President’s Message: When Clients Enlighten the Counselors
The Briefs, October 2019 / Vol. 87 No. 8
Even though we are the counselors, we can learn a lot from our clients…
As attorneys, we have the unique opportunity and duty to help people. But I have learned that our clients can also teach us a lot, especially if we take time to pause and reflect. Allow me to tell one story that illustrates this point. My client has given me permission to share the story as well as the pictures I have included.
I had the privilege of representing the estate of an inspiring individual whose name was Tom Smith. Tom lived in Chicago and was a partner accountant at Ernst & Young. He and his wife had four kids. In the mid-nineties, Tom lost both of his legs to a rare disease that doctors knew little about at the time called homocysteinemia. Do not despair. This is not intended to be a sad story. You see, Tom never allowed his double-amputee status to interfere with his happiness and drive to enjoy life to the fullest.
After Tom’s wife passed away, he decided, at the age of 81, to retire to Florida. He wanted to be closer to his kids and grandkids, including his grandson Brian, who lived in Orlando and was in his twenties at the time. Tom asked Brian what he thought of having his 81-year-old grandfather as a roommate. Here’s how Brian recalled that moment: “I was thrilled to death. I was stoked. Wow. I can’t even begin to explain the emotion and excitement.”
I wasn’t expecting that. Brian’s reaction seemed so genuine, yet I found it hard to believe that someone his age would be legitimately excited about the prospect of having his grandfather as a roommate. It made me want to know more about Tom. What was it about his character that garnered such a response?
The answer: Despite his losses, age, and physical limitations, Tom maintained a zest for life that was infectious.
After moving to Florida, Tom made a point to stay active. He found enrichment through travel, family, and friendships. He was warm, generous, and fun loving. He bought annual passes to all the parks and visited Kennedy Space Center often. On any evening you might find him doing karaoke at his house. One year for a Halloween costume party, Brian’s girlfriend told Tom she planned to dress up as a “high-class hooker.” Tom then insisted that he go, too – as her pimp. Donning a purple plush velvet suit with a shaft hat and fake cigar, he went all out. And Tom Smith, the purple-suited pimp powering around the party in his scooter, won best costume.
Sadly, on March 28, 2008, while, driving a van specially equipped for his disability, Tom was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer. He died at the age of 83. True to his generous spirit, he had been on his way to buy gifts for friends who were coming to town to visit him that evening.
Part of my firm’s job in representing his estate was to learn who Tom was to his family. When we asked his adult son to tell us about his dad, he paused for about a minute and then said this: “You know, my dad had four kids, and we are all vastly different, but the thing about my dad was, he met each one of us where we were in life.”
In preparing to write this “President’s Message,” I re-watched the video we had made about Tom. It included footage of his daughter colorfully describing memories of times they spent together. She fondly recalled times he helped her with school projects over the years. It resonated with me that more than 40 years later, some of the memories Tom’s daughter held most dear were of the times they spent together on school projects.
As a father to two young children who have their own unique personalities, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the remarks of Tom’s adult children. Taking my client’s life lesson to heart, I strive to appreciate where each of my kids are in life and to meet them there.
And, to my bride, Rebecca, if you ever read this “President’s Message,” you will know why I am trying harder to spend more time working on school projects with the kids. It’s not only to take some of the burden off of you, but to also give my kids something of me that they will have with them long after I depart.
I thank Tom Smith and his family for not only teaching me these valuable lessons, but also for giving me permission to share it with you.
I must confess, though, that while Tom Smith’s lesson was taught to me years ago, I only recently came to really learn it. At the time I was handling the case, I was so mired in the work itself that I failed to fully see what I was being shown. Sure, I had a great appreciation for Tom’s spirit and the wonderful life he led. But it was my partner, mentor, and good friend, Bob Dellecker, who emphasized to me the importance of taking pauses from our busy practice to allow for personal growth. Only then can we fully learn the life lessons our clients teach us.
Although our daily lives as attorneys can be stressful and contentious, the practice of law
does present unique opportunities to learn and grow as human beings. For that, I am grateful.
Anthony F. Sos, Esq., is a partner at Dellecker, Wilson, King, McKenna, Ruffier & Sos, LLP. He has been a member of the OCBA since 2005.