I never planned on being a personal injury attorney. I was aware of the stereotypes surrounding the profession, and I didn’t have any intention of being associated with it. I mean, come on, who would want to be called an “ambulance chaser?” Who would want to be viewed by others as some kind of shark who only cares about money? Not me, that’s for sure.
For a long time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. All I knew was that whatever it was, it had to provide for my family, and it had to be something where I would get to help people. During my first year of law school, I thought that working as general counsel for a hospital would fulfil those goals for me. I even got an internship at a children hospital’s legal department. I loved the fact that in a small way I was helping some of the best doctors in the world perform life-saving miracles on kids.
Believing I had found my calling, I tried to get an internship with another hospital during my second year of law school. I was unsuccessful this time around. I never even got an interview. Not wanting to leave my resume blank for that summer, I decided to apply for positions in other fields. One of those positions was at a personal injury firm. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I applied for it was because I wanted to have a fail-safe, just in case nobody else hired me.
They offered me the job on the spot. Even with absolutely nothing else lined up, I remember saying to my wife “I don’t know if I should take this job. It’s not even close to the kind of law I want to practice, and I’ve heard it can get a little shady too.” But, agreeing that something was better than nothing, I unenthusiastically took the job.
The attorney who hired me, Dale Pugh, looked in many ways more like a mountain man than a lawyer. He had a gray beard, a horse hide briefcase, and wore cowboy boots and a denim jacket on casual Fridays. His demeanor was often gruff and uninviting. To top things off, Dale was a former Marine and FBI agent who spent his time capturing spies during the Cold War. Frankly, I was intimidated by the man.
Despite his hard shell, it didn’t take me long to figure out that Dale was one of the most generous people I’d ever met. I saw plenty of injured people come to him who had seen at least five other attorneys, and every one of those attorneys had turned them down. It wasn’t that these people had frivolous claims or anything. Other attorneys just saw these claims as requiring too much work for too little pay. Dale, however, signed these people up all the time, knowing full well it wasn’t the business-savvy thing to do. I watched him pour hundreds of hours into cases like this. When I asked him why, he said “If I don’t take care of these people, nobody else will.”
It was Dale who helped me realize I had been grossly misinformed about personal injury law. It wasn’t from anything he said, because he hardly said anything to me at first (unless I got him talking about his FBI stories). I learned through simple observation. His clients weren’t a bunch of people looking to cheat the system and get rich quick, like society would have us believe. What I saw instead was legitimately, and often times tragically, hurt people who only wanted enough money to get back on their feet but were being ignored by the insurance company. Without somebody like Dale who was skilled at his profession and willing to work on the cheap, these people would have continued to be ignored, and they never would have seen any justice for the harm that had been done to them. That’s when I decided to become a personal injury attorney, and I haven’t looked back since.