Some people call friends for help. I call Helen Chen for my just-in-case situations.
Just in case the shit’s about to hit the fan.
You could say she’s kind of a friend. But she bills me by the hour and charges for everything. Her rates are no laughing matter.
Helen is a first-generation immigrant from Hong Kong, who earned her JD at Suffolk Law School. Only one firm expressed interest as her graduation approached—a stodgy, old nesting ground for Ivy League WASPs. She walked into the interview with mixed emotions: excitement that a firm was considering her; and confusion why.
At first the partner handled her résumé as though it were a dirty diaper. But his expression softened as he gave her the once over. Pouty red lips. Thick black hair, cut short and boyish. Crisp white blouse, unbuttoned low and girlish.
“I could use a paralegal,” he said, his gaze leveling on her breasts.
She answered him in Cantonese.
“What’s that mean?” the partner asked, his expression a confused smirk. He probably heard the term, “Gwai lo,” but couldn’t be sure.
“There’s not an exact translation,” Helen said, dazzling him with her million-dollar smile. She leaned back—the picture of relaxation, no longer the scared job applicant—and fluffed her tomboy hair with both hands. “But it’s as close as I can get to ‘go fuck yourself, white boy.’ ”
Helen rose and, for further effect, sashayed out the door. Shoulders, hips, heels. She knew her clipped accent was one problem. Her night degree was another. Suffolk lacked the prestige of other law schools in the area: Harvard, Boston College, and Boston University. With nowhere to turn, she hung out a shingle and began chasing ambulances in Chinatown.
Helen had the last laugh thanks to a huge verdict against FedEx. One of their drivers got drunk over cheap beers and Tom Petty tunes at Sullivan’s Tap, a legendary Boston dive that boasts with pride, “Your grandfather drank here.” Afterwards, he sideswiped a young mother in Chinatown and zoomed away in the van. Hit and run by a FedEx employee on the clock.
So the authorities thought. Helen found two men who had been drinking with the driver. That’s all it took. Her cut of the settlement was $15 million. Sweet. Sweeter still that her adversary in court was the same partner who had offered her a job as a paralegal.
Five years ago, I prospected both Helen and her client. Neither of them hired me, which still fries my ass. If there was one thing I hated more than prospecting, it was losing to Morgan Stanley—a firm that hires the deadbeats who wash out at Goldman. But we’ve stayed in touch ever since.
Which, ordinarily, wouldn’t happen unless the prospect were a billionaire. Then I would never, ever lose their phone number, email address, or any other contact point I had ferreted out. Those were the old days.
Ironically, I hired Helen. I don’t call her for legal advice, which has nothing to do with my opinion about her Suffolk law degree or the fact that she keeps a second floor office in Chinatown, surrounded by a dozen or so Chinese restaurants. I’m sure her legal skills are fine. With the exception of my divorce, I haven’t needed an attorney and plan to keep it that way.
Helen Chen is a professional stalker, an exuberant voyeur who takes pride in her work and makes no bones about what she is. Helen can suss out anything about anybody. She notices details the rest of us miss—including Goldman Sachs. And, unlike me, she doesn’t care what it takes to get the goods.