Related Navigation


We were surprised. The road through the Iranian desert from Shiraz to Isfahan appeared straight, but went right, sharply. The road turned, we did not. We expected it to go one direction, it went another. Hard to see it at night with no markers or signs. And now we had a broken car to go with broken bodies.

Ahmed was also surprised. It was midnight. He was bicycling to work, where he started the ovens at the village bakery; it was the worst job in town. Every night was the same routine, but tonight he came upon two Americans: a middle aged man and a badly injured teenager, pushing a wrecked car down the middle of a black highway in a black desert in the black of the night. It was not what he expected, or wanted to see, because it made him late for work, where he was sure to be punished. But here we were.

In the greater scheme of things, we would never have connected. Ahmed had almost nothing; we had more than we could ever use. Yet at that moment, Ahmed shared with us the one thing we needed most: help. He rode into town, woke the entire village, including the local mechanic and a retired medic from the Iranian Army. Help came to push the car into town. The mechanic wired the car into drivable condition and the old medic provided first aid that probably saved my life. And then, after tea, at 4 a.m., they sent us on our way, without charge and with wishes of good health and long life.

We all get surprised. We presume what the road will look like. Eventually we are wrong, never at a convenient time. My shoelace always breaks the morning of trial. But when things go wrong, it is a blessing to have someone there to step into the gap, like Ahmed – or my wife, who knows to keep spare shoelaces around.

Often we are that person for our clients. They presumed, didn’t anticipate and didn’t prepare; leaped first, then thought about looking; signed, then read; bought, then inspected. And then they are on our doorstep, sometimes at midnight.

Clients seek us out to help them. Most of the time they are willing to pay us. Sometimes they cannot. At that moment, the desire to help collides headlong with the need to make a living. It’s a tough balancing act, as with most things in our profession.

Most of you do pro bono work without encouragement or expectation of reward. Watching that happen makes me proud of our profession. You step up because it is the right thing to do, but there are sometimes unexpected benefits. Devil’s Elbow says, “No good deed goes unpunished,” but I am sure every good deed is rewarded: the satisfaction of helping someone in need, a good story and sometimes something more. Many lawyers will tell you stories of profitable business referred from their charitable efforts. It is not the best or only reason to help, but it is a reason.

The best reason, of course, is that we all fall into a hole eventually, and we will need someone to make us whole.

This makes me think of the story of the Good Samaritan. You know the story: a man is robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. The rich man and the holy man pass him by, but he is rescued by a Samaritan, a dreg of ancient society. What strikes me is that the question the first two men asked themselves is, “What’s going to happen to me if I stop and help him?” while the Samaritan asked, ‘What’s going to happen to him if I don’t stop?”

Our daily work is a struggle to answer these two questions in the right balance. I must admit that I often fail to measure up, but I keep trying.

I owe it to Ahmed.