my client. I explained how I felt the day's events were going to impact a jury which would know of the widespread destruction, death, and injuries that had been inflicted upon our country. I imagined them looking at the American flag in the court room as they sneered at my client and her "injuries." Unless she had been broken and bleeding at the scene, they were not going to give her a dime. Fortunately for her, but not for her case, her injuries had all been soft tissue and she had recovered quickly. After a long conversation, she agreed to not move forward. I was relieved. Not so much that I didn't have to try the case, but that I wouldn't have to make arguments seeking redress for my client's minor injuries when I knew there was a good chance thousands had perished already and none of us knew when the next seemingly inevitable blow was going to come.

I spent the rest of the day watching the coverage in my office. Over the next few weeks, I agonized over what I should do. I contemplated joining the military, going into public service, or seeking some other job that made a difference. In retrospect, I realize I was overlooking the public service I was doing in my job at the time with the access to representation we were giving to people who didn't have any other options. It was hard to see that though, as so much of my work seemed futile. In the end, I made steps to leave my job and start my own office where I could pick and choose my clients and any bad cases taken were going to be solely my fault. If there was blame to go around, it was going to be a short trip.

Now, seven years later, I am still seeking the right path. It took a national catastrophe to nudge me off of my prior one. What will it take this time?

This is my favorite story of a hero of September 11, 2001:

From Slate

Karnes hadn't been near the World Trade Center. He wasn't even in New York when the planes hit the towers. He was in Wilton, Conn., working in his job as a senior accountant with Deloitte Touche. When the second plane hit, Karnes told his colleagues, "We're at war." He had spent 23 years in the Marine Corps infantry and felt it was his duty to help. Karnes told his boss he might not see him for a while.

Then he went to get a haircut.

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