When does “young” become “unprofessional” and “unfeminist”?

I just spent my afternoon filing deeds. Everybody warned me that filing deed was an arduous process, likely to take hours, and I was going to get yanked around by everybody in the clerk’s office and at the tax transfer office.

Well, okay, it took me an hour and a half. But I’m reading the Hunger Games, so it wasn’t bad. But the surly folks at the Clerk’s office? Nowhere to be found.

I will say, I dressed down for the occasion, because I’ll be damned if I was going to sit around in stockings just to read in line. So I really didn’t look like an attorney. But I didn’t act like one either. I came in, asked for my certificate showing there were no debts on the property, smiled nicely apologized excessively for not knowing protocol, and let them tell me what to do. I did the same thing at the tax transfer office. Smile, apologize for not having the full information to fill out the forms, for not quite knowing which forms to fill out. Got talked through the process and everything was taken care of for me. The next office, smile, apologize, look a bit confused, ask questions as nicely and apologetically as possible. I got nothing but smiles and kindness back.

This is the kind of thing where I could be accused of using my femininity, my gender, my youth to my advantage. Which wouldn’t be wrong, but every single person I dealt with was a woman. Some of whom weren’t much older than me. Who were incredibly nice to me on an extremely hot day. I may have just been lucky, because the people at the register’s counter the last time I was there were certainly crabby.

But I can’t help but come back to the not-acting-like-a-lawyer thing. I didn’t show up, defensive and assured that everything I did was correct. I didn’t wear a suit. I didn’t complain about the wait. I didn’t argue with anybody, although nobody gave me cause to argue. When the woman from the tax transfer office realized I was the lawyer listed on the form, she said, "OH! You’re the LAWYER." (The correct answer would have been to say, Wednesday Addams style, "we look just like everyone else.") Then she started asking me about a case they came across.

The question remains: does it undermine my profession to try to "pass" as an ordinary person, somebody who shouldn’t already know how to file a deed because I went to law school? (For property class, if I ever teach it, everybody will have to do a project in which they go to the office of land records, fake look up a deed, and then re-draft a deed, and then fake record it. We’ll have to set up a fake recording office, but still. It would be much more useful than learning about the Rule Against Perpetuities.) I feel sometimes like telling people I’m a lawyer, right off, aggravates the person. They meet other lawyers who do not represent the profession well. But what if, after they realize that I am a lawyer, they come away thinking, "that lawyer was an idiot?" I hope that they instead think, "what a lovely humble little lawyer. I like how she admitted that she had no clue what she was doing." But I don’t know. What would you think?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “When does “young” become “unprofessional” and “unfeminist”?

  1. I think there’s a big difference between walking around like you are always right/are the most important thing and showing kindness, patience/asking for help.

    Don’t look at it like you are playing up femininity. Look at it that you are being the kind of person you’d like to interact with. That’s the way I try to treat people who are in some sort of service position that doing something for me.

  2. See, I don’t see anything wrong with expressing gratitude for help or admitting that you don’t know something. During grad school I used to work the desk at one of the grad student dorms to make a little extra cash. I always appreciated it when people came in and were polite and asked for help with things they didn’t understand — women were more likely to do this, but there were men who did it too. The jerks were the ones who came in with the attitude “service-job wench, do as I command!” and were very rude about it if their random guess at how a process or form worked was wrong. I suppose the latter approach is more “authoritative,” but making the person whose help you need feel small and belittled right off the bat seems like a bad strategy to me.

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