Guest Post: A Legal Job by Brad Garber

I have a legal job. There are lots of jobs that have connections to the “legal” world. One could be a legal secretary (the ones who do all of the work), or a paralegal (an animal that is a cross between a secretary and a fully-fledged attorney, and who does almost all of the work), or a judge (someone who has graduated into the intellectual stratosphere and doesn’t really work), or an attorney (the modern-day Salem witch). I fit into the latter category. I’m “one of those.” And, perhaps even more reprehensible, I am a defense attorney, which means I am a hired gun for a group of people with money to burn. They tell me what to do, and I just do it. They just pay the bill. To add more kindling to the pyre, I am a workers’ compensation defense attorney. That means that I represent the interests of employers and their insurance carriers, and I do my damnest to make sure that seriously injured workers do not get any benefits, like paychecks, paid medical bills or vocational retraining. I know…I will burn in hell; I will be dragged through the streets by my nuts, for eternity; I will be forced to watch people having sex, while nails are pounded into the bottoms of my feet. This is my due, I know. Which gives me a certain fatalistic view of my short, mundane, sinful, remaining life.

I wasn’t always like this. Although it may be difficult to believe, as a child I did not dream of becoming a person who tortured injured people until they lost their homes and families and mental health. It was just something I fell into by chance, kind of like Saddam Hussein just falling into his role as a dictator. I started out with good intentions. My father was a doctor, and while I did not really want to save humanity from itself, I did find the romantic ideal of saving defenseless animals from humanity to be somewhat…well…romantic. I guess that’s where I erred. Romanticism has this ugly tendency to blind one to the really important things, like steady paychecks, life insurance, car insurance, house payments, car payments, etc., etc. But, I was obstinate in my resolve (kind of like a certain current presidential candidate). I decided to save things like whales and porpoises and sharks from the indiscriminate ravages of mankind, and I set off on a course of education that, I was certain, would lead me to a Jacques Cousteau existence. I couldn’t wait to be bobbing in the ocean somewhere, taking water samples, examining the guts of fish, and scuba diving with nymphs. I struggled through college (not surprising, seeing as how my goals were somewhat unfocussed) and, finally, earned my degree in biology, with a chemistry minor.

One might ask how that course of study led to a legal job. That would be a good question and one that would not avail itself of an easy answer. The easiest answer is that it was the result of pure aimless wandering and chance, culminating in near starvation. And that would not be far from the truth. After being in the profession for close to twenty years, I still wonder what it is that might be personally gratifying about arguing with someone, about something, every day. Maybe it’s the fact that, every once in a great while, you win. In that respect, it’s a lot like golf, which a lot of folks who have legal jobs seem to like to play. You can have 36 absolutely terrible and embarrassing shots and, then, you have one beautifully accurate shot to the green and all the dubs, slices and hooks fade away, instantly. All of the sudden, you’re Tiger Woods again. So, in my legal job, I will make a few arguments to judges and, every once in awhile, I win one. That shot of adrenaline keeps me going until the next time I persuade someone that I am intelligent. Some folks are better shots than I; some are worse. I’ll never be on the tour, but I can play a good game.

What does one with a legal job do? I’ll give you an abbreviated description of the day-to-day drudgery. I sit and write things and read things and talk on the phone and e-mail people stuff and FAX people stuff and sign things and sit. Sometimes, I get up and walk. But…most of the time, I sit. There are a lot of things to deal with that most people would find irritating, like answering phones calls that you don’t want to answer because you know it won’t be pleasant to answer them. Or, answering letters that you don’t want to answer because you know that you will only inflame the sender and receive yet another letter that you will have to answer. A legal job is a pain in the ass. It is the job that people who don’t know what to do with aptitudes for speech and writing end up doing, instead of becoming poets or graduate instructors in college English departments. The saving grace is that the work generally pays more than what poets and graduate instructors in college English departments make.

Sometimes, I have to skim through about 1,000 pages of verbal haystack in order to find one verbal needle. It’s tedious. It takes a great deal of coffee. Our office building is graced with a Starbuck’s. I’m a regular. The baristas know my routine…triple shot grande, two-pump chocolate, regular milk, no-whip mocha, at about 7:00 a.m. Then, it’s a refill of unadulterated house coffee at about 9:00 a.m. Most folks get their drinks called out to them. In my case, the barista just calls out, “Brad.” So, I collect up my caffeine, take the elevator up to the second floor, trudge down the hallway into my office, sit down, and start rifling through paper. It may take me an hour or two to get through the stack of paper in front of me, searching for the fact (or facts) that will answer the question that the client wants answered. I get paid for this! Sometimes, that amazes me.

I would like to be able to report that my legal job is, somehow, better than most other legal jobs. But, I don’t think that’s true. Let’s take a tax attorney, for example. He or she has to rifle through reams of documents, every day, to find the facts that are pertinent to the debate. The same is true for a personal injury attorney, an environmental attorney, a land use attorney, or a bankruptcy attorney. We all do the same damn thing. Now, one might ask how important this all is. Sometimes, I have to wonder. I guess it’s probably about as important as being a plumber or gas station attendant or doctor or politician. One’s vocational endeavor is, most often, borne out of necessity and, sometimes, out of genuine desire. But, the bottom line is that, in most cases, the purpose of the vocational endeavor is to meet someone else’s needs. It’s called human commerce and we’re all involved in it.

Most of my friends have no idea what I actually “do” for a living. If they ask, I just tell them I’m a writer.

 

 

Brad GarberBrad has degrees in biology, chemistry, and law.  He writes, paints, draws, photographs, hunts for mushrooms and snakes, and runs around naked in the Great Northwest.  Since 1991, he has published poetry, essays, and weird stuff in such publications as Edge Literary Journal, Pure Slush, On the Rusk Literary Journal, Sugar Mule, Barrow Street, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Barzakh Magazine, Ginosko Journal, Smoky Blue Literary Magazine, Aji Magazine, and other quality publications. 2013 Pushcart Prize nominee.

You can find Brad’s poetry in Black Fox Issues 10 & 11.

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