Tag Archives: Dealing with People

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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I’m not one of those people who prides themselves on being busy, or who loves to dramatize about how I’m so busy all the time.  I fight really hard against being busy.  I have a job that has regular hours and I’m working hard to keep them.  I try very hard not to take on too many commitments.  However, between my work with the bar association and my desire for a new job sometime in the next year, I seem to have gotten quite busy.

Our ordinarily scheduled events have been interrupted by a last-minute networking event; my regularly scheduled networking events run over into a post-event drink with a friend who gives me cover letter advice.  I’m still not good enough at networking to have made anything come out of these encounters, much to my chagrin, and I get home late and apologize to my spouse who has made his own dinner and done the dishes.

I have been so busy that I have missed deadlines for jobs that I wanted, that I have been late to see friends, that I have been lax about keeping in touch with people.  I think, frequently, about how to intentionally slow down my life so that I’m not so busy all the time, so that I’m not missing my friends or stressed out, but I can’t seem to make it happen.  Instead, I try to schedule weeks or months ahead of an event so that we know it’s coming and on the calendar.  I try to keep in touch with friends in other ways – my best friend from law school and I simply write each other long, newsy emails to keep in touch, because otherwise we see each other for an hour at an event and don’t get to talk.  If I do get an unexpected evening off or have a free Friday night, I try not to “waste it” if I don’t need the downtime.  I start calling friends to see what they might be up to.  If they are free, we go out.  If they aren’t, I see my husband.

I have realized recently that the people who are involved in everything, active members of everything, are people who are spread so thin they are unable to make a contribution to those things.  I do not want to be that person. I want to be able to fulfill my commitments, instead of having to juggle six meetings on the same day.  I am already stretched thin enough to feel as if I do not have time to do everything that I want to do.  I want to scale back, but I’m not sure how without insulting my friends, letting my career suffer, or not getting to do all of the fun things I want to do.

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Interview Questions, Part III

Do you have a family?

When asked this question on an interview last year, I nearly choked.  This is a question that is not only illegal, there is no good answer.  Saying “yes” says that “I will be leaving work early to go to piano recitals” and saying no says, “yes, but I might in the future.”

Several people asked if when a lawyer asks this question, is it some kind of test as to whether or not you know this is an illegal question.  Several people have suggested that I take the interviewer to task over this question.  Those people clearly do not understand the market, in which applicants are a dime a dozen and employers have the upper hand.

So how have I handled this question?  The last time, I simply said, “yes.”  Because well, everyone has a family.  I said yes in a halting way, as if I found the question offensive and the interviewer had better clarify why he/she had asked it.  Which he/she did, or tried to.  But I walked away from the interview wondering if a job that asked me about a family was somewhere I wanted to work, so the question really hurts both people.

The tips I found on the internet for avoiding illegal questions are to say things like, “I can meet the demanding requirements of this job, if that is what you are asking.”  I’m not quite that slick yet, but I’ve been practicing.  I think another easy “don’t-you-know-that-question-is-illegal” answer is, “what exactly are you asking?”  The problem is, they might clarify by saying, “do you have children?” And a don’t-ask-don’t-tell, “it is my understanding that you are not allowed to ask me these types of questions” is probably not the right response, but will do if you’ve already decided you don’t want the job.

I’ve actually been asked this, or if I am married, quite a lot.  So I need to have a better response in my back pocket that says, “MYOB.”  Any suggestions?  Has anyone else faced this?


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The Christmas Season

I admitted to my college roommate S. last night that I’m having a hard time getting into the spirit of the season.  She looked at me and said, “I think it’s going around.”  There is something about this year that is difficult.  I don’t know if it’s because the onslaught of buy-buy-buy seemed even more…pressure filled than usual, I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t heard enough good Christmas music and every store insists on playing Santa Baby because that makes me inclined to buy stuff for selfish people, but for some reason, the spirit is lacking this year.  Maybe it’s because we’re all adults and none of us have children to remind us about the magic of the season.

I tried, really hard, to take a step back, to remind myself that rejoicing in the lights and the festive spirit is what this holiday is about for me, but even that isn’t helping.  Assembly of the Disney tree at work (we have a Finding Nemo ornament!) didn’t really help.  The Nosy Bitches exchange has been super fun but I kind of botched my gift and it was sort of frustrating and my person hasn’t gotten their gift yet so I’m still stressing about it not being good enough.

Listening to Christmas Wrapping is helping a little bit.  Our local indie radio station has been playing some really good holiday music, including Deep Blue Something’s Little Drummer Boy and a few others I really liked, so that has been helpful at making me feel holiday-y.

I’m not really sure the answer to my holiday ennui, but I have Finished Shopping.  Anything I forgot to get for anybody, they just aren’t getting.  Anything I need to return is waiting until January.  Between now and The Christmases (it’s five nights/days of celebration), I can spend some time relaxing, going to Solstice Services, wrapping gifts, and making a few last minute handmade things.  Wait, our holiday cards haven’t arrived yet and I need to get them out ASAP?  Wait, my in-laws are coming to stay?  Oh, what’s that you say, we don’t have anything for dinner?  What’s that, I volunteered to make a cheesecake for Christmas?  Sigh.  It’s really hard to get into the Holiday spirit when you have a to-do list a mile long.  Anyone else having trouble?

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There is a certain state agency that I would really like to work for.  I happen to have a fair number of dealings with a particular office of their’s, and last week, during conversation with a paralegal there, she mentioned that she would be leaving soon so she had been swamped lately since she was getting ready to transition out at the end of the month.

At which point I wondered if there is a polite way to ask an almost-total stranger if you can have their job.

Probably not, right?

Especially not when you’ve been calling them with all kinds of dumb questions and generally sounding like a moron who doesn’t know anything about anything?

But you better believe that I’m stalking the agency website, waiting for her job to be listed.  Even if it is a paralegal position, it’s probably a really good way to get a foot in the door of the agency.  Or at least get that fancypants health insurance stuff.

Any other suggestions on how to get inside information or a foot through the door?


Filed under Job Search, Lawyering, Unemployed

No Losers

You know, I wonder if anybody’s ever asked a kid who grew up in our generation how we felt about being awarded “participation” ribbons.  Because despite what this woman is saying when she says, “Millennials were raised in a public school system where there were ‘no losers’ to sports – there were ribbons for every place and everyone got a prize at the party”, I have to disagree.  Those of us who earned a participation ribbon but still didn’t win? We went home, and shoved our participation ribbons under the bed.  At the end of the day, sports had winners and losers. Even if the teachers didn’t keep score, we did. Those of us who were bad at sports and got blamed for losing the game for the team? Oh man, did we know we were losers.

So maybe, maybe, the problem isn’t that we’re handing out ribbons to everybody. Maybe the problem is that we are treating kids like they are stupid. Trust me, your kid is keeping score. If you want them to feel good about themselves, about how they played, give them something to be proud of. Help them learn to play sports. Actively encourage them to do activities where they excel. I was a failure, an absolute failure, at gym class. Even my dad made fun of how much I didn’t play soccer. But on the weekends, we went to the ice rink and I took figure skating lessons and I was not very good, but I was happier than I was in gym class. I wasn’t letting anybody down, and nobody called me a loser, even when I failed a level of skating and had to repeat the class.

Another thing that Nicole D. says is that Millenials (meaning me, and probably you), “were used to trying out everything, then dropping those things that proved to be too time consuming, difficult, or uninteresting.”

In a world where we constantly encourage people to quit jobs they hate, persue their passions, say no to stressful projects that are unimportant or will take up too much of their time, why is it that we are maligning children and teenagers for trying different activities in a search for self, and then dropping them because they were too time consuming, difficult, or uninteresting? Why should anybody have to participate in an activity that they do not enjoy? There is a big difference between giving up on something because it’s too hard, and on giving up on something that is too hard and makes you fundamentally unhappy.  Myself, and many of my fellow students, stuck with activities that were challenging but ultimately fulfilling (theatre tech, debate), and dropped the ones that were difficult and made us desperately unhappy, while taking time away from activities we really wanted to be doing (math team).

Trust me when I tell you that everyone I knew, no matter how over-parented, no matter how over-protected, found a way to fail. Some of us failed classes (hi), some of us failed at extracurriculars, some of us failed at getting into college, or staying in college.  Some of us failed at making friends, or at dating. Some of us have the markers of of being Millennials that Nicole points out – I don’t appreciate being micro-managed, and I refused to stay loyal to an organization that stopped paying me with a week’s notice but still expected me to stay on for the foreseeable future. I disagree about this generation’s inability to communicate with older generations, but maybe that’s because oh yeah, I’m an elder law attorney.

Anybody else get overly defensive when you read articles telling them that the six field day participation ribbons you have under your bed somehow led to your total failure as a generation? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m volunteering at a luncheon event. For somebody that I feel fiercely loyal to. Who is at least 30 years older than me.



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I was at a party recently and talking to a fellow attorney.  Who, when I said that I was working as a law clerk, responded with, “oh! so you’re not like, working as an attorney at all?”  With a “that is just so sad for you” look on her face.

My response should have been, “go screw yourself” but instead I yammered politely about how I felt that I needed life experience and private practice experience and I wasn’t really interested in starting my own firm straight out of law school, especially when I went K-JD.  I also pointed out that I don’t have debt, which is the number one thing that changes the tone of the conversations I have about my job search.  As soon as people find out that I don’t have debt, they go from asking why I’m not taking just any job available to me to why I’m not volunteering somewhere until I can get my dream job.  (Because even if I don’t have debt, I still don’t have a money tree in my backyard. I would like to have children and a house and a retirement account, people.)

So I just wanted to go over a few things you should not say to under or unemployed lawyers.

1) “Oh! So you’re not like, working as an attorney at all?”  No, I’m not, lady, and it bothers me way more than it bothers you, so why would you bring it up at a party?

2) “Have you heard of Idealist.org?” You mean the job search engine that’s gotten me half of my internships since I started college?  No, what is that?

3) “Have you thought about starting your own firm?” I can guarantee you that there is not a lawyer in this economy that hasn’t thought about starting their own firm.  If the one you are talking to hasn’t yet, don’t push the issue.  Also, maybe we shouldn’t encourage brand-spankin’-new attorneys to go into private practice and risk their licenses quite so much?

4) “So is your husband supporting you?” Seriously, why the eff do you care how my family puts food on the table and shoes on our feet?

5) “Is the market really that bad?” I graduated magna cum laude and am working as a law clerk.  Yes, it’s that bad.

6) “You would have made a great law clerk.  Why didn’t you do that?”  I dunno.  Why don’t you go ask the judges that didn’t hire me?

What have you heard?  Any other things I should avoid saying to people who are on the market?


Filed under Job Search, Lawyering, Unemployed, Volunteering

“Where will that be?”

Today, in talking to my old boss and telling him that I will be done volunteering with the organization the first week of August, I said that I would be looking to move to a full time job once I come back from vacation in August.

To which he said, “where will that be?”

As if I had any clue, or had gotten some kind of offer.  As if it was his business where I was applying.  Which I can see that he thinks that it is, but I don’t tell people where I apply, or where I want to work.  It’s my life, and I’m through discussing my job search with people, even the people who will be acting as my references. I don’t need judgment, I don’t need advice, I don’t even need encouragement. The only person who gets to care where I work is my husband, and that is within the reasonable limits.

So how do I answer this question?  Is a quick, “I’m done discussing my job search” too harsh? I think so.  I hemmed and hawed and said I was looking.  It’s a perfectly innocent question, but I’m touchy, and I’d like to nip the conversation in the bud rather than getting into anything too involved.

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Working for Free

Although I have a new job, I’m continuing at my former job for one to two days a week.  This is because I really like what I do there, and I like my clients, and my new job doesn’t actually technically let me “practice” law.

Here is the problem with working for free.  And I find that this is true of pretty much any place where I have worked for free.  You get taken advantage of.  I’m not sure whether this is because the type of people who work for free are generally nice people who want to help out, or if employers really think, “lets get whatever we can while she’s here”.  But over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been seeing more clients, when I was supposed to be seeing less, and getting roped into more cases.

For some, being taken advantage of is par for the course, part of paying your dues as a young attorney.  But most of those people get paid for the work that they are doing, they are just being asked to do more.  And I’m not talking about going above and beyond, I’m talking about being asked to do things that are outside of your job description.

Lately, in addition to being taken advantage of, I have been feeling a bit…abandoned and ignored.  I think I established that I’m a bit needy.  Mostly, I need supervision.  I want to run all of the wills I draft past my boss, because two heads are better than one, he’s been doing this for longer, and I miss stuff.  Sometimes I don’t think of things that should go in, or I forget to take something out.  I can only catch so much on my own, or when I review them with clients.

Part of the reason for the abandonment is totally legitimate – we are in the middle of a huge case, that is incredibly intense and takes up most of my boss’ time.  So he was out all day today on discovery while I ran around the office like a chicken with my head cut off trying to draft a “quick” special needs trust (they do not exist.)  Nonetheless, part of the reason is because he can leave me to my own devices, and I’ll keep showing up and doing good work, since so far, I haven’t given him any reason to doubt that.  Last week, I made a pretty big mistake though, and unfortunately but fortunately, that has finally gotten me back on his radar, with promises to sit down and go over my open matters.  So hopefully that will happen so I can feel like I’m on solid ground.

So I need some lessons in getting what I want, without making a huge mistake to get it.  Any tips on how to approach this without rocking the boat so much that it falls over?  I would like to preserve a good relationship with the office and my boss, because I do genuinely like it and them.  I also want to keep working there, because every day that I work as a lawyer is another day closer to the “3-5 years experience” that most of my dream jobs require.

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I play on a Women’s hockey team, and frankly, I don’t really care for some of my teammates.  This is difficult, because I usually like most of my teammates, and find myself annoyed by the one girl who is always telling other people to take shorter shifts and change, but then changes when were on defense and takes really long shifts herself.  (I also take long shifts, but at least I’m not telling other people when to change.)  This season has been different because I really don’t care for a couple of them, but I do like the rest of the team.  (And they have all been nothing but nice to me, so I feel badly about this.)

One girl is one of the aforementioned ice hogs, but she did something yesterday that really annoyed me.  I scared our second goal of the game, off a puck that my captain brought up the ice and I tipped in off the rebound.  It was ridiculously sweet, and I spent the first 10 weeks of the season not scoring until last week’s game when I finally got a goal.  This is not me bragging about how much I’ve scored lately, but simply explaining that I’m not a high-scoring player.  I’m generally a distraction – I lead the defenders to believe that I will be scoring so they cover me and my teammate can put it in the net.  It works really well.

Anyway, my two teammates and I all were in front of the net and one teammate passed to me, but I got tied up by the defenders.  The puck somehow got to our team captain, I think because it bounced off my stick.  She put it in the net and it was a really nice goal.  Since the scorekeepers write down who scored each goal, and who assisted, the ref asked me if I touched the puck at all.  When he asked me, I thought about it since I really wasn’t sure, but at this point, my teammate said something along the lines of, “in her dreams”.  Which I thought was well, a little rude.

It is possible that my teammate doesn’t know that the league keeps the 2 assists, so she was worried that I would get written down instead of her.  In retrospect, I should definitely have clearly said, “Betty* definitely assisted, I’m not sure about myself.”  The ref wound up giving me the assist, but I think he gave it to me and my teammate, so it shows up in our “points”.  Points are important because they affect your rating in the drafting for later teams.  Plus, it’s a pride thing.  I can assure you that it sucks to have an assist go unnoticed.  Additionally, nobody likes it when somebody else takes credit for their goal.  Nonetheless, it seems to me that it is quite unsportsmanlike to put your teammate down in the manner that mine did.

Any thoughts?  Is there something I should have said or a way I should have acted to deal with this kind of situation in the future?  I kind of just let the ref make the call, saying, “if I touched the puck, it just bounced off my stick”.

*names have been changed

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