Thursday, June 16, 2011

Counselor at Law. Coping with the Death of a Client.

My apologies for taking a small break from blogging last week.  If you derive your income from the legal profession, I am sure you have have your share of days where the daily grind of law practice wears you down.  I had one of those days.    

The day started off like most.  A day of unscheduled fires that needed to be put out. Despite our office's fantastic new scheduling program, we had managed to schedule a real estate closing, three criminal matters and a divorce conference on the same day.  To make matters worse, the scheduling snafu required me to be in four separate courts located miles away from each other.  The real estate closing was going to be held in a small remote law office in the middle of the boondocks.  I actually saw buffalo on the way.

If your anything like me, you find yourself exhausted at the end of such days.  I finally limped into my office at 7:30 PM to pick up messages. The support staff was long gone.  I was alone.  As I was leaving the office, the soul devouring pierce of our phone rang. For a moment I pondered if I should let the call go to voice mail.  Of course, that missed call might be that potential million dollar case.  I put down my briefcase and picked up the phone.

An elderly woman had contacted my office with a request to prepare a will.  She had been diagnosed with a terminal disease and wanted to put her affairs in order.  Exhausted, I suggested an appointment the following week in our New Britain office.  She insisted I come to her home that very evening.  Although I had plans to catch the NBA finals with some friends, I reluctantly agreed to go to her home that very night.  I had a soft spot for grandmothers.  I packed up a lap top and portable printer and left to prepare the will.

Arriving at the home, I was greeted by the elderly woman's nurse.  She led me into the living room where they had set up a work area for me.  The nurse had indictated that the woman was more at ease knowing her will would be done.  I was the only attorney willing to come out to the house that night.  The elderly woman had prepared a platter of food for my visit.  She had put on her Sunday best.  The visit would soon take a tragic turn.

After greeting her and sitting down, the woman slumped to the floor.  Her nurse ran to assist her as I called 911.  Within minutes, the paramedics arrived with various family members. Although she had a do not resuscitate order,  no one could locate it.  My office was not the one who prepared it.  As the lawyer in the room, questions were shot at me.  Why are they tormenting her?  She had a DNR order.  Can you stop them?  The family was Polish and spoke limited English.  I became the go between translator between the paramedics, police and family members at the scene. Soon it was clear, the poor woman had passed on.  I informed the family in their native tongue. We never had the opportunity to discuss the woman's final wishes.  I stayed on to help the family with their questions

The incident seemed to have a profound impact on me.  I find myself preparing estate plans much faster.  I schedule appointments much sooner.  More importantly, I found myself feeling pretty lucky. As rough as I perceived my day was, it was nothing compared to what this poor family experienced.  I realized the importance of the term "counselor" on my business cards.  

I took the following day off to recharge.  Who knew what the following week would entail?  Whatever it was, I was ready for it.

(Editor's note: Although I was reluctant to share this story, I thought the underlying message was important enough to share. Certain details were changed to protect the privacy of those involved.) 



Ellen T. Wright said...

All sorts of amorphisms for this sort of thing-take time to smell the roses-life is short, eat dessert FIRST-and so on.

Bottom line-time is precious-and so are people. Don't waste either.

Anonymous said...

By answering that phone you became a beacon of hope for a family in crisis. Just having someone who could translate for them in the midst of all the confusion surely was a blessing.

Irene C. Olszewski, Esq. said...

You are truly an amazing guy. I'm sure the family was most grateful for your kindness and compassion during that difficult moment.