The date was sometime in the mid-1980’s. I was lieutenant in the Marine Corps, and I had been appointed Legal Officer of an Artillery Battalion. In fact, I had been working as the Legal Officer for quite a while at that point.
I was sitting in my office when a call came in on the rotary style phone sitting on my desk. (Back in those days, we didn’t have cell phones – remember?)
My wife had been involved in a collision with a large semi-truck on the freeways of Southern California. The information was sketchy as to how she was doing, but she had been taken to the hospital.
The good news – that I found out after racing to where she had been taken – was that she was going to be okay. It could have been worse. She could have been killed. It was an Act of God that she only received relatively minor injuries. But, she did have injuries.
Her injuries required her to undergo treatment for some period of time and caused her problems for years into the future. Additionally, our car had been smashed and pushed down the freeway for some distance.
I didn’t know what to do, but I knew to contact our insurance company. They, of course, did not tell me that I should speak to an attorney, they directed me to the semi driver’s insurance company.
Over the next few weeks, what we were told was this: Yes, our vehicle had been smashed, and yes, they would pay for it to be repaired. But because they were so nice that they were going to put new tires on it – you know, pushing a vehicle sideways down a freeway tends to mess up tires – we were going to have to pay them $300.00. Yes, WE were going to have to pay THEM $300.00! And that would resolve the whole matter, according to them.
I didn’t know much back then, but that didn’t sound right.
I had no idea what to do.
I thought about all of the advertisements that I saw for lawyers and always assumed that they were talking to someone else. Frankly, I didn’t know what they were talking about.
I didn’t know whether to call an attorney. And more importantly, I was afraid to. Why? Because I didn’t know how it worked.
I had always heard that lawyers were expensive – very expensive. I was a poor lieutenant, and the thought of having to pay $300.00 to get our car back was paralyzing. The thought of having to pay whatever enormous sum an attorney would charge me just for picking up the phone was beyond comprehension.
I didn’t know if lawyers had timers on their phones and some way to know who was calling and then automatically sent a bill. (Remember, that was before caller ID.)
I didn’t know if the charges started the second I picked up the phone on my end, or the second they picked it up on their end, or when.
I didn’t know, and I was terrified.
So, luckily, I remembered that I had a friend that was going to law school. I asked him if I was “allowed” to call a lawyer, and if so, how it worked. He explained to me that they would not charge as I had feared and that I needed to call to see if they could help me.
He explained that lawyers did not charge simply for calling to ask if your situation is one that they can help with.
And that is an important thing to know: Lawyers are in business to help people. They want you to call their office to ask if they can help you.
Yes, they may charge a fee once you come in and talk about the issue since doing so in any meaningful way will probably take an hour or so, but if you leave the office understanding the law, understanding your options, and with a plan of attack, the money is likely well spent.
Meaningful consultations with an attorney about a problem are not like doctors’ visits, where you go in, she looks in your mouth, listens to your heart, asks a couple of questions and writes on a piece of paper that you have the flu, and you need X medicine – then tells you thank you and leaves.
A lawyer writing you a prescription for “a divorce” or “a child custody case” is not very helpful.
What is helpful is a thorough discussion of your facts, an analysis of the law that applies to your case, and a discussion of your options.
And you can’t get all of that without that first contact with the attorney’s office.
In short, you have nothing to fear in contacting an attorney to see if he or she can help you with your situation. They welcome the call or email.
I’m glad that I made the call way back then. You can be too.