Confessions of a Personal Injury Attorney

What is your name and occupation?
My name is Stephen Counts, and I’m a personal injury attorney.

How long have you been an attorney?
I was licensed in June of 2004.  And I’ve been engaged as a personal injury attorney for all but about three months of time since being licensed.

What made you decide to go to law school?
That’s a good question.  When I first thought about law school I was encouraged by friend of mine, Red Benson, to look into it in light of what he knew about me at the time, which was that I was passionate about things that I set my mind to, that I enjoyed helping people, and I had a family and I wanted to have a long-term career that I could apply myself to and have some diversity.  From that point on, it was really kind of a love affair that I had with learning about the law.  That was about two years into my undergraduate career.

Where did you get your undergraduate degree?
I went two years at Orange Coast College, and then I transferred to the University of California Los Angeles — UCLA — and then I went to law school at Loyola Law School up in Los Angeles.  So I had a good five years or so of commuting from Orange County to Los Angeles.

Did you always have an idea of what kind of law you wanted to practice or did that evolve over time as you saw the field and scoped it out?
I think, like any good student, I scoped out the field and I really found out about a lot of different areas of law before I decided on one.  Certainly as an undergraduate, I didn’t know what area of law I was going to practice.  In fact, I would imagine that 95% of all undergraduates don’t even know what they want to do after they graduate from college, much less what area of law they want to specialize in.  I did know one thing for sure, though, that I did want to go to law school.  And I was intent on learning everything I could about that and the areas of practice that I really wanted to be engaged in.

So eventually you found your way to personal injury?
Right.  I clerked while I was in law school for several different firms.  One of the firms that I clerked for shall remain nameless.  Before I was licensed even, this was a firm that did a lot of commercial subrogation, collections, construction law, representing contractors, things of that nature.  And it was a great experience, but I learned fairly quickly — after about a year of doing that — that I was becoming little more than a paper shuffler, a pencil pusher, a typist, or whatever the case might be, interfacing with a representative of a large corporation like large Fortune 500 companies, finance companies, large construction companies, things of that nature. 

And it was fairly unsatisfying for me, and I could tell that even as an attorney once I was licensed, that it was going to be an unsatisfying area of practice.  I then went on to a firm that was more of a general practice firm that had more of a hands-on approach with the clients, although still representing a lot of large businesses.  I found through the numerous clerk shifts that I had while I was in law school that what I enjoyed most of all was the interfacing with the individual client — the individual person, dealing with their individual story.  And even more than that, what I found early on was that I really enjoyed dealing with somebody who was, in many cases, the underdog who needed somebody to advocate on their behalf.  Somebody that may not have a lot of money, a lot of power, a lot of social standing, things of that nature.  But somebody who needed somebody to advocate on their behalf.

Sounds like you’re the perfect attorney for getting justice for people who’ve been injured.  It appears you have a heart for this.  It’s more than just a business for you, more than just an area of law that you’ve landed in.  There’s something deeper here for you.
I think I do.  And more importantly, I can relate — as I think we all can to some extent — to the underdog.  Everybody likes rooting for the underdog for a reason, because we’ve all felt like we were the underdog at some point in life.  If not right now, even.  And so in a situation involving an individual who’s been hurt as a result of somebody else’s wrongdoing, inevitably that person who’s been hurt is going to come up against either an insurance company or a Fortune 500 company of some sort that is extremely well-funded, who has the claims process down to a science — literally — and is concerned about one thing and one thing only, and that is increasing their profits.  And in the case of insurance companies and these Fortune 500 companies, if increasing their profits means that they can get rid of an injured person as a potential claimant by either denying the claim or delaying the claim or by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the course of litigation trying to make that claimant — that injured person — go away, they will. 

And so in a very real sense an injured person is, in almost every case, the underdog because it enforces that they will inevitably come up against it during the course of the claim.

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