I’ve been in my clients’ shoes, except, of course, mine are red sneakers. You see, I have a neurological disorder, which means I walk with a cane, sometimes roll in a wheelchair, and can’t wear formal “lawyer” shoes. Instead, I wear red sneakers wherever I go. Yes, even to court! Because even a gentle touch can cause immense pain, my daughter, Elizabeth, suggested the color red. People are sure to see me coming and then be a lot less likely to bump me. Believe me, it works.
Whenever I’m in court, I nearly always ask jurors, “Why do you think I’m wearing these red sneakers?” Nine times out of 10, at least one will say something like, “Because you’re just flamboyant.” Some will guess I’ve injured myself. While both are true, the real reason I ask the questions is it usually eases the tension in the courtroom with a little self-deprecating humor. I always respond with some kind of self-targeted joke. Laughing at something serious, like my own neurological disorder, brightens my workplace and my clients’ lives. It also makes it okay to discuss other equally serious issues during the trial. If we can talk about my pain — and laugh — we can talk about the case.
Stepping into my clients’ shoes comes naturally, sneakers or not. I’ve been where my clients are when they come to me, and I know what they need. About 15 years ago, I was the sole witness to a pedestrian hit-and-run crash. My father was the victim. It was the first time in my life I had to deal with the civil justice system, and I have to tell you, it was not a good experience.
My wife, our 22-month-old, Elizabeth, and I had flown to Florida to visit my parents and get away from the New Hampshire winter weather. After picking up our rental car, we were driving down a busy street toward my parents’ condo. Because we’d never been there before and didn’t have GPS, I was concerned about finding the place. But, right at the turn on to his street, my Dad was standing on the corner waving at us. I don’t know how he recognized us as we drove toward him in a rental car. I imagine he just waved at every car that drove by. I parked, then got out of the car to greet him, and just as our fingers touched to shake hands, a car hit him, carrying him 60 yards before tossing him to the street. No words can describe how crushing that was for my family, my mom, and me.
Afterward, we had to go through the civil and criminal justice systems. I watched as the people involved — good people — interacted with my deaf mom and the rest of my family. It was shocking! It was like we, our family and our tragedy, were just something they had to get over and done with so that they could move on to the next family and their tragedy. It felt like they didn’t understand how we were affected by the whole situation, like they couldn’t understand that it devastated my whole family. It was real and heartbreaking, but no one seemed to care. They just got busy telling me the dollar value of my dad’s life. At that point, we didn’t care about dollars. We cared about justice, about making things right.
The treatment we received from people I believed to be good people got me thinking it probably wasn’t uncommon. I thought about what other people might be going through and how they might be treated the same way. I thought about other families and other tragedies. That didn’t sit well with me. So, I decided to give up my career and go to law school to help people and families going through the same things we went through. All the while, I told myself I wasn’t going to treat my clients the way I was treated. No matter what, at least, I would understand how my clients really felt, what they wanted and what they needed. I’d been there. I want to be there for my clients. A trial is probably one of the most emotional moments of a client’s life, and they shouldn’t be treated like a number. They should be treated like real people who are having a unique, tragic moment in their lives.
Nixon, Vogelman, Barry, Slawsky & Simoneau P.A. strives to treat clients like real people, with kindness and understanding. If you’ve ever been through a tragedy and hired a lawyer, you know that normal human kindness is kinda hard to find. Our clients have gone through enough andshould be treated like human beings. We’ll be sure to step into your shoes, red or otherwise, and guide you through any trial in your life.