|Oregon State Bar Bulletin NOVEMBER 2009|
By Chris Mecca
It was a typically gray, drab day in mid-December. Things had been slow at the office; money wasn’t coming in, and there was a decided lack of “quality appointments” on the calendar. I had a couple of appointments scheduled but none looked promising or exciting. The perfect time to feel sorry for myself. “Why me…oh my…I should have been a dentist…” The usual.
From my office I heard the 3:00 appointment. I heard my secretary explain the appointment policy — $100 for a conference. I’ve been practicing too long for freebies. I heard a woman say, “But I have no money… I heard that Mr. Mecca would help me.” I cursed my reputation, put on a happy face and went out to greet her and bring her back to my office.
My new client was about 70 years old and decidedly poorly dressed and groomed. She was holding a letter explaining that the home she had been living in (since 1950, I later learned!) was being sold. She had no concept of how that could be.
So, adding “ill advised” to the garment and grooming issue, I made some calls — to the court, to the attorney author of the letter. It seems that the client’s recently deceased parents had obtained public assistance during the last year of their lives. One died in 1998 or so and one in 2006. The state, noting that they had one asset, e.g., real estate, moved to secure their claim. They hired counsel (Robert of Eugene) to do what he could to secure payment, but the daughter lacked the knowledge to communicate effectively.
The man she saw walking around the property — the man she thought of as “the tax man,” was simply the realtor that the attorney had engaged to sell the house, her home since home since 1950 when she was 12 years old.
Did I forget to add that her younger sister, who is completely disabled with Multiple Sclerosis also lived there?
The news was all bad. My rotten day had gotten worse and I didn’t even have a lousy $100 to help me get over it.
And then she said, “Someone told me that I might have retirement money.” (She was living on $800 per month Social Security).
“You don’t know?”
“I worked for the City once, years ago.”
My impatience had to show. I know nothing of PERS, retirement accounts or that sort of thing. I don’t handle family law cases. I grabbed the phone book and said, “why haven’t you called PERS?”
Moments later, after looking everywhere in that damn book, I never did find a listing for PERS. I wanted her out. I wanted her gone. I did all I could to help her. The situation was hopeless. She and her sister would certainly get the excess money from the sale of the home and find a place to rent. I was frustrated and tired.
And then, I looked at the computer. I heard my wife say, “You really ought to try using that once in a while. It can help.”
I typed in “Oregon PERS”, found a phone number; made the call and spoke to the kindest, most patient individual possible on this rainy, dreary December day.
I gave her my client’s Social Security number and date of birth. I gave her the information and quoted my client’s, “someone told me…” story.
I could hear her smile before I heard the words on the speaker phone, “Darla, please confirm your date of birth and Social Security number.” It was done.
“Darla, do you realize that you have $124,000 in you account?”
My face started leaking. The client looked at me with, “I told you so.”
We’ve been looking for you since 1980-something ( You remember above where I told you that she lived at the same address since 1950…?).
“And, oh, by the way, your employer contributed their portion so your total is $248,000.” Now my eyes were leaking badly.
When I think of how close I came to showing her the door, and how close I came to running her off during the meeting when all the news was bad, when I think that had I chased her away she would have never, ever accessed her account….
Sometimes we are more important than we’ll ever know. And sometimes the opportunity to do good is in the next phone call, the next client, the one you least expect.
Sometimes you gotta love this job!
PS: I did, finally, get that $100 consultation fee.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Mecca has been a sole practitioner in Grants Pass for 33 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2009 Chris Mecca