“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”
-Albert Schweitzer

April, 1995. April, 2015. Two decades. Twenty years.

This month I’m starting my 20th year in the private practice of law. Growing up at my father’s law office, quite often I saw the great work he did to help those who needed it most. Ordinary people from the community who were injured on the job or from some type of accident and needed legal guidance to get them through a difficult time in their life. I saw the response from those clients when a good result was reached. I saw the relief on their faces and the emotions that poured out when the laws were explained and they realized they had a legal advocate on their side who understood what they were going through. It made a difference in their lives. Back then I wanted that. I wanted to help others. I wanted to make a difference.

Twenty years later I still do.

Often during an initial meeting with a prospective new client I am asked if we sue certain big companies. Most clients are afraid for their jobs and are unsure what will happen if they file a lawsuit. They arrive at our initial meetings with the preconceived notion that big business means the little guy has no chance in court. Although we are a small law firm, I discuss with the clients that the laws are designed to protect their rights and that we level the playing field by fighting very hard to protect those rights. Many times a lawsuit is not necessary to achieve the intended results and resolve the issues in the client’s best interest.

Now that David and I are in our 11th year practicing together, I feel very fortunate to share with my brother those great results we achieve for our clients. It’s not always about money. Most of the time clients just want to be legally protected, get healthy and to return back to work. It’s largely about forming relationships based on trust. The client’s trust means the world to me. Knowing I can guide them through the legal process while protecting their rights drives me to work hard for them.

My first job after law school was a with a small law firm with an excellent reputation. The firm handled a variety of legal matters, almost exclusively helping others who were physically harmed or injured. I still recall my first client, LB from Mulga, Alabama.

She was injured on the job at a chicken processing plant. She was a nice lady who spent many years working at the production line. She developed bilateral carpel tunnel syndrome. She was a single mother of two small children. Her wrists hurt very badly but she could not afford to miss time from work. She was worried she would lose her job if she informed the employer. Finally she just could not take the pain any longer and reported the injuries. I was so proud to have helped her obtain the proper medical care. After surgeries she eventually returned to work and we worked out a monetary settlement. While the amount of money was not a game changer, the genuine response from LB certainly was. I saw that I could make a difference in a person’s life.

I have been very fortunate to help many wonderful clients over the years. Some clients stick out in my mind. Some are still close friends. After more than a decade I am still friends with a sweet family who were involved in a terrible automobile accident collision with a large trucking company. Their minivan was struck by a distracted over the road trucker while they were driving back from seeing spring training baseball games in Florida. Four of the five family members were seriously hurt. Most seriously was their then 12 year old daughter who suffered a closed head and traumatic brain injuries. Many orthopedic injuries and her short term memory was erased by the brain injury. It took many years for this determined girl to recover from the injuries and to restore some normalcy in her life. She never gave up and showed the heart of a lion. I am very proud of her accomplishments and for becoming such an independent woman. We worked for many months to reach a settlement that will provide for her and her family for life. I am proud to call them friends.

It is not always about the big results that matter most. It is true that sometimes resolving a legal matter for a client that results in a nice monetary result helps them financially. However, most of the time securing continued employment or future medical care are even more important to the client. There are countless times these results have been obtained.

I specially recall from several years ago a small town school teacher who was involved in a single vehicle accident when her vehicle ran into a ditch and struck a cement culvert head-on. She sustained serious personal injuries throughout her body resulting in more than twenty surgeries. It took more than a year for her to recuperate enough just to walk on her own. We investigated the claim and later settled with her employer, the municipality and the trucking company that caused the damages to the roadway that caused her to crash. This nice client was not as interested to cash-in for a large settlement. Rather, she wanted the necessary medical care to heal her, and most importantly, she wanted to get back to a job that she really loved. She was also a huge fan of the Atlanta Braves, a team I also avidly root for. During the two years I represented her we spoke weekly. Most of the time we just groused about the Braves lackluster play. Anything to take her mind off the daily grind of getting better. After we resolved all of the legal matters I received an awesome thank you letter from her entire family. I still receive birthday cards from this sweet client. I will always cherish the letter and my friendship with her.

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”  – Winston Churchill

While many are stuck in jobs they loathe, I could drone on and on about why I enjoy my work. I consider myself very lucky to enjoy it so. I go to work each day not knowing who will be calling me for representation. Whether it’s a small case or a life changing matter, I hope my work will always help those who need it most.

-Bernard, April 2015

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Steve Altmann has been assisting consumers and business owners with bankruptcy matters for more than 27 years. 

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