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A Little Old Lady and the Most Powerful Attorney in the World

by Jay Reeves |

The caller on the other end of the line said she needed a powerful attorney and was given my name.

- Well, I said. You’ve come to the right place.

- Thank you, she said. Thank you thank you thank you.

Imagine my disappointment when we met the next day and I realized I had misunderstood. What she needed was a Power of Attorney, not a powerful one.

I had been in business less than a week and Elizabeth Hines was my first client. Well, second if you count my mother. Which I didn’t. Mom called every day, ostensibly for “legal” advice but really just worried I was lapsing into depression in my lonely little office.

A Long Upward Climb

Mrs. Hines was small and stooped and very old. But she had a strong voice and a spark in her eyes. And somehow she had managed to make it up the three steep flights of stairs to my attic office on Broad Street.

She explained she needed a Power of Attorney to sign some documents for her daughter.

- Well, I said. You’ve come to the right place.

- Thank you thank you thank you.

She continued thanking me as I helped her down the stairs. My chivalry seemed to overwhelm her, though in truth I was acting out of self-interest. Stairways in old Charleston buildings – especially ones that had not been renovated in 200 years – were deathtraps. I shuddered to think of the litigation that would ensue if this sweet lady plunged to the bottom before the paint on my shingle had even dried. What would my mother say about that?

After Mrs. Hines left, I began work on her case. I had a vague recollection of Powers of Attorney from law school. Or was it BarBri? I decided to draft the best Power of Attorney ever made, an iron-clad thing of wonder. And I would do it from scratch.

I spent the rest of the day mired in legal research. This was back in the dark ages when we used large heavy things called books to solve legal problems. By nightfall I had learned a great deal about durable powers and revocable powers and limited powers but had not written word one of my masterpiece.

Lost in the Forest

The next morning my mother called. I told her I couldn’t talk because I was working on a case. This made her very excited.

At noon Mrs. Hines called. She asked how things were going.

- Great, I said.

- Thank you thank you thank you.

The following day Mrs. Hines called again. I told her I was making good progress. By progress I meant I had filled an entire yellow legal pad with mind-numbingly useless arcana on agency law.

On the third day I gave up and walked down to the ground floor where my friend Nick had a thriving real estate practice. In less than two minutes Nick produced a lovely Power of Attorney and even threw in a fancy blue backing sheet. I asked Nick what I should charge my client. He shrugged and said if it were his client he would probably do it for free, a simple form and all, but that was just him.

I decided to charge twenty dollars. Abraham Lincoln said all we have to sell is our time, and I had logged some twenty hours already. A dollar an hour seemed more than fair.

Thank you thank you thank you, said Mrs. Hines when her matter was concluded.

The Power of Gratitude

Judging strictly from outside appearances, Mrs. Hines had little reason to be so thankful. She was old and poor and lived in a part of Charleston most people avoided after dark. And yet she was the most grateful person I had ever met.

Meanwhile, many of my law colleagues – who were blessed with advantages Mrs. Hines would never know – walked around in a state of perpetual gloom and misery.

What I did not understand at the time – because I was young, and even more foolish than I am now – was that you get back what you give out. Mrs. Hines’ surpassing thankfulness was the very source of her beauty and strength. It was what put the light in her eyes.

We Meet Again at The Pig

Years later I was shopping at Piggly Wiggly – the original one, on Meeting Street – when I heard someone call my name. It was Mrs. Hines. She was in a walker but otherwise looked exactly the same. Her daughter was with her. Mrs. Hines introduced me as the lawyer – her lawyer – who had done that paperwork a while ago.

- He helped me all the way down the stairs, she said, her eyes shining. He only charged me twenty dollars.

I could have told her it was actually Nick who did the work, and that she could have saved twenty dollars, not to mention a long treacherous climb, by going to him in the first place. I could have told her lots of things, but I didn’t.

All I said was thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

And I left feeling like the most powerful attorney in the world.

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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