Some lawyers demonstrate their legal prowess in courtrooms with a cool confidence, examining witnesses and charming the jury. Others hunker down in law libraries dissecting case law and writing brilliant legal memorandums. They’re all armed with fancy words, legal precedents, and an air of self-importance. But not me. I wasn’t that kind of lawyer. I was armed with a cell phone camera, a large advertising budget, and a few shreds of remaining dignity.
My name is Jessica Snow. I work for the law offices of Dawson Garner & Associates in Baltimore, Maryland. It was mid-August. My elevated professional status had me standing alone at the intersection of North Avenue and Smallwood, an area that cried out for urban renewal. The summer heat shimmered like a hellish vapor off the asphalt. My mouth was dry, but the rest of me was cloaked in a layer of sweat. Worst of all, the humidity had ravaged my hair. What wasn’t matted with perspiration was frizzed out like a science-fair project gone wrong. I was there to take photos of the intersection where my client had been hit, but my investigation was interrupted by the assaulting screech of the worn brakes on a Baltimore City transit bus. I involuntarily cringed knowing that when I turned toward the bus I would likely see my face across its entire girth with the words, Dawson Garner & Associates, Have You Been Injured? We can help. Call 555-WANNA SU.
I angled my head in that direction, and there it was. A colossal, roaming display of shameless self-promotion. I was still gaping at it when I heard feet shuffling toward me. Someone tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hey lady, isn’t that you?”
I turned toward the voice. A shirtless guy wearing an Orioles baseball cap pointed across the street toward the bus. Standing beside him were three other shirtless men, all in their early twenties, casually passing around a joint.
Their eyes darted from me to the bus and back again. They were waiting for me to confirm that it was in fact my face on the bus, but I couldn’t speak the words. It was hard for me to admit that I was an ambulance chaser.
When Dawson hired me six months ago, I was fresh out of law school, had passed the Maryland Bar exam, and was among the many young grads looking for work. It was no secret that I was hired, not because of my superior legal mind, but because Dawson wanted a young, female lawyer for his advertising campaign. I wasn’t proud, but I took the job. I was desperate to move out of my parents’ house. I considered my current employment a temporary holding place until something else turned up. I was competing for legal jobs with thousands of other recent law-school graduates. My problem was that I was not at the top of my class. I hovered closer to average and I had no connections. Zero. So, until that recruiter called with my dream job, I was determined to be the best rookie ambulance chaser in the city and prove to Dawson that I was more than just a pretty face. Despite my inexperience and misgivings, I’d become an integral part of Dawson Garner’s legal machine, which pained my mother greatly. It could be a dirty business.
The four guys continued to look from me to the bus as it pulled away.
“Sure does look like you,” the one in the Oriole’s cap continued. “Except for the hair. Hair’s different.”
They stared at my hair. Some of them grimaced. The image on the bus was testimony to the miracle of Photoshop. It transformed my eyes from ordinary blue to a deep, purple-tinged blue. My mousy brown hair appeared shiny, smooth, and so brown it looked almost black. The bus-me was stunning. In contrast, the person they saw before them resembled a young Sandra Bullock having just rolled out of bed.
“Yeah, that’s me. Any of you need a lawyer?” I squared my shoulders with false bravado and forced eye contact.
They nodded, I suspected, in collective approval of my profession. Another guy, whose cargo shorts hung so low I could see the fly of his boxer shorts, said, “We got a lawyer, lady, but he ain’t as fine as you.”
This brought laughter and more head bobbing from his companions. They inched closer. The air had thickened with heat and the pungent smell of pot. I hugged my messenger bag into my chest.
“Yo. Give little miss attorney some space—you freakin’ her out.” This came from a guy who had tattoos mapping both arms, over his shoulders, and at the base of his neck. The others took a step back and Tattoo Guy turned to me. “I know Dawson Garner. Handled a case for me once. Got me a lot of money.” He tilted his head toward the others. “They don’t mean no harm. Having some fun is all. You lost?”
“I’m not lost. I wanted to see the intersection. I have a client who was struck by a car here last week.”
“You mean Melinda?” Tattoo Guy asked.
What luck. I hadn’t expected to find a witness, but that would sure seal this case for me.
“Yeah, Melinda Taylor. Did any of you see what happened?”
They glared at me in disbelief.
Orioles Hat spoke up. “Lady, Melinda don’t get hit. She don’t ever get hit. She walks into cars when they turn and she falls on the ground. Melinda’s a phony.” He took a hit off the joint.
And there it was. The ugly truth about this business—some clients lied.