Sunday, August 4, 2013

An Unlikely Pair

I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.
~Abraham Lincoln

You listen here girl, I don’t know what kind of little lawyer games you think you’re playing, but you’re running with the big boys now!”   He boomed through the phone in response to my letter requesting that he produce certain documents to support our client’s deal.  Red-rage raced through my body, from the scalp down, touching my ears, and setting my chest on fire.  How dare he speak to me this way, this two-bit, good old boy lawyer!

Only two years out of law school, I had been thrown into the fire with this deal to help my client purchase a restaurant and nightclub from a well-known business owner represented by none other than this J. Don Ridell, Esquire, now on the phone yelling at me!  What I wanted to do was rip that guy a new one!  Jump up and down and pound him on the head; tell him that I was a lawyer just the same as he and defend my right to vigorously represent my client. 

Perhaps because we didn’t have the luxury of time to dicker over such trivial things, and I didn’t want to get fired, somehow, I found the will to simply restate my request.  “No games here.  My client wants to buy your client’s business and they want to close fast.  Now my guy wants me to give this deal my blessing and I’m not going to do it until you turn over those stock certificates and the corporate books.”  Click.  He hung up on me. 

I seethed.  I knew I wasn’t over-lawyering this stock purchase.  If anything I wanted to slam on the breaks, take our time; what’s the rush?  But they had an agenda and I knew I would be committing malpractice if I didn’t do some basic due diligence.  So I stuck to my guns and called my client to tell him where we stood. 

An hour later Mr. Ridell begrudgingly called back and told us to be at his office by noon.  I had heard stories of this J. Don Ridell and other rogue lawyers who had had the run of the place long before it became a resort town with high-rise condominiums, nightclubs and top law firms.  A criminal lawyer by trade, he was stepping up to handle a stock purchase for his best client, but until that moment I had never met him or had any dealings with him.  Intimidated, I packed my briefcase and headed to his office.

I saw his boots first, wingtip leather all shined up with some fancy studs on them; and as my eyes traveled up to the top of his six foot-five head, I saw his jeans with matching studded belt buckle and bolo tie—the consummate cowboy, this one—made evermore complete by a headful of white hair and small strips of surgical tape in the corners of both eyes supported by bruised, swollen pockets beneath.  I relaxed a little, breathed deep, somehow comforted by the idea that this big bad man had just had a little cosmetic surgery.  He sized me up in my expensive little lawyer suit and off we went to his conference room, with barely a word between us.

As it turned out, his client didn’t own the stock after all because he had transferred it all to his 20-some grandchildren who were scattered, along with the stock certificates, all over the country.  We wouldn’t be closing any time soon, that was certain, but for the first time, appearances and judgments aside, we began working together to make this deal happen.  

Later, we walked downtown to discuss pay-off of the business loans with the bank, only to return to a locked office.  Brilliant!  What now?  My briefcase and car keys were inside, so I had to stick around and help him break into this one-story-brick-ranch-styled-home-turned-office.  Sure, the ice had thawed between us that afternoon, but I wasn’t prepared to shove his Wrangler-wearing butt through the conference room window.  

There he was, stuck and distressed, bossing me around from that awkward bent-at-the waist-crunch position he was sort of hanging in with one leg touching the office floor and the other bent at the knee, jammed in the window sill by that wingtip boot.  I tried to contain myself but soon lost control to my laughter.  I was laughing so hard and crying and pretty much useless to help this guy.  Then he started laughing too…and farting…there, stuck in the window, which made me laugh even harder; him too.  Yet something in his jolly laughter dislodged him from the window and he fell to the conference room floor.  Within minutes I was in the office collecting my things and thanking him for an interesting afternoon.

We closed the deal—everyone was happy—and a real fondness had grown between Mr. Ridell and me in the process.  But I never saw him again until the year that I served as president of the local bar association, hosting an event for our judges and winding up my tenure there.  He made me cry with his compliment, he actually praised my mind and told me that working with me on that deal had changed him.  He apologized for being such a jerk.

This fabulously crazy encounter between a cowboy barrister and a little lawyer girl became one of my great lessons, again reminded that things are not always as they seem.  We think people are one way and they turn out to be quite different.  We make quick judgments based on superficial things and think we know all there is to know about each other, but we don’t.  Yet if we’re open and willing to be surprised, and laugh at our differences, we just might find ourselves part of an unlikely pair.

** Names have been changed.