Jun 15, 2017

The Worst Client Ever


I walked in the room and sighed. This wasn't going to work. My worst client ever (let's call her Mrs. WCE) stood there, looking pretty darn good for her 70+ years. Wrapped in a dark mink coat, and wearing red leather gloves and high boots, her dark brown hair was fresh from the beauty parlor. Mrs. WCE wore bright red lipstick and a little "rouge," and was eager to get going. She was basically a nice person, but a nightmare as a client, constantly asking me the same questions over and over, and just generally annoying me on a daily basis. She had told me that she didn't think a woman could be a good lawyer and that attitude just added to my anxiety.

I'd be driving both of us to her Medicare hearing. (For those of you outside the US, Medicare is our national health insurance for folks 65 and over and some others who are disabled). Medicare had denied her claim for coverage for surgery and thousands of dollars, which my client did not have, were at stake.

The thought of losing made me sick to my stomach, particularly since I wasn't feeling confident. I had left my legal aid job years earlier, but had agreed to take on this case "pro bono." Medicare has an unbelievably thick set of regulations, rivaled in complexity only by the IRS regulations. I just didn't know much about Medicare. I had never represented the elderly when I was at legal aid, as there was a lawyer there who only handled elderly clients. I tried to study the regulations, but every time I thought I understood, I'd find another exception. So I was pretty nervous. Heck, I was terrified because, deep down I knew that, for this matter, Mrs. WCE had the WLE (worst lawyer ever). I'd just prove to her that women couldn't be good lawyers.

Mrs. WCE had had her eyelids lifted. She needed this operation, not to look younger, but because her drooping eyelids were obstructing her sight and she couldn't drive safely without the operation. The plastic surgeon did the procedure, knowing that Medicare covered such medically necessary matters. But Medicare declined coverage, claiming that the surgery was "plastic" surgery and not medically necessary. The doc was looking for his money. I put him off, explaining that the matter was under appeal and that I wasn't charging Mrs. WCE any money for my representation.

Litigation is a show and details mattered, particularly when you aren't sure about the law. I didn't want Mrs. WCE looking like she cared how she looked. Plus, I didn't want it took look like she had any money, especially since she, in fact, did not have any money.

"Could you please take off the makeup and ditch the mink?"

Mrs. WCE looked unhappy. "Why? I love this coat. I never get to dress up. And, I don't want that Judge thinking I'm an idiot."

Apparently, Mrs. WCE equated wearing a decades old, no longer politically correct, mink coat with looking like a non-idiot.

So I told her, "Well, if you wear makeup, it might look like you care about how you look and got your eyes done to look better. And I don't want the Judge to think you can afford to pay this bill. It might influence him. Better to look a little desperate."

Mrs. WCE looked at me for a moment and said, "That's sneaky. I like that in a lawyer."
She left and came back, face clean, with no mink and no red leather gloves.

***

The hearing room was a windowless room, furnished with a cheap table and some chairs. The administrative law judge sat at the head of the table. In these administrative matters, there is no "other side." It was just the 3 of us. It wasn't a formal trial, and when  if we lost, we could appeal to Federal Court, where Medicare would be represented. That was what I was counting on -- by then maybe I could find a lawyer who had a clue.

The judge had a pen and some paper in front of him, with tons of books on a shelf behind him. I had a binder summarizing the Medicare regulations, and assorted other books and notes and my questions for my client. I could feel myself shaking. Mrs. WCE sat there smiling.

The judge indicated that I should begin.

I turned to my client and said, "Please state your name and address."

Mrs. WCE burst out laughing.

The judge turned to me and said, "She's your mother?"

"Yes."

The judge laughed and said, "I figured. Our parents just can't see us as anything but their kids. Go on."

And I did, getting my Mom to explain the reason for her surgery, cutting her off every time she tried to explain about having to drive to go to Bingo because I wouldn't go with her, or how her head still hurt from the surgery. We got out her story. The judge didn't say a word.

Finally, it was my turn to make my argument, explaining how Medicare was in error. This wasn't going to be pretty. But, before I could say a word, the Judge interrupted.

"Hand me the bills and the Medicare denial."

I did. He looked them over, turned around, and picked up his volume of regulations. After a few moments, he said, "The doctor coded this wrong. He coded it as plastic, not medical. It's a clerical error. I'm overturning the denial. Medicare will pay."

Mrs. WCE let out a shriek. "Joan is so smart! I didn't think she could be a very good lawyer, but she is so smart."

I looked up at the judge, and didn't say a word.

The judge looked at me and smiled. He didn't tell my Mom that I had done nothing to help her other than file the appeal and drive her to the hearing. Rather, the Judge said, "Yes, your daughter is very smart. You are lucky to have her. She did a terrific job. Have a nice day!" Before I could say a word, he left the hearing room.

On the way home, my mom and I celebrated by getting ice cream sundaes. Before we finished, my Mom said, "I know when you went to law school I told you I would never want a woman lawyer. But today I changed my mind. You did a good job. I was foolish back then."

I thought about telling her the truth. But, I just said, "Thanks, Mom. And you were the best client ever."




53 comments:

  1. I absolutely LOVE this story, Joan! I think you're a BDE: best daughter ever!
    Hugs~carol

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    1. not sure about the BDE, but thanks!!!

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  2. I agree with Carol - you are the BDE! Great story! xx

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  3. I met an older couple in the waiting room of the dentist we used to go to. They were the parents of the dentist, with an appointment for dental work. I do not think I could see any of my kids as my dentist! The lawyer son refers me to one of his partners .. smart man!! Love this story and how you told it!

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    1. Good thinking on your son's part!! Thanks

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  4. You are indeed the best daughter ever!

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  5. I miss your mom. Your stories were always bittersweet. I think we all experience life with aging parents as an adventure that we can resent or embrace.

    Patricia R.

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  6. It's good to see you writing creatively again Joan! For some reason this one made me bawl like a baby. Nothing like a good cry to clear the brain!

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    1. oh my, now your comment made me tear up. I think I'm missing my mom more lately!! Thanks

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  7. Great story! You are pretty smart!

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  8. Not only are you the BDE, but a darn good writer and story teller as well! Thanks for making my day.

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    1. very sweet of you to say that!! thanks

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  9. Thanks the for the great story!! Love ya! -Jen

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    1. thanks for taking the time to read it. love you right back.

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  10. What a great telling of this story!

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  11. I followed your blog during that very hard time for you with your Mom. Those were bitter/sweet blog posts too. And you came through. I do love your stories.

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  12. I love your stories as much as I enjoy your cards! I hope you are compiling the family stories for your son. What a treasure for him, especially in his 'later' years. :)
    Lu C

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  13. Wonderful memory, Joan. I adored your Mom's sense of humor, and the funny things she would say when she lived with you. You ARE a wonderful daughter, and you took great care of her in every way. Great job winning that court decision!!! :-)

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    1. thanks. my mom was a hoot all right!

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  14. I have not been following your blog for long enough to have read anything about your mother... she sounds great from your story though. I have to say you are smart, so very talented. I think you missed your calling as a writer. I so enjoy reading your writing, do please keep it up. It is such a joyous thing. So happy you won her case for her.

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    1. thanks for your very kind words!!

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  15. I love you Joanie! Your CA SIL

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  16. Amazing story-telling, Joan! You are multi-talented and an awesome person, too!

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  17. What a great story! Thank you for sharing it. I love reading your stories. Your writing voice is delightful. Please continue - I hope it takes your mind off your health struggles.

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  18. You've shared enough about Mom to make us all think she was a 'hoot' J.B. Please take care of YOU, I want more, and more...
    =]

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  19. It's all in the details. Please write a book or a movie script. Thank you.

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    1. no book or movie in the works, but thanks anyway

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  20. You dropped a bombshell when you revealed she was your mom! I had never pictured her all dolled up, but then I heard her voice... sure enough. She was a character, and you are, too. What a great story, Joan!

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    1. nice to know. my first draft revealed that it was my mom right away and then when i was editing it I moved some of it around! she was a lot younger when this occurred -- before she got really sick

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  21. Great story. I miss hearing about your mom.

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  22. Love this story, you are such a story teller!

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  23. You are such a good storyteller! This one was touching and funny and yes, you are the BDE!

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  24. Fantastic story! I love the humour in it as well as the relationship between the mother and daughter. Is this real life or fiction?

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    1. absolutely a true story!!! no fiction needed with my mom!

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  25. Fantastic story Joan. Thanks for sharing.

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  26. You are an amazing story teller! Have you heard Mike Rowe tell stories called "The Way I Heard It" on his blog? Very similar in voice and always the unexpected twist that is obvious in hindsight. Love it! You really should write more, you have a knack for it! A story like that could get published in Readers Digest or similar publications easily :-)

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    1. no I have not heard of Mike Rowe but i will check him out. Thanks!!

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