Tobias A. Cole 2015-06-30 09:53:35
I SAT IN A HOSPITAL CONFERENCE ROOM AND LOOKED ACROSS THE TABLE. There were three lawyers who between them had decades of experience. In fact, two of them started practicing law before I was born. I’d only been out of law school for a few years. This wasn’t fair. The case was horrifically tragic. The plaintiff sustained devastating injuries. His life would never be the same. His family members’ lives would never be the same. This was hugely important. I had never handled a case of this magnitude. These guys had collectively handled dozens of cases like this. This was just another day at work for them. This wasn’t fair. I had tried a few cases. None were complicated. None were momentous. These guys had been written up in trial magazines. They were some of the best. This wasn’t fair. This was the deposition of a medical expert who was recognized as one of the best in his field. He had been practicing medicine when polio was an epidemic. He was a world-known expert—and Houston legend—in providing care to people with catastrophic injuries. The lawyers across the table had taken his deposition in the past. I had never taken such a deposition before. This wasn’t fair. I liked the opposing lawyers. They were nice to me. They offered helpful advice and were very paternal to the young lawyer who was working on the biggest case of his life. They knew I didn’t have their experience or skill. This wasn’t fair. It was time to start. I took a deep breath. I calmed my nerves. This wasn’t fair … to them. They were big boys. I couldn’t take it easy on them. I couldn’t feel sorry for them. I had a job to do. I had someone to help. I had a family that was counting on me. I had a community that was counting on me. This was going to be a long day for them. Before I started the deposition, I turned to speak to the physician. “Doctor, this is not the first time we have met. You met me when I was 18, shortly after I broke my neck. You’ve treated me for my paralysis for over 10 years. We see each other regularly. You helped my family and me through one of the toughest times in our lives. I lived in your hospital for three months learning how to live with complete paralysis. You taught me how to live my life without being able to move my arms or my legs. You taught me how to use a wheelchair. You saw me through college, through law school, and the first part of my career. We enjoy each other’s company and consider each other friends. Other than possibly a doctor such as yourself, can you imagine anyone with more knowledge or expertise in the field of spinal cord injuries than someone who’s been living with the condition for their entire adult life? Can you help me tell the story of my client who you’ve been treating for his severe disability? Can you help explain to the folks in the room and the folks who will read this deposition what he’s been through and what he’ll go through? Can we do that together?” Just after high school, I broke my neck diving into the shallow end of my uncle’s swimming pool. I floated to the top, unable to move my arms or my legs. I never regained any recovery and have spent my entire legal career practicing from a wheelchair. I started out as a defense lawyer because the firm that hired me, and the clients we had, loved having an attorney in a wheelchair who knew about severe injuries. I became a plaintiff’s lawyer a few years later because the firm that I started, and the clients who hire me, love having an attorney in a wheelchair who knows about severe injuries. When clients are looking for someone to represent them, other lawyers are at a disadvantage because clients seek my experience and unique perspective. When I speak to a venire, other lawyers are at a disadvantage because the potential jurors are curious about my story. When I talk about pain and disability, other lawyers are at a disadvantage because they know I am speaking from experience. That’s the disability disadvantage. Theirs, of course. TOBIAS A. COLE is a partner at Midani & Cole who represents individuals like himself who have sustained catastrophic injuries.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
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