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Karma ran over my dogma

By Spencer Farris

We’ve all heard stories about someone whose car breaks down shortly after they visit a dealership to check out the new models. Karma, or in that case, carma. My column last month was critical of technology. On Friday I lost 2 computers here at the Levinson towers. A little bit of e-karma.

I am no stranger to computers. To this day, I swear that I got my 1st legal job because I could build computers rather than any budding legal acumen. Back in those days, computer technicians were a rare breed and I was a decent dabbler.

 I decided to upgrade 2 computers in my office the previous Friday — it’s not brain surgery after all — and succeeded in killing both patients. I spent Super Bowl Sunday reinstalling software and fixing these machines. Unlike a brain surgeon with a bad day, my patients were saved. The Broncos were not so lucky.

While this was going on, the plumbing in our building backed up into the basement. On top of that, I was up till 1:30 in the morning removing the remnants of the polar vortex from our sidewalk. If bad things come in threes I was done.

We call these First world problems, or FWPs around here. Although I was exhausted mentally and physically, I survived.

These problems came on the heels of meeting one of my idols, Gerry Spence. Spence is a legendary trial lawyer in his 80s and I met him at the Trial Lawyers College in California. He joined my table for dinner one night and was both energetic and delightful. In a room where he was a genuine rockstar, this was an unexpected treat. It is very gratifying to learn that one of the great ones was also a pretty good feller. Compared to this giant, I’m a tiny lawyer.

I met another huge person last week. Not in size — he barely topped 5 feet. This was a client who came to the office for his deposition. Pre-deposition meetings with clients are always different but have some distinct similarities. Clients about to be deposed are a bundle of nerves, but my client did not suffer from the usual pre-deposition jitters.

In fact, Jason wasn’t the least bit nervous. While a deposition for me is a routine chore, for my client it is a look into the unknown. The unknown is always scary. Facing another attorney who is asking questions was nothing compared to where Jason’s life had taken him.

His accent was heavy and understandably so. Jason was born in Vietnam and came here in the 80s. He was one of the boat people who escaped Vietnam to come to America.

He  left home and everything he knew on a fishing boat built for about 40 people to occupy. There were around 700 refugees with him on his voyage. The boat was so crowded that only women and children were allowed on deck in the sunshine and fresh air. The rest were crowded below in the dark dankness.

I poured him a glass of water. He smiled and told me that during their four day voyage the water ran out on day 3. They were given about a shot glass of water 3 times a day up until that point. Then even that stopped.

As they approached the coast of the country where they thought they would disembark, a navy ship speeded out to “Greet” them. That greeting was a command that they be towed away from shore and was punctuated with drawn firearms.

A rope was tied to the front of their fishing boat and they were towed in the opposite direction, back towards the open ocean. They were all fearful of the speed at which they were traveling—shoddy fishing boats were known to disintegrate while being towed. The captain was threatened with his life if he touched the rope that pulled them away from safety.

They were left on an island with no food or water and no sanitary facilities. For 6 months. Several of his shipmates died of sickness during that time.

He was just a teenaged boy and was fortunate to survive. While I was worrying about high school horrors, he was living a real horror story.  Eventually a relief agency got him off the island to Europe and then to America.

It was really no surprise that he flourished here. He acquired 2 bachelor’s degrees and had a good job. He also brought the rest of his family over and adopted 3 orphans from back home. The injury I represented him for wasn’t anywhere near as bad as where he had come from.

After he told his story, I felt very small. On the heels of meeting a huge lawyer, I met a huge client. My FWPs were beyond small. They were embarrassing.
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Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St. Louis, Missouri. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent to this newspaper or directly to the Levison Group via e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.
© 2014 Under Analysis L.L.C.

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