Category Archives: Lawyering

New is always better.

A month ago I made a big decision, and I took a new job.  Change is always scary, especially the kind of change that takes you far away from what you know and will challenge you in all kinds of ways.  I’m…leaving legal services.  I’m leaving direct client services. I’m leaving nonprofit life.

I’m going to the government.  People who don’t know legal services act like going to the government is the same. Government/public interest attorneys are lumped together by bar associations and BigLaw attorneys. I don’t know if they think we’re all the same because we make less money or because we have regular hours or what.  But public interest attorneys don’t think that government attorneys are the same as us.  So to myself, and my colleagues, I’m making a big career change.

But then I read articles like this. And I think, “that’s why I’m done.”  Because my opposing counsels, while sometimes lovely, are sometimes people that make me think, “Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.” Some apartment managers want to bankrupt people over a $400 carpet replacement. Some debt collectors want a confessed judgment when a client was 3 days short of sending their lease termination notice and the lease automatically renewed.  I am so tired of explaining to rich lawyers why poor people need a break. I am so tired of hearing story after story of property managers who just want to wield power over people in public housing.  This work burns you out not because you are emptying an ocean with a teacup, but because you lose your faith in humanity.  Because the people in this who look like you, were raised like you, went to law school to do good, stand there in court and argue with you that because your client was hospitalized and didn’t earn money for a month, they should be evicted.

I don’t know whether I’ll come back to direct service. I don’t know if I’ll find more humanity in government work. But hope springs eternal, and new is always better.  And if new isn’t always better, the new job is also about 28 miles closer to my house. Which is, for sure, always better.


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And then it’s March.

And then March is nearly over.

I’ve been continuing in PT, continuing to hope to make my goal of running a half-marathon on May 7th, continuing to go to the gym at my office a few times a week.  I’m trying for daily workouts but like all routines, it does eventually start to fall apart.  My husband started running in the mornings so two days a week, I’m watching the kiddo and trying to get us out the door.  I got assigned a ton of new cases in the last week.  Old cases have come back with crazy new problems.  Life goes on, basically, and exercise is often the first thing to go.  Lately, I’ve been fighting really hard to hold on to my new routine and my new habits.

I don’t talk much about work here but work has been challenging lately.  A heavy caseload and a lot of different kinds of cases.  We’ve been short staffed since last fall, and have only finally just hired a new person, with four more vacancies yet to be filled.  I’m struggling not to let my workload interrupt my routine because I know that when I feel like I don’t have time to exercise is when I need to the most.  I get more done, am more focused, and have more capacity for my clients when I’m feeling good.

I hit my two year therapy anniversary this month.  My therapist and I talked about how much progress I’ve made and how much work I have left.  There isn’t really an “end” in sight, but I have goals and I am working towards them and I am in such a better place than I was an anxious puddle sitting in that office two years ago.  I talk openly about therapy at work, with my family, and with my friends.  The more open we all are about our need for mental health help, the better off we will be.

I read this article recently and I talk about it with my therapist.   Self care is important for me, but I hadn’t made the connection that I was basically coming home empty after a full day of caring for other people, social working them, and dealing with their problems.  So I would lose patience with my kid and didn’t have anything left for her, let alone my poor spouse at the end of a long day when all I wanted to do was sit on the couch, not deal with the dishes or our house or anything else.  So I’ve been working on radical self care.  What are the practices I’m stepping up?

  1. Exercise (duh). Particularly my Fit4Moms group where I get to be social about my exercise.
  2. Books on tape. I’ve been listening to audiobooks on my commute constantly and I feel like I’ve been able to tap into my imagination more and have been really excited about books and reading, which has been hard for me. It also gives me space to switch gears really fully after a long day.
  3. Therapy. At one point last year my therapist asked me what kind of self care I was doing (my kid wasn’t sleeping, I was working a lot, I was eating poorly and generally a mess) and I told him, “I come here once a week.” He has a pretty good poker face and he looked horrified.
  4. Mindfulness. I’ve started doing deep breathing exercises when things get to be too much.  It’s hokey but it’s helpful.

Anyone else engaging in radical self care? What do you do?

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Lawyering while Mom

Friday, a day a quick 9am hearing I offered to accompany my coworker on turned into an all day hearing. We were at court until 2:30. This was problematic for two reasons. My baby was at home with my parents and I was supposed to be back at 1pm, and I needed to pump.

I recently bought a manual pump for middle of the night and on the go situations. Since it was my second day back, and I was going to pump before and after court, I didn’t want to figure out lugging my electric pump and pumping in the car or at the courthouse. Since it was a morning hearing, I only brought one 5oz bottle.

And so, at lunch, I went into the bathroom and pumped 5 ounces. I could have pumped more but I didn’t have bottles. I could have pumped more but my hand and feet hurt. I was poorly prepared and am trying to figure out my lessons learned.

I think it’s best to assume all hearings could go a full day. It’s best to know beforehand where you can pump in the courthouse. It’s best to always have a spare bottle and your lunch. A spare blanket or cover in case you have to pump in the parking lot. A burp cloth just in case.

Any other tips, tricks, or thoughts?

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Pregnancy and Cycling

The biggest problem with cycling while pregnant, is the number of stupid people out there who do not understand pregnancy or cycling.  This makes it very hard to do actual research, and since I wasn’t willing to stop cycling, I felt myself getting pretty frustrated, especially in the second trimester as my body started to really change.

I had zero problems continuing to ride in my first trimester. Even though I was pretty sick, and being thirsty made me gag, I never threw up on my bicycle and I generally felt microscopically better on days that I biked compared to riding the bus.  Riding the bus made me sick a couple of times, so there’s that.
I gained most of my weight during the first trimester in weeks 12 and 13.  So by Week 14, I was starting to notice some discomfort in the saddle, even on my regular morning commute.  I finally posted on a forum about it, because googling “saddle pain pregnancy” was not helping me find answers besides “stop riding when it becomes uncomfortable” or “buy a new seat” which I wanted to avoid.  One of the responses was to tilt the seat down ever so slightly, which did help a lot.  I also lowered the seat just a bit because it was causing me some hip pain to swing my leg up and over the seat.
I did all of my training rides for the International Distance tri I did at 16 weeks clipped into my bike – these were rides 15-25 miles in length, and I turtled myself once at around 10-11 weeks because I thought I was unclipped and I wasn’t – I went to put my foot down and went right over.  I sustained a couple of bruises on my leg and elbow, but fell directly to the side rather than over my handlebars, and was going at a very low speed, so there was no damage done.  I’m a conservative rider generally so I did not ride super-fast ever.
At Week 16, I did my tri on my road bike and was fine, but found I could not go down into the aerobars (which I never do anyway because I’m a big scardycat), because my stomach had gotten too big and it was uncomfortable.  Around Week 18, I dropped my road bike off with my sister, who has custody of it until next January, so she could join me for the sprint tri we just did, and I test rode it to make sure they hadn’t done a terrible job tuning it up (they had) and I found it really uncomfortable. So I probably could not have ridden it past 18 weeks, personally.  My sister says I’m carrying low, so your mileage may vary.
At 19 weeks, we did a 25 mile bike ride on our tandem, which is the trek mountain bike tandem.  This was completely comfortable and not a problem at all – the rear of the tandem has a step through frame and a fairly upright setup. I think we did tilt my seat down slightly but otherwise I was completely fine. I opted not to clip in just because it was starting to make me uncomfortable to be clipped in.  Around 24-ish weeks, we did a short 10 or so mile ride on the tandem and that was also fine.  I think I could comfortably ride the tandem now.
At 21 weeks, I was still comfortably riding my Canondale Quick 3 to work, but I started to have trouble swinging my leg up and over the rear rack and itching to ride something more upright with a step-through frame.  We don’t have a ton of storage space for another bike, and carrying one up and down the steps is the main reason I went from a step through to a regular bike anyway, so I turned my search to folding bikes and decided to go with the Citizen Tokyo after some unsuccessful searches on Craigslist.  The Tokyo is an entry level price point and the appeal of the folding bike is that either my husband or I could ride it (although it’s baby blue so he probably won’t), and then if the other person needed to pick them up, it can go in the trunk.  This actually worked perfectly the one time so far that we tried it.
I’ve been riding the Tokyo for a little over a month now and I’m really happy with it.  I will give a more detailed review later, because there were very few honest reviews out there.  It’s 26 lbs, so the same weight as my Canondale, and has a low frame so I can step over it easily. I ordered it with the rear rack and the comfort seat.  The best part is that my Racktime Shoulderit Pannier bag actually fits on the rear rack – I wasn’t expecting that because the rear rack is tiny, the tubing is thick, and it’s low to the ground.  When I first pulled it out, we were like, “oh, gonna need a new work bag” but then I came home and told my husband that my ShoulderIt bag actually worked and he was like, “okay, I need to see this.”  It turns out that Ortlieb really knows what they are doing.
My new job is not too far from the train station, so the other purpose of getting a folding bike was that I could take it on the train.  I will be trying this next week.  I think, even though my pannier bag does fit, I will be riding with a backpack, because it’s hard to manage a shoulder bag and a folding bike at the same time.  I also will be hopefully exercising on my lunch break, and therefore might need to take workout clothes, plus my lunch, with me, and the backpack will just have more room.  I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to keep riding for – I’m really starting to slow down, so I think I might move to riding on the sidewalks of the busy streets soon. I’m not wild about this, but I’d rather ride on the sidewalk and annoy pedestrians than risk getting run over by an impatient driver.

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Filed under Cycling, Exercise and Fitness, Lawyering, Uncategorized

Big Changes

So, we’re going through some really big changes.  In 2010, we moved, got married, and I graduated and passed the bar.  Last year, my husband changed jobs and then we bought a house. It seems impossible to simply make one big life change every year, so this year we are having a baby, and on Wednesday, I start a new job.

I stopped writing about work here pretty much when I started my last job, mostly because it made me so uncomfortable for privacy reasons.  I don’t know whether I will write more about it with the new position.  I’m going from a family law to general civil practice, although I’ll be staying in the public interest sphere.

There are some things that happened to me during this job negotiation that I handled incorrectly, and that others thoroughly bungled.  I’m not going to talk about it publicly, but feel free to send me an email or leave a comment with your email address if you have specific questions about interviewing for and changing jobs during pregnancy – it’s very difficult to navigate.  All I will say is that I wish I had put my own needs first, instead of trying to make things convenient or easier for other people.  Negotiate hard for what you want, and when that is in writing, give your notice.  If that process takes longer than you had hoped, that’s not your problem.

I’m making a lot of sacrifices for this job – I’m giving up a great commute, fantastic coworkers, a boss who lets me run my own office, a lot of independence, and paid maternity leave.  Like any decision, you have to hope really, really hard, that what you are giving up is worth what you are getting.  With my longer commute comes a much bigger office, a support staff, a boss who is in the office, a higher salary and chance for promotion, training, and a very large organization, fancy things like a client database on the computer , and a broader practice area.

The timing, as with everything, was not spectacular.  I have a friend in the office I’m going to, and I’ve wanted to work there for awhile, and she sent me the job posting a week after I found out I was pregnant.  I interviewed when I was 8 weeks.  At 16 weeks, they called me for a second interview.  At 19 weeks, I went on the second interview. At 20 weeks, I was offered the position.  (If you are counting, yes, it’s been 8 weeks from when I was offered the position to when I’m starting at this job.)  I am pleased with how smooth the transition has been for my current office – I was able to give adequate notice and they were able to hire my replacement, and I was able to train her as best as I could.  This eased my anxiety about leaving a mess of files and notes that my replacement would not understand.

This change is terrifying for me.  I am about to take a job, work there for 11 weeks, and then  go out on maternity leave at some point.  I’ve been incredibly emotional the last few weeks, and every decision I have made has been second guessed and discussed to death, and then I’ve cried over it.  But, I remember the post I wrote two years and four months ago.  Success is scary, change is huge. My mantra for this week is, ships are safe at harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.

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Pregnant Lawyering: Morning Sickness

Before I was pregnant, I was concerned about morning sickness.  If I was sick all the time, how could I possibly do my job? I’m in court 4-6 times a week and I don’t control my schedule.  This week, I’ve had two mornings with 2-3 cases each and contested hearings which took over an hour each.  I am at the mercy of the Judge, the opposing party, and my client.  But a few friends told me that it wasn’t that bad, that they were way sicker in the evening, that they were nauseated but didn’t throw up.

I was six weeks along when I threw up for the first time.  I was heading to the gym and I got off the bus and the next thing I knew, I was vomiting on the sidewalk. It was terribly upsetting and completely unexpected, because I had decided, you know, I was going to be one of those pregnant ladies that simply willed her morning sickness away through sheer willpower.  I was going to eat kale and whole grains and only gain the required amount of weight.

The first symptom that I was pregnant was nausea.  It was a low-grade sort of nausea, that was annoying but nothing I couldn’t handle with a bit of gingerale and some crackers.  Then, it was all morning, every morning.  Eating crackers as soon as I woke up helped. Staying hydrated helped. And eventually I’d start feeling better, in the afternoon.  Then, I started feeling sick all day.

Then I went on a work conference with a couple of judges. I was extremely nauseated the entire time and threw up during the conference (fortunately, in the bathroom), and when I got home, I called my doctor and requested a script for zofran.  I hadn’t even been in for my first appointment, but they called it into my CVS and I picked it up that day.

If you have a job where you are generally required to be functional on somebody eles’s schedule, where you cannot excuse yourself constantly to run to the bathroom, like teaching or litigating, I highly recommend getting zofran the minute you find out you are pregnant and then taking it as soon as you start vomiting or your nausea interferes with your ability to do work.  If you are still feeling nauseated after that, talk to your doctor about something stronger.

I made some other changes to my routine as well.  I added lifesavers and peppermints to my court file and started carrying a bottle of water to court with me on particularly bad days – I found that when my throat was dry, I was much more likely to start gagging.  I only took the zofran if I was feeling bad before court, so I started carrying an emergency pill just in case in my padfolio just in case I was hit by a sudden wave of nausea.  I found my nausea was tied pretty closely to stress, so it was pretty much a given that I was going to need it on days I had court.

After 14 weeks, I stopped taking the zofran on a daily-ish basis, but didn’t feel significantly better.  I started throwing up more, because I wasn’t taking the zofran, but I didn’t have as many full-on bad nausea days – the nausea would come on very quickly, I would throw up, and then I would be fine.  That lasted until close to 18 weeks.  I haven’t thrown up in almost 6 weeks, but I do still have some bad nausea days where I eat saltines for dinner.

So if you are concerned about having a job and being pregnant, at least as far as morning sickness goes, the best advice I can give you is that there are drugs for that. And saltines. I went through four boxes of saltines.  It was a couple of rough months before I could eat cereal again for breakfast, instead of toast.  I had trouble getting enough vegetables and protein as well (although string cheese helps a lot with the nausea).  Everyone has different nausea remedies and just try them all.  If you have concerns about taking drugs, I recommend reading Expecting Better and then deciding what you are comfortable with.


Filed under Lawyering, pregnancy

Family Law Dilemmas

There comes a moment, I think for many attorneys, where you suddenly recognize how small the world is.  This became very apparent to me last year when, in the space of a week, I had a client who had an altercation with her husband because of her new boyfriend, and a client who needed her order extended against her husband.  It turned out that my client’s new boyfriend was my other client’s soon-to-be-ex-husband.

Technically, this is not a conflict of interest on it’s face.  However, it becomes a conflict of interest pretty quickly when one client files criminal charges against the other one for assault.  At this point, I became conflicted out of the cases (both of which I had already handled) and therefore was unable to follow up or offer additional services to either client.

Every attorney acts differently about conflicts.  The problem is when, for example, you are representing somebody against their boyfriend and it turns out that the reason they got into an altercation is that they were having an argument about the respondent’s other girlfriend.  And then, eventually, maybe not at the time because she doesn’t know the other girl’s name,  you realize that you represented the other girlfriend against somebody else.  Or when you have two clients who both have the same respondent.  This is actually the most common scenario.  The thing that is complicated about any of these situations is that none of them are technically a conflict, and all of them are privileged.

So not only can I end up in a situation where I know that Respondent has two kids with my current client, I might know that he has two kids with a former client AND neither client might know about each other.  Sometimes these things are public record, but sometimes they aren’t, and there are pretty strict rules about betraying client confidentiality.  In that you can do it pretty much when somebody is about to get killed or defrauded and not when they are being cheated on.  I also can’t do anything that might jeopardize the safety of one of my clients.

My biggest fear is probably that one of the respondents will date one of my former clients, who will recognize me in court and tell me that her boyfriend is a saint and the girlfriend/wife, aka my client, is a terrible lying shrew.  At that point, I think I would have to, at the very least disclose to my client and the court that I represented former client in a protective order against a different respondent.  (Because it gets a little weird if my client is all, “why you talking to that B?” and I’m going, “she seemed friendly!”) I would also hope that my clients would recognize that I am doing my job, but we’ll see.  I’m bound to run into this scenario at some point, it’s a simple reality of being a small town lawyer, even if you work in a semi-large city.

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5 Years

We accidentally started house hunting recently.  I say accidentally, but it was sort-of intentional, and mostly, we fell into it.  It feels like the natural next step, interest rates are low, our apartment is starting to chafe a bit.

But house hunting means admitting that neither of us plan to be at our jobs for more than another year.  So does buying a house based on these jobs make a lot of sense?  And do we decide where we want to live, and build a life around that, or do we decide what we want to do, and build a life around that?

I do not know the answer.  But it seems to make sense to ask myself that age-old job interview question: where do you see yourself in five years?  And for the first time in my career, I have a real answer.

I see myself working in either public interest, or at a small firm (fewer than 10 attorneys) – but a bigger office than my current one.  I see myself working collaboratively with others.  I see myself having a strong relationship with my coworkers.  I see myself going to court no more than once a week.  I see myself doing some legislative lobbying work, some outreach work, and some academic work.  I see myself doing work that is challenging but not exhausting; well-paced and well-managed.  I see myself with more support than I currently have.  I see myself working at a place that has secure-ish funding, so that every year, I am not at the mercy of a single grant being renewed.  I see myself working the hours that I want to work (and I think that I want those hours to be something more like 7am-3pm) and being able to have the spare time after work that I need to stay in shape, stay healthy, and have a good relationship with my family.  I see myself being able to sleep at night.  I see myself being able to talk about my job at parties without bringing the room down.  I see myself having a commute that doesn’t make me feel miserable about my work or my house.

If I expand that, to where do I see myself living in 5 years, I still don’t see the answer.  Do I have small children who I’m preparing to send to an inner city elementary school?  Do we have a backyard and an adorable corgi?  Do we have a back patio and an adorable beagle? Do we have a garden or a garden plot?  Do I have small children who we load into the rear trailer behind our tandem and pedal around the local trail on the weekend?  Do we have no children and a life filled with travel and adventure?  Do we have children and a life filled with travel and adventure?

Home ownership, it seems, is maybe something that you should do when you feel ready to settle down, when you are at a place that you are happy with, in your career and everything else.  My friends who bought houses when they were in a state of flux seem to have regretted it, or at least wound up with lousy commutes.  And I remember the lease we signed five years ago two weeks before my then-boyfriend got laid off.  How stuck I felt.  That was a one-year lease!  This is a HOUSE!

But then I consider how terribly happy we are here.  How we committed to building a life here even though I didn’t have a job.  That committing to that for the future doesn’t seem impossible.  I have job options here and I like practicing here.  So…why not commit to living here?  Why not continue to be terribly happy?  (The property taxes are insane in this city, that’s why.)

Has anyone else faced these issues?  What did you do?

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Filed under Job Search, Lawyering, Life List, Marriage

Real Attorneys

Every few days, or whenever I meet somebody new, somebody says something along the lines of, “I don’t know how you do it,” about my job.  And I just sort of shrug.  Because I’m uncomfortable with this idea that people have that I’m some kind of superwoman.  That I’m anything but an ordinary lawyer, doing an ordinary job.

Public interest attorneys are not heroes.  Nor are we slackers.  There seems to be no middle ground in what people think of us.  People call my organization and ask, “well, are the free attorneys real attorneys?”  The simple answer is, “why don’t you go pay a real attorney $2500 and find out?”  The reality is that I have more courtroom experience and more direct client experience than most “real” attorneys I know.  I am probably one of the most experienced people in the general area at doing what I do.  Most attorneys do 4-5 cases in my specialty a year, and I do 4-5 a week.  This is not to say that I’m better than anyone, but I’m at least as real as anyone.

My classmates who work the big firm jobs say, “well, at least you probably sleep well.”  Sure, I don’t have nightmares at all.  I don’t wake up sometimes in a cold sweat wondering if I ever actually filed that motion that was on my desk.  I don’t occasionally want to shut the door to my office and cry because my client is in a crappy situation.  I make very little money but have a “fulfilling” job.  Or something like that.

The only reason I feel more fulfilled at the job that I have is because I feel like I’m learning a lot, constantly being challenged, and I get to push myself to be my best self.  That is fulfilling.  I helped people in private practice about as much as I help people now, I think.

I have been thinking a lot lately about burnout.  I’m not really sure what burnout is or how I will know when I’ve reached it.  In theory, you’ll know when you get there, but I keep trying to pick out warning signs.  I don’t want to be that person who just loses her mind and starts sobbing in court.  It’s not inevitable either.  Plenty of people work at hard jobs for 30 or 40 years without burning out.  So if I burn out, or expect to burn out, am I a total failure?  I don’t know.

Anyway, I think we could all do well to reduce our assumptions about our fellow attorneys or other professionals.  I think it will go a long way towards helping everybody in the profession be their best selves.

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The New Job

The new job has started.  Entry is rough, but I think I’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.  It turns out that after seven months of saying, “oh, no, I’m not the lawyer,” I’m really eager to say, “HI I’M YOUR G-DD-MN LAWYER AND YOU BETTER LIKE IT.”  It’s a total shift in terms of area of practice, responsibilities, office setup, and everything else.

I’m not allowed to say, check my email or write blog posts, so expect blogging to be pretty quiet, or not at normal times, or clearly written yesterday and scheduled for the morning.

I am allowed to request office supplies, but I’m pretty sure this means, y’know, a monitor riser and not an iPad, since I now work for a non-profit.  It turns out that one thing I absolutely cannot live without anymore is a carbon-copy memo-book.  I need one of these for a couple of reasons.  The first is that I lose stuff, but with the carbon copy memo pad, I have a carbon of the person’s phone number, name, and message, even if I lost the message.  The second is that I like to have a chronology of who called when, and I like to have them all neatly in one place so I can check through the book and see whether I spoke with Ms. Jones before or after Mr. Smith and which day of the week that was on.  The third is that if I do not have a memo pad, I write down 6 messages on one piece of notebook paper and then I don’t know whose file to put my notes in.  I’m not going to write each message on a single piece of notebook paper, because that is a waste of space.  So I’m requesting a memo-book.  Unless you think an iPad would be more efficient, but I’m pretty sure the $295 difference in price will decide that for me.

My office is also desperately, sadly, in need of some art.  I’m probably not supposed to share pictures of my office, but I am sharing this one of the wall opposite me because I cannot fathom that it is actually breaking any rules.  This is what I’m looking at from my desk.

I’m gonna need some art.  What color would go well against the wall color?  I want something nice that I won’t mind looking at for the next few years.  Inspirational quotes are acceptable, but no demotivators or quotes about love, family, wine, husbands, shoes, or other unprofessional things.  Not really anything about lawyers either, since I will be meeting with clients in this space.  I want the space to feel warm and friendly, but like I take them seriously.  I can’t achieve the streamlined effects of the downtown BigLaw offices that are more glass than anything else, but I want to feel like more than a nonprofit lawyer making do with what was offered.  Also, this workspace is mine and it isn’t temporary and  I want to make it what I want it to be.  Suggestions, please!


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