Monday, October 1, 2012

Who Are My Lawyers?--Mark Thomas

     Any lawyer who rescues you, in the clutches of a crisis, from a behemoth of ungodly proportions, retains the visage of a superhero for a very long time.
     Mark Thomas didn't even know me when I called him that Thursday morning on my way to a clinic I no longer recognized, as it was swarming with what appeared to be long-armed locusts tearing through and swallowing every piece of paper in eyeshot.  There was the same buzzing one hears from locusts, too--or from crowds amassed for a radical takeover--from which now and then might be heard the hiss of orders:  "You can't leave until we ask you questions!"  or  "The clinic is closed--find another doctor!"  One employee says she felt the barrel of a gun at her neck when she demanded to know why they were doing whatever it was they were doing.
     "Can you help me?"  I asked Mr. Thomas at the time, endeavoring to keep panic from overtaking my good sense.
     "Yes," he said.  "But give me a paragraph of background."
     "There are dozens of FBI agents at my clinic, and they're hauling everything away.  They won't let employees leave without first being interrogated.  Don't my employees have the 'right to remain silent'?"
     "They most certainly do," he assured me.
     "What's going on?"  I asked.
     "That's the big question," he said.  But we probably won't figure it out today."
     "Can you meet me there?" I ventured.
     "Yes, I sure can," he answered.  Then, finally, I was able to take a breath.
     Since then, Mr. Thomas has been a lawyer with astoundingly good sense, terrific intelligence, and the rare capacity to combine empathic listening with a plan.  The plan may change, as tiny shifts in circumstances alter our very tentative hypotheses about the government's sudden interest in my solo family practice business, but he's always got some sort of plan in the back of his mind.
     Thomas is not afraid to do research, perhaps delving into the august rows of tan books with red and black half-binding that seem to line every lawyer's conference room, or going on line to identify antecedents for the raid, or precedents for other raids, on other doctors.
     He's a relative newcomer to Gainesville and was hired, I am told, without reservations by the well-respected firm of Dell Graham.  He doesn't seem to have an interest in wowing everyone with an imperialist's ego, or roadrunner ambitions, or the nonstop incomprehensible verbiage that typifies lawyers at Brobdingnagian firms--language that seems designed to terrify clients into handing over large retainer checks, and perhaps impress naive jurors.   Instead, Mr. Thomas has a genuine American work-ethic--he doesn't intend to get anything for nothing--and the ideals of early careerhood seem to have stuck with him:  to do a job that will help other people, and to do it right.   Having been raised in the same tradition, and wishing to uphold the same kind of honor, I identified with him immediately.
     Here's the catcher:  Mark Thomas has spent nearly his whole career working for the government.  As a state prosecutor he attacked doctors with a vengeance, picking away at their billing and coding, and apprehending them for taking advantage of government programs, like Medicaid.  
     "Why would I want you to defend me?"  I asked him.  "You care about collecting money for the other side."
     "I've switched over," he answered.  "And I know what prosecutors are thinking, and how to provide information that will make them think twice when they attack people like you."
     "Really?"  I asked, feeling dubious.
     "I've been there," he said.  "Trust me.  I know what works, and I know what doesn't, when it comes to giving government agents information that will make them second-guess their suspicions."
     "Trust a lawyer?"  one of my friends quipped.  "That's an oxymoron."
     I've heard all the lawyer jokes.  Doctors and lawyers have a tradition of being at odds, at least anecdotally, and the gibes fly from both sides.
     Q:  How does a lawyer sleep?
     A:  First he lies on one side, then he lies on the other.
     Mr. Thomas was on that other side, now he's on mine.  But I doubt if he was lying then, or now.
     I do care about ethics, but I've given up on purist ideas about right and wrong.  There's only what a person thinks is right or wrong, and how he acts in relation to that moral compass.  And it can change. That's what being intelligent is all about--being strong enough to bend, altering your opinions when new information comes to light..
     If you met Thomas, you would stop joking about lawyers.  He's thin and wiry, always dark-suited, slightly hunched in the way someone who has labored too many years over a desk can be, and very, very seious.
     "I will research that," is his hallmark response, when I call him, day or night, in a fluster.
     Then, miraculously, he gets back to me with the answer.  And he always answers his own phone--or returns my call within hours.  That's not a guy with hubris for a middle name, rather someone who's going to get the job done, whatever it takes.  I'd say his middle name is humble, but that wouldn't be fair, either. I've seen him argue his point of view, and it isn't a party for an opponent who doesn't know his stuff.  Facts should win.  And facts are what Mark Thomas is about.   
     Which is why I hired him.

No comments:

Post a Comment