John Gomez Paper Tigers

According to Wikipedia, Paper tigers is a literal English translation of the Chinese phrase zhilaohu (紙老虎). The term refers to something that seems threatening but is ineffectual and unable to withstand challenge. The expression became well known in the West as a slogan used by Mao Zedong’s Chinese communist state against its opponents, particularly the U.S. government. I suppose a simpler definition is “bully.”

We run into a lot of “paper tigers” doing the work we do. First, of course, is the unfortunate insurance adjuster. While many of these ladies and gentlemen are civil and professionals, some appear to believe part of their job is to demean and humiliate the human beings we represent. They suggest that we will never be able to obtain a jury verdict in excess of their meager and offensive settlement offers. Knowing they will never themselves face us in the courtroom, they can puff their chests out and act the tough guy or gal they aspire to be. We love these paper tigers. Invariably, and with zero uncertainty about whether the case must be tried, we obtain a jury verdict many multiples of their offensive offers. We see them in the back of the courtroom perspiring as things go worse and worse for them and chuckle as we reject their increasingly desperate last minute settlement offers.

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

Next is the arrogant and self-righteous defense medical expert. Some of these experts are decent and honest. I address here that group of skeletal charlatans that base their careers on denying good people the money they need to recover from harm. These characters run the gamut in their fields of “expertise” but all share an empty and black heart that has strayed far from the nobility we hope doctors embody. At deposition and far from the eyes of the jury room, they unabashedly reveal their indifference, arrogance and dishonesty. Once trial begins, however, it’s our turn. Under the clear light of justice and careful eyes of the jury, these paper tigers wilt as well.

Finally are those defense lawyers that truly lack compassion or perspective. These, I must note, are the exception. Many of our colleagues in the defense bar are friends whom we respect. They, unfortunately, just have a harder and less rewarding job than us. These decent people are good and honorable adversaries. A small percentage, however, are not those things. These paper tigers huff and puff and strut during discovery, depositions and all of the paper-driven procedures that occur before trial. Taking these bullies on after school is perhaps the most rewarding thing we do. Often they have abused our clients for years by the time of trial. Once dragged into court, and in front of a jury, however, the tables invariably turn. Nothing feels better than when a jury of our clients’ peers put that bully in his or her place.

We believe our work is righteous. Isaiah 1:17 teaches us: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” We take that charge seriously. Paper tigers, unfortunately, sometimes pay the consequences.

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