Date: February 26, 2020Author: Joshua Denbeaux
The Worst Moment of My Entire Career
I had just started representing people in foreclosure. Nobody had done this before, it was 2008. Nobody knew what they were doing.
I did not know what I was doing.
But I did know this :
I KNEW that people were in pain and it was caused by the same banks and mortgage companies that were trying to take my clients’ homes.
I knew THAT.
And I was the first lawyer in New Jersey to act on it. I reached out and I took on everybody. Including the ones that could not pay, and I hired people to do the work that piled up and I invested my own money, time and passion into the business without any guarantee of a return.
And it exploded.
And my staff came to me, en masse, because they believed in me, in the vision … but they also believed in the business side of things, something that is always harder for me to grasp than the mission.
“Boss, you CANNOT keep taking clients on pro bono. You can’t. The business cannot sustain things if you keep representing so many people for free.”
They shoved books and balance sheets under my nose and kept on me until I finally understood … we WERE overwhelmed and we did need to make certain payroll could be met and future investments towards anticipated expansion supported.
Finally, I agreed.
The next week the phone rang. And because I handled all the clients and potential clients, I took the call.
I have no idea of her name or who she is. It is now 2020 and still, at 2 am on those nights when you wake up knowing that sleep is going to escape you for the rest of that night … still, I can hear her voice.
It was an older voice. Not old … but retirement age.
“My husband died … he had no savings. I thought he did, but he didn’t. He had life insurance. The bank told me to keep paying them from the life insurance, so I did.
I had some savings and they told me I should pay them from that, so I did.
And he had a 401k, and I paid them from that too.
And now I cannot pay any more and they just sued me.
And I have breast cancer.”
“What is your monthly income?” I asked. A standard question.
“$300 per month.”
I remember saying: “I can’t …” but even then I did not know what I was going to say after. Maybe I was going to say I couldn’t represent her, but I would have anyway. I know myself. Maybe I was going to say “I can’t understand these bankers … how they could do this to people?”
I don’t know. But she thought I was going to say I could not represent her.
She gave a great sob, and hung up.
I sat there, stunned, and I tried to call her back but my calls all went to silence.
I have no idea who she is, or what happened to her. I wonder if she is still alive and, if so, where she is living.
And I wonder how much better her life would have been if I had gotten involved when she called. I wonder if I had said, instead: “Oh my God, I hate these people. Ma’am, I don’t know what I can do, but whatever I can do, let’s do it together. I will do my best to help.”
I might have lost money in the end … but I would have gained a lot of sleep lost through these last 12 years.
I do remember her sob, though.
As clear and sharp as a knife.
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