Last week, I had an appointment with a man — I’ll call him Jim — who hired me eight months ago to represent him on a personal injury case. As usual, Jim brought his wife with him to the appointment. I’ve met with Jim and his wife on four occasions over the past eight months. Jim was injured when a large truck disregarded a stop sign and collided with his vehicle in the middle of an intersection. Because of his injuries, Jim has not been able to return to work. He’s been without an income for eight months.
Jim and his wife are in their late 30s. He’s a skilled tradesman who has been a member of a trade union for more than 20 years. Jim has never had any problem finding work, primarily because he is willing to travel to other states to work, when necessary. Since the accident, Jim’s financial situation has become progressively worse. He has had to borrow money to support his wife and children, and he also recently cashed in part of his retirement, so he could keep up with his bills.
Prior to the accident, Jim’s wife did not work outside the home. A few months after the accident, she felt that she had no other choice but to get a job, so she applied for and secured a job at a local business.
Each of the times I’ve met with Jim, he’s been upbeat and happy. He’s an intelligent, good-natured person who likes to talk and tell stories. His wife has come to all his appointments and has always been courteous and friendly — until last week.
Last week, when I entered the conference room to meet with them, Jim was the same as he’s always been, but his wife was quiet and had an angry look on her face. Her demeanor indicated to me that she and Jim either argued on the way to my office, or she was fed up with his situation.
I talked to Jim about his condition and he indicated to me that he was still receiving physical therapy three times a week. He said that he probably wasn’t going to be able to return to work for at least another 10 to 12 months. He told me that before the accident, he worked at the same trade for 20 years.
Jim said that he has always loved his work. I asked him if he had considered looking for another type of job that didn’t require manual labor. He responded that he had a 20-year track record at his current occupation and he never wanted to stop doing that type of work.
Because Jim didn’t answer my question, I asked it again in a different way: “Have you looked for any other types of jobs that could hold you over until you’re able to return to your regular job?” He again failed to answer my question by repeating that he loves what he has always done and doesn’t want to leave or quit what he’s been doing since he graduated from high school.
I asked him the same question again, but in a different way: “Have you thought about working at a different type of job that doesn’t require manual labor, until you’re able to return to the type of work that you like to do?” He again avoided answering the question by talking about how he couldn’t imagine working at a different job.
I then told him something that I periodically tell other clients when I feel as though I need to butt into their personal lives in order to help them. Here’s what I said:
I know that you hired me to assist you with your injury case, which means that I will provide you with legal guidance as well as the coaching and advice you need to get proper care and treatment for your injuries, and to help you navigate through the complex process of working out a settlement with the insurance company.
But there are times when I feel as though I need to cross the line from offering my clients legal advice to giving them personal advice. I feel as though I need to sometimes do this because I believe that certain clients need to hear what I have to say. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to cross that line right now. First, I have a question for you: Are you current on your monthly house payments?
Jim answered that he had enough money to make his January payment. I asked him where the payment was coming from, and he said that it was from the money he received when he cashed in part of his retirement. I then asked him how he was going to make his February payment, and he said that he didn’t know. I then said,
You’re under a lot of pressure right now. One of the worst types of pressure that a person can go through is financial pressure. That pressure is magnified when a person is married and has children that he is supporting. Financial pressure can cause a lot of anxiety with married couples.
You cannot afford to wait another 10 or 12 months before you start generating income for your family. You have to start earning money now. Would you agree with me that you would be able to work at a job that does not require manual labor?
He agreed with me that he could. I then asked him if he could think of any job or career that he could work at until he’s well enough to return to his chosen trade. He said he couldn’t think of anything. I then said,
I think you would be great at sales. You have all the right traits and qualities of a good salesman. You’re smart, easygoing, fun to be around, and good at building relationships with other people. With a little training, you would do a great job in a sales position.
He looked at me like I was from Mars and then repeated that he only wanted to do the work that he’s been doing for the past 20 years. I reminded him that it was okay for him to return to that type of work when he was physically able to, but until then, he had to find other ways to support his family.
I repeated what I previously said about him having the right qualities and traits to do well in a sales position. I then suggested that if he couldn’t find a sales job, he should start by selling cars for a dealership. I told him that if he did that and his employer wasn’t willing to give him the proper training, there were plenty of training materials that he could get his hands on to start learning on his own.
Although Jim was courteous and respectful toward me, I could tell that he was uncomfortable with what I was saying. To end the conversation, he said, “Well, maybe I’ll try it.” I immediately responded with the same thing I used to tell my teenage children:
There is no “maybe” and there is no “try.” You don’t have a choice. You have to just go out and do it. And you can do it because this is America! If a Mexican can come into our country without knowing our language and find a job within two days, there’s no reason why a person who grew up in America should not be able to find a job within two days.
I again emphasized the point that his marriage and his family were in peril and that he needed to do everything he could to generate income so he could pay his household bills. Then I looked at his wife and said, “Do you agree with me?” She shook her head up and down and said, “Yes.” That’s the only word she said during the entire appointment. But the expression on her face didn’t change. She was still angry.
I’ve been a lawyer for more than 35 years. I’ve dealt with hundreds of couples who, after years of marriage, are facing an unexpected crisis. You would think that after being married for 20 or more years, married couples would be more patient and forgiving of each other than they were when they were newly married. But that’s usually not the case. The fact that they’ve spent years together seems to somehow inhibit their ability to practice real patience and forgiveness toward each other.
Instead of being patient and forgiving, they’re extremely frustrated and angry with each other. Why?
I’ll answer that question next week.