"What do I do with this one?" I asked Pam of a file among a stack of files that she transferred to me my first month at M&F.
"I don't know what's going to happen with that one. One of the co-defendants desparately wants to settle. One of them seems to be sticking their head in the sand. And our client seems content not to worry about it. The applicant is a pro per. This case has been going on forever. Contact the client, and see what he wants to do."
Eight months I traveled to the Riverside District Office of the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board to settle the case between three co-defendants, including my client, and the applicant by Compromise and Release . One of the co-defendants joined us from his Culver City office to make sure things went smoothly. As it turned out, the applicant had her days jumbled, and the co-defendant and I had to wait over two hours for her to arrive to complete the settlement.
"Come on. I'll buy you coffee. No sense in us waiting around up here."
My first thought was that I have been having great success in scoring free coffee when I wear a skirt. My second thought was more of a question, whether the same might apply to scoring free cocktails. I made a note to myself to test the theory over the weekend.
In a coffee shop next door to the State building, we discussed our unique area of practice.
"What made you decide to do Comp?"
"I didn't really decide to. I needed a job. My husband and I were splitting up, and I needed to find something quick. I thought I was just applying to have something. Turns out I really like it. I've got a plan. I'm going to give this five years, and reassess whether its what I want to do. I think I need to give it at least five years to know. But, I really wanted to do jury trials. The thought of never doing a jury trial makes me sad."
"Jury trials are tough. I know great jury trial attorneys who have miserable home lifes. Their wives hate them; their kids hate them." My mouth twisted. I have no spouse. I have no living children. "How old are you, if you don't mind my asking?"
"You're still young enough to do whatever you want in this profession. If you wanna do Comp for a while, fine. You'll still have plenty of time to try other things. Open your own practice. Build a family."
In the grand scheme of my plan to live to be 100, it's true that 31 does seem young. But those 31 years flew by, and I feel like I wear every one of them on me like a wet coat. I woke up one day, and I was 31, and suddenly alone when just the night before it seems I had all I wanted. 69 years doesn't seem like nearly enough time to do the things I want to do, like write a book, swim with the dolphins, starte a non-profit organization in Gabriel's honor, pet a tiger, have my teeth whitened, end abortion, meet Madonna, visit France, find love again, and have more children. I glanced at the clock.
"Do you suppose she's here now?" He paused.
"Yes. Let's go find her."
The applicant was still a few minutes away, but when she finally appeared my co-defendant, who has been involved in the case almost since the date of injury back in 2001, recognized her immediately and summoned her into the hearing room. We discussed the settlement and held our breaths. After 12 years of litigating this claim, we watched as the applicant signed her settlement, then the co-defendant stood in line for our chance to talk to the judge.
The applicant and I hung back.
"Andrea, I want to thank you for getting this all together." I shrugged.
"I'm glad you're getting your settlement. Now you can control your own treatment." A compromise and release agreement is indeed a buyout of future medical care, so termed because the parties compromise as to the value of future medical care, and the applicant agrees to release liability for treatment of work-related injuries in turn for the lump settlement. The applicant can then see any doctor they choose, and my client doesn't have to administer their treatment any longer. My job makes me most content when everybody wins, when we can all agree to compromise and release.
"You're so young, Andrea." I tugged unwillingly and the skin under my eyes where the creases have begun to form. How can they not see it? How can they not see the grief that has aged me so?
"Thank you for everything," the applicant said as I handed her copies of the settlement and my business card. I didn't really do anything exceptional. It's just a job. Most of the time, it's just a thankless job and I frequently miss bartending full time though I haven't forgotten how thankless that job can be too.
I have a strong need to be needed. At times it leads me to be overbearing, and at other times it turns me into a doormat. When I think of my relationships with my siblings, with men I've dated, and with the one man I was married to, I know that I have been both of those things in each of those relationships. I'm still struggling to find the balance. I'm struggling to find the compromise. I long to find the release.