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You Don't Pay Unless We Win.... And We Always Win.
For lawyers winter is the opposite of S.A.D.: it's the most lucrative time of the year.

Towards the end of my time working at one of Toronto’s most notorious personal injury law firms–you know, the one with the infomercials and the 1-800 number you wish you could forget–the most senior lawyer at the company came to visit my desk. He stood behind me and considered the light snow that had just begun to fall. “Do you know what I call this?” he asked, gesturing at the beautiful winter scene. I shook my head, my eyes glued to the paperwork I was pretending to do. He smiled, a big, toothy, cartoonishly evil grin. “White gold.” Every year, people slip and fall on those lightly snow-coated, secretly icy sidewalks. Cars collide when highway crews miss patches of black ice. Legs and spines are broken. It’s bloody awful. Unless you own a personal injury law firm. In which case, winter is the opposite of S.A.D.: it’s the most lucrative time of the year. I stared impassively at my screen. I didn’t laugh or roll my eyes or tweet it, as I might have six months earlier, when such comments were still new to me and I found them hilarious, or maintained the faint hope they might be jokes. It was my second December with Johnson & Sons; I had seen and heard it all, and it was all too real. When I say Johnson & Sons is a family business,  I mean family: father, sons, aunts, wives current and ex. I liked to entertain my own family and friends by reducing the Johnsons and their relatives to characters in some absurdist play where I was the star.  “Think of Arrested Development written by Samuel Beckett,” I would say. Richard, the patriarch of the family who staffed his company, was the king and fool. At 80, he was an absolutely brilliant lawyer who sometimes spilled chocolate milk on important legal documents. “I just cleaned up in here!”, his oldest son, Derek, would yell. Edith, Richard’s 75-year-old sister and an unrepentant snoop, would stop rummaging through my desk drawers long enough to offer to clean up with the napkins she hoarded in her purse. The youngest son, James, 29, would yell at them to shut up–he was on the phone, Dad! And I would type it all out to friends in Gmail chat. “You don’t pay unless we win” is a mantra known more commonly in the United States, where there are few limits on personal injury claims. In Ontario there are laws to discourage frivolous pursuits, and I soon learned all of them. The laws can be reduced to the phrase I often repeated: “serious and permanent injury.” We took on strictly victims who had been either seriously or permanently injured, ideally both, in motor vehicle accidents (“MVA” for short) and slip-and-falls. Once a woman called because she had ordered boneless chicken wings from a chain restaurant and found a bone. “Did you choke? Puncture your esophagus? Tear your stomach lining?” I prodded. No, she said, she wanted to sue for false advertising. I hung up on her. Usually, though, I had good phone and people skills. I became–for no other reason, surely–a favourite employee. They liked my tone of voice when I answered the phone, a lawyer told me once. They liked how I greeted clients at the door. They also liked how neatly I organized and processed the mail. And for those reasons, they largely left me alone with my computer, unaware how lazy that computer made me. I had an immaculately curated Tumblr account while Johnson & Sons had a filing system on the verge of collapse. But as long as I was there to answer the phones, no one cared. And the phones rang. It takes all kinds of people, as they say, and all of them called Johnson & Sons. “Will the man in your commercials visit my house?” No, that man is a paid actor. “Do you cover landlord-tenant disputes?” No, that’s Judge Judy. “A drunk teenager crashed into my husband’s car and the doctor says he needs extensive surgery.” HOLD PLEASE, I would say, recognizing all the signs for an excellent case, and yell for James. “JAMES, MVA, LINE THREE.” He would rush back to his office. “Is it any good?” He would ask sometimes, not wanting to leave his meeting for a simple broken leg. “Surgery and rehab,” I would say, and he would bolt to take it. Ontario laws ensure that lawyers don’t spend their time with people who had burned themselves on McDonald’s coffee. Our clients were mostly very nice people who’d had terrible accidents and really did need our help in navigating some intensely confusing insurance policies. They would often cry in our office, and I’m 90% sure it was out of gratitude. That doesn’t mean that Canadian personal injury lawyers are all Matt Damon in The Rainmaker, though. Once, Derek went to St. Michael’s Hospital to meet a client who had been in a car accident the day before. When he returned, James asked, “Any good?” “GREAT news,” replied Derek. “They’re amputating the arm.” They high-fived. A year later, I’m still not sure how I feel about my experience at Johnson & Sons. I did learn a lot. I learned from the clients, for example, to wear safe and reasonable footwear in the winter. For the love of God, please, please wear seatbelts. From the lawyers, I learned to make copies of important documents. Set up your Internet browser to automatically delete the history when it closes. If you put tampons in your desk drawers, nosy old people will be less inclined to snoop. They were by no means evil or abusive, like some other lawyers I heard about. They just had some quirks, we’ll say, which I no longer found all that quirky. When I gave my notice, James was very disappointed. Perhaps he thought I was going to become part of the family.  I offered my hand. “No hard feelings,” I said, and I meant it. He sort of laughed at the gesture before shaking my hand. “You’re going to do very well for yourself,” he said. That prediction also served as the nicest thing he ever said to me. Fingers crossed he’s right. Richard Johnson and his sons were, for the most part, very intelligent, hard-working people. I just hope I never see them again.      

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