I hope you can forgive the more disjointed than usual missive this week. I had a death in my family, and it caused me to pause for reflection, as death often does.
I deal with death on a regular basis. Other people’s injuries and death are the only constant of my law practice. Over the years I have learned to look in my client’s eyes when they tell the stories of their grief and pain and just listen. As I found out when death touched my family, that is only one possible response.
Hearing that someone else talk about injury and death makes us uneasy. Folks look away. They find a quick segue out of the conversation to something more pleasant. Maybe our own mortality is too much to bear. Maybe it just makes folks uncomfortable when they can’t think of the “right” words to say.
Because I represent injury victims and their families, I am used to listening to sad stories. I have long given up trying to find the right words to say. There simply aren’t any. I can only let my clients know that I respect their pain and loss.
When our beloved Judge died a few years ago, my youngest son put his hand on my shoulder and said, very earnestly, “Dogs die dad. It happens.” It makes us laugh now, but his young heart was trying to comfort, not minimize our grief. Seeing him weep at the funeral of someone he barely knew confirmed his soft heart.
Throughout this process, I remain proud to be a lawyer. Every time I asked for more time to do whatever legal tasks I got behind on during this time, opposing counsel was gracious to the last person. Not only did I meet no resistance, but each lawyer and judge expressed condolences and gave whatever favor I requested.
Trial lawyers love the gladiator metaphor for what we do. It has been a rough couple of weeks but my opponents did not take advantage. Even gladiators lay down their swords sometimes.
To avoid sorting through my emotions the past couple of weeks, I have busied myself with all sorts of distractions. A new cell phone for example.
As a confirmed geek, I am always anxious to grab the newest tech gadget that hits the market. Cell phone makers are happy to comply, offering a new model weekly. Gary Gulman pointed out that phones were the same for a long time, and now we expect something new every year. Throughout the history of phones, we spent most of our time tethered to a cord in the kitchen. We didn’t even get wireless phones for over one hundred years.
In fact, my cell phone is barely a phone at all. The phone is just one app on the device and probably the least used one at that. My phone spends most of its time playing music. In the “old” days, I would be annoyed if I got music on the phone, because that meant that I was on hold. Now I play all the music since the beginning of time, gladly.
When cellular phones first came out, only people in limos had them. Some of us remember the pager/run to a phone booth that came first. Pagers and cell phones promised to save us time. I guess that is true, since I can talk without being in the kitchen anymore. Unfortunately, that means I can also take calls anywhere. And I must, or clients wonder why I am not available. Somehow we managed to practice law back then, answering the phone without knowing who was on the other end, and understanding that we couldn’t instantly answer a question or solve a problem.
New phones and new technology excite me. Other people hate change, but moving my stuff and learning to master a new toy is fun. Maybe not fun, but gratifying. That is a whole ‘nother sickness, I know. The certainty of mastering a new device is some comfort in a world where so much is out of my control.
I stared at my new cell phone this past Saturday, but didn’t find much joy in it. In the past I would talk or text my brother during OSU football games. It will take a while before I grab the phone on Saturday with a smirk again.
I was back in court today, and the legal world has kept on spinning. Motions were argued. The accused were marched through in restraints for arraignment. Lawyers fought, swapped stories and represented clients. Nothing looked different.
I’ll never say it to a grieving client, but my youngest son was right. People die. It happens. When it happens to your family, it doesn’t feel like it has ever happened to anyone else. Lawyers on both sides sometimes lose sight of that fact when trying an injury case. I won’t soon forget it.
©2017 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. RIP Aaron Drew Farris, 1968-2017. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to Under Analysis via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.