FOR A CLIENT
I was preparing for the biggest
legal case of my life last week. I would be lead counsel for the
plaintiff, which would be me.
The defendant? He was a low-life scum who
greedily absconded with $3400 of my client’s hard-earned cash, claiming
it was a non-refundable deposit on a construction job that was never done.
My client (that’s me) demanded justice. After
screaming at the defendant for a couple of months, calling him names,
insulting his integrity, labelling him a criminal (all to no avail), I
gallantly filed my first, and hopefully last, lawsuit in Small Claims
This guy was toast. His feeble attempt to avoid giving
me my money back would be exposed in a court of law. He had no argument,
no defense. Justice, as our Founding Fathers intended, would prevail.
I pictured the scene. As the plaintiff, I would go
first. I would eloquently plead my case, calmly explaining that the
defendant might as well be out robbing liquor stores.
The judge would listen intently, nodding along. Then
the defendant would speak, mumbling something about how it wasn’t his
fault the job was never done so he should get to keep the $3400 because…..well,
Then it would get really sweet. The judge would berate
the defendant for being a poor excuse for humanity, chastise him for
wasting the court’s time, and award the plaintiff $3400, and, winking at
me, attorney’s fees.
In reality, I arrived at San Francisco Superior
Court, Small Claims Division, at 8:15 a.m. for the 8:30 court date. The
defendant, whom I half expected and hoped would not show up, was already
there, sitting calmly outside the courtroom doors.
If he’s here, I thought, why isn’t he pacing
the floor, desperately trying to come up with some defense? He looked far
We acknowledged each other. "I’ve got something
for you," he said, handing me some papers.
My heart sank. One look at the little numbers running
up the side of the paper and I knew I was in trouble. It was a legal
brief. The slimey little bugger had gone out and hired a slimey little
"You should read it before we go in," he
added, leaning back confidently.
I nodded, reading away. The arguments made in the brief
were incredibly weak and senseless, but they sure looked good on that
crisp white paper with the bold headings and numbers up the side.
I snorted as best I could as I read through the brief,
but my confidence was dwindling rapidly. When I got to the end, where the
defendant asks for additional compensation from the plaintiff for lost
profits on the construction job that was never done, I let out a really
But my heart wasn’t in it. While I still thought I
would probably win, it was the "probably" that gnawed at me.
No doubt about it, the legal brief intimidated me, just
as he intended. He wasn’t going to crumble.
"My offer’s still on the table," he said
Some months ago, while I was still calling him names,
he’d offered $2400 to settle. I had disgustedly turned him down.
But that was before "The Brief." Now we had
real drama. Minutes before we were to present our cases, a last-ditch
settlement offer. I soaked it in, not replying.
We entered the courtroom and took seats next to each
other. The bailiff took a roll call. Our case was going to be first.
I scanned his brief again. What a bunch of
hogwash! Not an ounce of reality to it. But it sure did look professional.
I looked at my file, full of hand-scribbled notes. The
judge called our case.
I put my hand out, shook, and made the deal,
rationalizing that while I was out $1000, at least I never had to hire a