June 14, 2021

Movies Speak to Me in Legalese

By: Amy Siegel Oran.

We all have our favorite movies, a top-five list of films you’ve seen so many times you can practically repeat them line for line. Even within those movies you know like the back of your hand, there tend to be the scenes or lines that are indelibly attached to your brain. Some might be funny or painfully awkward; tell any woman over 40 that “nobody puts Baby in a corner,” and they’ll start reminiscing about Dirty Dancing and chuckle about Baby saying she “carried a watermelon.”  It’s not all about entertainment, though. The movies we love sometimes guide us and, this may sound like a stretch but, they can teach us valuable life lessons.  Each of my favorite flicks has taught me something important and is seen in my day-to-day practice of workers’ compensation defense.  It is all open to interpretation, but here are five prime examples of movie lessons, imprinted on my brain, that are impactful in my day-to-day practice:

The American President – “Oh, you only fight the fights you can win? You fight the fights that need fighting!”

Business decisions guide most of our choices, calculating the least costly way out.  However, when it comes to a matter of principle, we don’t fold when we’re right, we don’t walk away when we’ve handled situations accurately, and we don’t allow fear of a bad decision from keeping us out of the courtroom.  Our clients count on us for providing reasoned legal analysis, but our job is to protect their interests.  Protecting means being their voice, arguing their positions, and fighting back when the situation warrants it.  If a client senses or believes we’re not able or willing to fight for them, regardless of whether they will win or lose, they will look elsewhere for representation.  In my role, I fight the fight our clients need fighting.

Jaws – “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”

Sometimes a workers’ comp case can be handled with a 12ft leisure craft, but some cases need multiple engines, tuna-tower set up because the risk is just that large. I can’t recommend you spend $5,000.00 investigating a claim that is worth $7,500.00; conversely, if we’re working on a catastrophic claim, with millions of dollars at issue, I won’t suggest we limit our scope to a cursory check for prior insurance claims.  When it comes to discovery, we all have a bag full of tricks and we have experts lined up to call upon when we need to cover greater territory than we can cover alone; however, the key is knowing what equipment you need for each case.  Insurance defense, as a practice area, is not one with unlimited budgets and our clients rely upon us to spend their money wisely and tailoring the scope of discovery to the needs of the particular case.  A seasoned attorney knows she has to embark on the discovery process with the right equipment; a leisure craft just may sink the case and that cannot be allowed to happen.

The Godfather – “it’s not personal, it’s strictly business”

Represent your clients with professionalism and dignity. Don’t make it personal. Relationships last longer than one case and trying to rebuild a bridge you’ve burned can prove impossible. When in doubt, remember, treat others how you yourself want to be treated; be the upstanding person our children believe us to be. Always grant the first favor, without even asking why. Never try to make opposing counsel look bad in front of his or her client, or his or her boss.  Attack arguments and evidence, not people.  I work in a narrow practice area, well known for its tight-knit bar and our small community.  When hostility is allowed to invade a case, it is far less likely an amicable, mutually agreeable resolution can be reached.  If we lose sight of our clients’ interests and focus instead on our personal feelings, we will not be living up to our obligations as their advocate.  As counsel to a party in litigation, you can never allow it to get personal; in the field of workers’ compensation, it can take years to rebuild relationships destroyed without a second thought.

The Princess Bride – “Inconceivable!”  “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Choose your words wisely, you never know when you might be quoted in a blog.  All too often we speak without first thinking something through, and what comes out of our mouths may be regrettable or may just be plain wrong.  It is easy to say: “think before you speak,” but the instinct to respond is often just too strong.  As attorneys though, we are held to and most hold ourselves to a higher standard.  We may not offer advice without having sufficient knowledge upon which to base those opinions; as a lawyer, we can never cross the line into offering counsel in an area of the law with which we are not familiar.  Even within our specialties though, there are questions that arise to which we cannot just confidently blurt out the right answer.  Some research may be needed and some time to think the issue through may be justified, but that is completely OK.  We cannot toss out words without knowing what they mean and the implications they may have.  Having practiced in the field of workers’ compensation for the last 20 years, I know a lot; high on the list of things of which I am aware though, is that I just don’t know everything.   I have told clients countless times that I think I know the answer to their question, but it’s important we are certain, so I ask for an hour to look into it further and promise an answer shortly.  Admitting that you do not know everything is never a sign of weakness; tossing around the wrong words can lead to irreparable harm and it is not just a matter of semantics.

Bull Durham – “I believe in the soul . . . the hangin’ curveball, high fiber, good scotch. … I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter . . .”

Find what you believe in and stick to it.  Don’t bend your belief system and certainly not your ethics for anyone, not even a client; never be afraid to stand up for that in which you believe. In the end, you will find that it is worth it.  As a workers’ compensation defense attorney, I have long maintained that my job is to work with the client to ensure legitimately injured workers get all of the benefits to which they are entitled under the Statute.  I am vested with the responsibility of finding the line between what an employee needs for an industrial accident and when the task is unrelated or excessive.  As part of my role, I assist with a thorough discovery process to ensure we do not pay for benefits in excess of that to which someone is entitled.  However, my job is not to deny anyone anything the law provides them.  It is not my responsibility to find fraud in every case, and it is not incumbent upon me to find loopholes and exemptions to get us out of paying what we owe.  While those are sometimes consequences of my job, if I worked my claims with the mindset of showing everyone is lying or with the singular purpose of denying benefits, then I would have compromised my ethics and integrity.  I represent myself and my law firm, and we have reputations built over decades to uphold.  I practice aggressively, but reasonably.  To do so, I regularly advise my clients to ensure that with every position we take, we do so within the bounds of the law and the parameters of the ethical guidelines by which we are bound.  If ever asked to step outside those principles, a conversation about why we cannot do so would be had, but the boundaries of representation are not limitless.  We, as lawyers, like all people, must stand by our principles and if asked to act in a manner contrary thereto, perhaps it is not an ideal counsel/client fit.  

Most movies are made to entertain us, to bring us into the stories of love, superheroes, gangsters, and more.  When the next film you watch comes to a close, and the credits are rolling, give it a moment of thought – was there a bigger message to be learned?  

Amy Siegel Oran is a Partner at Kelley Kronenberg focusing her practice on Workers’ Compensation

Contact Amy Siegel Oran at:
Phone: (800) 718-9865
Email: asiegel@kklaw.com

DISCLAIMER: This article is provided as a courtesy and is intended for the general information of the matters discussed above and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Neither Kelley Kronenberg, nor its individual attorneys or staff, are responsible for errors, omissions and/or typographical errors – always seek competent legal counsel.