By Herman Sillas
In 1960, I sat alone in my law office one Saturday afternoon. I had been a solo practitioner almost a year, right out of law school. My one checkbook had a balance of forty bucks after paying all my bills. Although my account receivables totaled $4,000, the folks that owed me didn’t have money. How would I take care of next month’s bills?
That’s when I concluded I must find a job and close up my practice. I dreaded the thought of working for someone else. But I scanned the ads in the newspaper and circled a couple. I leaned back in my chair and thought, “Sillas, you gave it a good ride but your luck ran out. It’s time to find a job and make money. Babies need new shoes.”
Cora, my wife, and I and our two little daughters, Debbie and Monica, lived in an old run-down house in a barrio near San Fernando Road in Los Angeles. Debbie was 3 and Monica was less than a year old. Cora allowed me to pursue the dream of having my own practice, but was entitled to have a roof over her head and food on the table. Monday, I’d start calling for job interviews.
That evening as we finished our dinner, the phone rang. It was my phone exchange calling. Would I take a call from a young lady on the phone who needed a lawyer? Sure. The young voice said her boyfriend had been arrested for armed robbery and was in jail. Would I go see him and get him out? she asked. I kissed Cora goodbye as I headed out the door telling her I was on my way to the jail.
The young redheaded boyfriend claimed to be innocent. He signed a $500 retainer agreement and gave me the name and address of his mother who he said would pay me. She did, with $250 cash and a check for the balance. I was whistling as I drove home that evening. Next month had just been taken care of.
After arriving home, I called my new client’s girlfriend and told her she could pick him up in half an hour. She thanked me profusely and promised they would be in my office on Monday.
“By the way,” I asked, “How did you get my name?
“From the phone book,” she replied.
The phone book? How many lawyers are in the phone book? Thousands, I mused.
Would I ever be as broke as I was before her phone call? That’s when I decided that “someone” upstairs was taking care of me.
Many years later, I met a young lawyer on a case. We were on the opposite sides, but we were able to settle. He called me later and asked if we could have lunch together. I said, “Sure.” We met for lunch a couple days later. The attorney worked for a large firm but wanted to have his own practice. His wife was concerned about making the change.
I suggested that we and our spouses meet for dinner and she could ask all the questions she had. We did meet for dinner. His wife was concerned about her husband’s ability to get the clients needed to support them. I related my story of the phone call I had received years before when I thought of leaving my practice. When I finished the story, Cora said, “You never told me that.”
I was startled. But she was right.
“I didn’t want to tell you before dinner and before we finished dinner, I got the phone call. When I came back from the jail, I was rich.” We all laughed.
The young fellow opened his law office and maintained a very successful practice. God showed me how he was taking care of me. It was my turn to help others. That’s the view from the pier.
Herman Sillas is a writer, artist and a resident of San Clemente. He is a former U.S. Attorney in California. He may reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.