The Ambulance Chaser

Addiction took me to many low places during my career as a lawyer.   One of those places was as the classic “ambulance chaser.” I use the term knowing that it has a negative stereotype. There are many outstanding personal injury lawyers. I was not one of them. I was one of the reasons for the stereotype. (This is an excerpt from my book.)

1995: A trip to the chiropractor. I’m not going for an adjustment. I haven’t been in an auto accident, but I know many others have. It’s how I get my cases — soft tissue injury ambulance chasing. I have relationships with chiropractors around the city incubated during my time as a claims adjuster. Their waiting rooms become mobile law offices. I carry contingency representation agreements with me in my briefcase, contracts that will grant me a portion of any settlement or trial award. I know the diagnosis by heart: “Soft tissue strain of the lower neck and back. Recommend X-rays of the lumbar or cervical spine, and numerous therapy sessions.” In other words, whiplash.

The chiropractor is well versed in how to sell me. “Have you met Mr. Cuban? If you decide you want one, he is an excellent attorney. We highly recommend him. If you decide to retain Mr. Cuban or another lawyer, we will treat you with no money up front.”

My résumé rarely comes up. Clients generally don’t care. They want their treatments paid. I have a vague awareness that is directly soliciting clients in this manner is frowned upon. I walk the line between solicitation and recommendation by sitting mute with a smile and a handshake during the process.

If the patient is interested in retaining my services, the briefcase opens. Out come the contingency agreement and the letter of protection which guarantees the chiropractor payment from any eventual settlement. I know it will settle. If the client wants more money, I’ll cut my fee. I will do anything to avoid a courtroom. If the client insists on going to trial, I’ll refer the case to a lawyer who is not afraid of litigation.

I have trouble looking at the potential client in the eye. I know the truth. I stare down at the scuffed, 10-year-old black Florsheims on my feet. The client signs. When the case settles, I’ll have a little more money to feed the beast.

During the drive home, my mind keeps drifting to Paul Newman. He plays the down-and-out alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin in the movie, ‘The Verdict.” Frank is also an ambulance chaser. A “drunk.” Divorced. Reading the obituaries as if they are the help wanted ads. Frank shows up at funeral parlors. The chiropractor’s office is my funeral parlor. I’m Frank.  When I watch “The Verdict,” I sometimes wonder how his life turns out after his big win. A lawyer who got lucky despite himself versus a lawyer redeemed. During that long drive home with my signed contingency agreements, there are no thoughts of redemption.