He was wearing the same style of black tasseled loafers he’d worn forever. The dark suit was probably handmade, just like in the glory days. Worsted wool and very expensive. Silk tie with perfect knot. Cuff links. The first time she visited him in prison he wore a khaki shirt and olive dungarees, his standard uniform, and he’d whined about how much he missed his wardrobe. Marshall Kofer had always loved fine clothes, and now that he was back he was clearly spending some money.
“Nothing but panic,” she said. “Two suicides yesterday, according to the Times.”
“Have you had lunch?”
“I had a sandwich on the train.”
“Let’s do dinner, just the two of us.”
“I promised Mom, but I’m free for lunch tomorrow.”
“Booked. How is Karen?” he asked. According to him, her parents had a friendly chat at least once a month by phone. According to her mother, the conversations happened about once a year. Marshall would like to be friends, but Karen carried too much baggage. Samantha had never tried to broker a truce.
“She’s fine, I guess. Works hard and all that.”
“Is she seeing anyone?”
“I don’t ask. What about you?”
The young and pretty paralegal ditched him two months after he landed in prison, so Marshall had been single for many years. Single but seldom alone. He was almost sixty, still fit and thin with slicked-back gray hair and a killer smile. “Oh, I’m still in the game,” he said with a laugh. “And you. Anybody significant?”
“No, Dad, afraid not. I’ve spent the last three years in a cave while the world went by. I’m twenty-nine and a virgin once again.”
“No need to go there. How long are you in town?”
“I just got here. I don’t know. I told you about the furlough scheme the firm is offering and I’m checking that out.”
“You volunteer for a year, then get your old job back without losing rank?”
“Something like that.”
“Smells bad. You don’t really trust those guys, do you?”
She took a deep breath, then a sip of coffee. At this point, the conversation could spiral down into topics she couldn’t stomach at the moment. “No, not really. I can honestly say that I do not trust the partners who run Scully & Pershing. No.”
Marshall was already shaking his head, happily agreeing with her. “And you don’t really want to go back there, not now, not twelve months from now. Right?”
“I’m not sure what I’ll be thinking in twelve months, but I can’t see much of a future at the firm.”
“Right, right.” He set his coffee cup on the table and leaned forward. “Look, Samantha, I can offer you a job right here, one that will pay well and keep you busy for a year or so while you sort things out. Maybe it can become permanent, maybe not, but you’ll have plenty of time to make that decision. You will not be practicing law, real law as they say, but then I’m not sure you’ve been doing much of that for the past three years.”
“Mom said you have two partners and that they’ve also been disbarred.”
He faked a laugh, but the truth was uncomfortable. “Karen would say that, wouldn’t she? But yes, Samantha, there are three of us here, all convicted, sentenced, disbarred, incarcerated, and, I’m happy to say, fully rehabilitated.”
“I’m sorry, Dad, but I can’t see myself working for a firm run by three disbarred lawyers.”
Marshall’s shoulders sagged a bit. The smile went away.
“It’s not really a law firm, right?”
“Right. We can’t practice because we have not been reinstated.”
“Then what do you do?”
“Everybody is a consultant, Dad. Who do you consult and what do you tell them?”
“Are you familiar with litigation funders?”
“For discussion purposes, let’s say the answer is no.”
“Okay, litigation funders are private companies that raise money from their investors to buy into big lawsuits. For example, let’s say a small software company is convinced one of the big guys, say Microsoft, has stolen its software, but there’s no way the small company can afford to sue Microsoft and go toe-to-toe in court. Impossible. So the small company goes to a litigation fund, and the fund reviews the case, and if it has merit, then the fund puts up some serious cash for legal fees and expenses. Ten million, twenty million, doesn’t really matter. There’s plenty of cash. The fund of course gets a piece of the action. The fight becomes a fair one, and there’s usually a lucrative settlement. Our job here is to advise the litigation funds on whether or not they should get involved. Not all potential lawsuits should be pursued, not even in this country. My two partners, non-equity partners, I might add, were also experts in complex tort litigation until, shall we say, they were asked to leave the legal profession. Our business is booming, regardless of this little recession. In fact, we think this current mess will actually help our business. A lot of banks are about to get sued, and for huge sums.”
Samantha listened, sipped her coffee, and reminded herself that she was listening to a man who once cajoled millions out of jurors on a regular basis.
“What do you think?” he asked.
Sounds dreadful, she thought, but kept frowning as if deep in thought. “Interesting,” she managed to say.
“We see huge growth potential,” he said.
Yes, and with three ex-cons running the show it’s only a matter of time before there’s trouble. “I don’t know beans about litigation, Dad. I’ve always tried to stay away from it. I was in finance, remember?”
“Oh, you’ll pick it up. I’ll teach you, Samantha. We’ll have a ball. Give it a shot. Try it for a few months while you sort things out.”
“But I’m not disbarred yet,” she said. They both laughed, but it really wasn’t that funny. “I’ll think about it, Dad. Thanks.”
“You’ll fit in, I promise. Forty hours a week, a nice office, nice people. It’ll sure beat the rat race in New York.”
“But New York is home, Dad. Not D.C.”
“Okay, okay. I’m not going to push. The offer is on the table.”
“And I appreciate it.”
A secretary tapped on the door and stuck her head in. “Your four o’clock meeting, sir.”
Marshall frowned as he glanced at his watch to confirm the time. “I’ll be there in a moment,” he said and she disappeared. Samantha grabbed her purse and said, “I need to be going.”
“No rush, dear. It can wait.”
“I know you’re busy. I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch.”
“We’ll have some fun. Say hello to Karen. I’d love to see her.”
Not a chance. “Sure, Dad. See you tomorrow.”
They hugged by the door and she hurried away.
The eighth rejection came from the Chesapeake Society in Baltimore, and the ninth came from an outfit fighting to save the redwoods in Northern California. Never, in her privileged life, had Samantha Kofer been rejected nine times in one day from any endeavor. Nor in a week, nor a month. She was not sure she could handle number ten.
She was sipping decaf in the café at Kramerbooks near Dupont Circle, waiting and swapping e-mails with friends. Blythe still had a job but things were changing by the hour. She passed along the gossip that her firm, the world’s fourth largest, was also slaughtering associates right and left, and that it too had cooked up the same furlough scheme to dump its brightest on as many broke and struggling nonprofits as possible. She wrote: “Must be 1000s out there knocking doors begging for work.”
Samantha didn’t have the spine to admit she was zero for nine.
Then number ten chimed in. It was a terse message from a Mattie Wyatt at Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in Brady, Virginia: “If you can talk right now call my cell,” and she gave her number. After nine straight stiff-arms, it felt like an invitation to the Inauguration.
antha took a deep breath and another sip, glanced around to make sure she could not be heard, as if the other customers were concerned with her business, then punched the numbers of her cell phone.
The Mountain Legal Aid Clinic ran its low-budget operations from an abandoned hardware store on Main Street in Brady, Virginia, population twenty-two hundred and declining with each census. Brady was in southwest Virginia, Appalachia, the coal country. From the affluent D.C. suburbs of northern Virginia, Brady was about three hundred miles away in distance and a century in time.
Mattie Wyatt had been the clinic’s executive director from the day she founded the organization twenty-six years earlier. She picked up her cell phone and gave her usual greeting: “Mattie Wyatt.”
A somewhat timid voice on the other end said, “Yes, this is Samantha Kofer. I just got your e-mail.”
“Thank you, Ms. Kofer. I got your inquiry this afternoon, along with some others. Looks like things are pretty tough at some of these big law firms.”
“You could say that, yes.”
“Well, we’ve never had an intern from one of the big New York firms, but we could always use some help around here. There’s no shortage of poor folk and their problems. You ever been to southwest Virginia?”
Samantha had not. She had seen the world but had never ventured into Appalachia. “I’m afraid not,” she said as politely as possible. Mattie’s voice was friendly, her accent slightly twangy, and Samantha decided that her best manners were needed.
“Well you’re in for a jolt,” Mattie said. “Look, Ms. Kofer, I’ve had three of you guys send e-mails today and we don’t have room for three rookies who are clueless, know what I mean? So the only way I know to pick one is to do interviews. Can you come down here for a look around? The other two said they would try. I think one is from your law firm.”
“Well, sure, I could drive down,” Samantha said. What else could she say? Any hint of reluctance and she would indeed pick up the tenth rejection. “When did you have in mind?”
“Tomorrow, the next day, whenever. I didn’t expect to get flooded with laid-off lawyers scrambling to find work, even if it doesn’t pay. Suddenly there’s competition for the job, so I guess the sooner the better. New York is a long way off.”
“I’m actually in D.C. I can be there tomorrow afternoon, I suppose.”
“Okay. I don’t have much time to spend with interviews, so I’ll likely just hire the first one to show up and cancel the rest. That is, if I like the first one.”
Samantha closed her eyes for a few seconds and tried to put it all in perspective. Yesterday morning she had arrived at her desk in the world’s largest law firm, one that paid her handsomely and had the promise of a long, profitable career. Now, about thirty hours later, she was unemployed, sitting in the café at Kramerbooks and trying to hustle her way into a temporary, unpaid gig about as deep in the boonies as one could possibly wander.
Mattie continued, “I drove to D.C. last year for a conference, took me six hours. You wanna say around four tomorrow afternoon?”
“Sure. I’ll see you then. And thanks Ms. Wyatt.”
“No, thank you, and it’s Mattie.”
Samantha searched the Web and found a site for the legal aid clinic. Its mission was simple: “Provide free legal services for low-income clients in southwest Virginia.” Its areas of service included domestic relations, debt relief, housing, health care, education, and benefits due to black lung disease. Her legal education had touched briefly on some of these specialties; her career had not. The clinic did not deal with criminal matters. In addition to Mattie Wyatt, there was another attorney, a paralegal, a receptionist, all women.
Samantha decided she would discuss it with her mother, then sleep on it. She did not own a car and, frankly, could not see herself wasting the time to travel to Appalachia. Waiting tables in SoHo was looking better. As she stared at her laptop, the homeless shelter in Louisville checked in with a polite no. Ten rejections in one day. That was enough: she would end her quest to save the world.
Karen Kofer arrived at Firefly just after seven. Her eyes watered as she hugged her only child, and after a few words of sympathy Samantha asked her to please stop. They went to the bar and ordered wine while they waited for a table. Karen was fifty-five and aging beautifully. She spent most of her cash on clothes and was always trendy, even chic. As long as Samantha could remember, her mother had complained about the lack of style around her at Justice, as if it were her job to spice things up. She had been single for ten years and there had been no shortage of men, but never the right one. Out of habit, she sized up her daughter, from earrings down to shoes, and made her assessment in a matter of seconds. No comment. Samantha didn’t really care. On this awful day, she had other things on her mind.
“Dad says hello,” she said in an effort to steer the conversation away from the urgent matters at Justice.
“Oh, you’ve seen him?” Karen asked, eyebrows arched, radar suddenly on high alert.
“Yes. I stopped by his office. He seems to be doing well, looking good, expanding his business, he says.”
“Did he offer you a job?”
“He did. Starting right away, forty hours a week in an office filled with wonderful people.”
“They’ve all been disbarred, you know?”
“Yes, you told me that.”
“It seems to be legitimate, for now anyway. Surely you’re not thinking about working for Marshall. It’s a gang of thieves and they’ll probably be in trouble before long.”
“So you’re watching them?”
“Let’s say I have friends, Samantha. Lots of friends in the right places.”
“And you’d like to see him busted again?”
“No, dear, I’m over your father. We split years ago and it took a long time to recover. He hid assets and screwed me in the divorce, but I finally let it go. I have a good life and I’ll not waste negative energy on Marshall Kofer.”
In tandem, they sipped their wine and watched the bartender, a hunky boy in his mid-twenties in a tight black T-shirt.
“No, Mom, I’m not going to work for Dad. It would be a disaster.”
The hostess led them to their table and a waiter poured ice water. When they were alone, Karen said, “I’m so sorry, Samantha. I can’t believe this.”
“Please, Mom, that’s enough.”
“I know, but I’m your mother and I can’t help myself.”
“Can I borrow your car for the next couple of days?”
“Well, sure. Why do you need my car?”
“There’s a legal aid clinic in Brady, Virginia, one of the nonprofits on my list, and I’m thinking of driving down for a look around. It’s probably a waste of time, but I’m really not that busy these days. In fact, I have nothing to do tomorrow and a long drive might help to clear my head.”
“But legal aid?”
“Why not? It’s just an interview for an internship. If I don’t get the job, then I’ll remain unemployed. If I do get the job, I can always quit if I don’t like it.”
“And it pays nothing?”
“Nothing. That’s part of the deal. I do the internship for twelve months and the firm keeps me in the system.”
“But surely you can find a nice little firm in New York.”
“We’ve already discussed this, Mom. Big law firms are laying off and small firms are folding. You don’t understand the hysteria on the streets of New York these days. You’re safe and secure and none of your friends will lose their jobs. Out in the real world it’s nothing but fear and chaos.”
“I’m not in the real world?”
Fortunately the waiter was back, and with a long narrative about the specials. When he left, they finished their wine and gazed at the tables around them. Finally, Karen said, “Samantha, I think you’re making a mistake. You can’t just go off and disappear for a year. What about your apartment? And your friends?”
“My friends are just as furloughed as I
am, most of them anyway. And I don’t have a lot of friends.”
“I just don’t like the sound of it.”
“Great, Mom, and what are my options? Taking a job with the Kofer Group.”
“Heaven forbid. You’d probably end up in jail.”
“Would you visit me? You never visited him.”
“Never thought about visiting him. I was delighted when they put him away. You’ll understand one day, dear, but only if the man you love dumps you for someone else, and I pray that never happens.”