Tag 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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Old job, new job, red job, blue job.

I still think of my job as my “new” job. Even though I’ve been at this job almost as long as I was at my last job.  In nine months, I will have been at this job longer than I’ve been at any job ever.  And yet, I still think of it as my new job. I say things like, “my new job is really low litigation”. I say things like, “at my last job I did x” and I talk about it was yesterday and then I remember that was 2 years ago.

The thing about general practice is that you are constantly learning.  When I first started, I had a case and my coworker asked me if I had ever defended somebody in this kind of case and I said, “yeah, I mean, I think I’ve only done it ten times.” And she said, “I don’t think there is any kind of case I’ve done ten times.” And I have been there two years and I can see what she meant. I had three hearings this week.  They were each my first of each type of hearing. They were each different. One was state administrative, one was federal administrative, and one was landlord-tenant.

So, two years in, I continue to feel like the new kid.  Which is really great, because I love a challenge. I love learning new things and new areas and I love that part of my job. I am never bored.  I am often anxious, tired, stressed out, and hungry, but I am never bored.

I miss, frequently, the simplicity of my old job. I miss practicing in the same courthouse, in front of the same judges, who I knew, who respected the work I did.  I miss working in a coalition of people working towards common goals.  Ultimately this has been the right move for me, for now, but I think I would like to specialize again someday. I’m just not sure in what, and it’s hard to figure it out when you don’t do that many of any particular kind of case.  I think, ultimately, that I may be more interested in specializing in a specific type of lawyering than in a specific practice area.

When I first took this job, I told myself I would give it two years and reassess.  Did I want the same things? How would the commute wear on me? It took me an hour and eight minutes to get home today, so yes, it’s wearing on me. But at the same time, I was thinking last week what a relief it is to go to my neighborhood pool and not worry about clients seeing me in my bathing suit because my clients don’t live anywhere near where I work.  That distance has been surprisingly nice.  I did expect by the end of the first two years to know what I wanted to specialize in, but so far, I’m not significantly closer to figuring it out. I’ve managed to figure out what I don’t want to do, but there are a lot of practice areas and crossing one after another off a list isn’t really the most efficient way to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  But I figure if I keep practicing and keep learning and keep enjoying the challenges, eventually the answer will find me.

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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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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.


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Pregnant Lawyering : Attire

I was terrified before getting pregnant about how to do my job and be a pregnant person at the same time. What if I had horrible morning sickness? What if my ankles swelled so much I couldn’t go to court? What if I got put on bedrest? How on earth would my office handle my maternity leave? And WTF would I wear? 

I’m a poorly paid litigator. I mean, seriously poorly paid. My salary is less than that of a law clerk. So, I had to shop for an entire wardrobe on a budget. Maternity suits are expensive. And ugly. And I’m sorry, but I’m not at a point where I can go to court without a suit, and wearing my regular jackets open was uncomfortable for me because I kept trying to button them.  

Thank goodness for fashion! Open front blazers became a thing a couple years ago and this year I was luckily able to find some.  I’ve bent my rules to wear dresses with open front jackets, and I have four open-front jackets – two black, one black and white, one royal blue. I bought them assuming I would buy mostly black wrap dresses and solid colored shirts to go with my black dress pants and then call it a day.  I have had zero luck finding the professional looking black wrap dresses that a number of my friends have had, so I bought a couple of dresses like this in various prints and this dress and this dress in black, and they work fine with the jacket.  The judges mostly care that you look neat and like you respect the court, so I figure as long as I appear to make an effort, they will let me push the envelope a bit.  

If you are building a maternity wardrobe from the ground up, I recommend sizing up in shirts around 10 weeks.  I sized up and bought mostly loose fitting tops from the Ann Taylor Loft Outlet (some of which I still refer to as, “who would buy this that isn’t pregnant?”) in a M instead of my usual S and they have lasted me until about 23 weeks and I can wear some of them for at least another week – they also are great because I can wear them on the weekend or for court.  Look for stuff that is pretty long, because the first thing that will happen is that things get short.  I’m only just barely fitting into maternity shirts at 23 weeks without them looking huge and having too much fabric going on, so I’m glad I sized up.  I did not find that sizing up meant I was just wearing bigger clothes instead of looking pregnant, but I liked that the tops I had allowed me to decide how much I wanted to emphasize my pregnancy. The advice I got early was to size up instead of just switching to maternity clothes because that way you are better prepared to dress yourself post-partum.  

I did switch to maternity pants pretty early.  I also was very glad that I’m a weird clothes hoarder and had kept a couple of pairs of bigger dress pants, and I bought a few elastic waisted skirts.  These lasted me until about 14 or 15 weeks.  I bought two pairs of demi panel dress pants around 10 weeks, which are SO COMFORTABLE early on when you are bloated, and they do not make you look pregnant (when you are less than 18 weeks, they make you look less pregnant because of the waistband) so if you are trying to hide things at work, full panel pants are NOT the way to go.  I find the full panel pants more comfortable so I wore them from 14-18 weeks.  I stopped wearing pants in June because it is too hot to ride a bicycle in pants, so I’m in dresses and skirts for the remainder of the summer.  

I was hoping that a number of my wrap dresses would still fit me, but most of them got too short for court around 18-20 weeks.  Some people are able to avoid buying maternity clothes altogether, and more power to them. Even my maxi dresses are too short.  

So how do you do this on a budget? (We set a $500 budget for maternity clothes, but I think I’m pretty close to it.) I was lucky to receive hand-me-down casual clothes from my sister, so I got a pair of shorts and a pair of capris and a bunch of shirts.  I’m really glad I didn’t have to buy casual clothes, because that would have eaten into my work budget.  My parents and my in-laws have also gifted me maternity clothes for my birthday, which was conveniently around when I was really showing.  I bought a number of items from eBay, and I also hit the Motherhood Maternity Outlet and bought items in damaged packaging or that had a small stain to save money.  I also tried to buy mostly clothes that I can wear for a second pregnancy, if we want a second kid, so I tried not to get things that are too summer-y or that I can’t wear with leggings and boots in the winter.  

I thought having to buy an entirely new wardrobe would be an experience in downsizing my wardrobe and learning to live with less, but it turns out I get really bored of my same-old-same-old clothes quickly.  I have 5 dresses, which means, I have 5 outfits for court.  I have one maternity skirt I wear on days I drive, but I haven’t been driving much and I can’t bike in it.  There is a maternity rental website called Mine for Nine, so if I ever get really sick of my wardrobe or my open front blazers aren’t cutting it, I’ll probably check them out.  

Anyone else have tips for pregnant lawyering attire?

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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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Shrodinger’s Voicemail

Every morning, when I get in, I check my voicemail. For some reason I dread doing this. Probably because one time my voicemail was full of angry and anxious messages from an opposing party who was mad at me for not going to postponement court even though my voicemail message said I was out that day.  I think it’s also because the voicemail is one thing that can really throw my day off.

I work in a field that is full of emergencies.  Where things change at the drop of a hat, where somebody comes home when they weren’t supposed to or is released from prison early.  No new messages means no new problems.  New messages often means crises management, motions to be filed, hearings to attend that were not on my radar yet.  Since I work week-to-week, rather than calendaring things out months in advance, this seems like something I shouldn’t complain about, but surprises are frustrating.  Oddly, I do not have the same concerns when my phone rings. More often than not, my phone ringing is a request for service or assistance, or some kind of emergency.  Yet somehow the voicemail is so much worse.  Until I check it, I don’t know if it’s empty or full of problems for me to solve.  

It would be very nice if I had caller ID or a way to know who called before I checked the messages, or how many calls, or whether there is a new voicemail, but I have none of those fancy features that a $10 cell phone provides by my office cannot afford.  It is perhaps because I am used to my cell phone telling me who has called and when and why that I am having issues with the black hole of my office voicemail.  

Does anyone have any tips for dealing with Shrodinger’s voicemail? 

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Are you the state’s attorney?

Sometimes, for my job, I do criminal accompaniments.  This means I try to go to the victim’s criminal case, and sit with them and support them during the testimony.  During a jury trial, I usually stay in the room and watch the trial, so that I can explain to the victim later who said what and why.  

The problem with criminal accompaniments is that you have to go to a courthouse and be surrounded by well, criminals.  It’s especially bad when I’m doing a criminal accompaniment and my client is the one on trial – which happens with some frequency because oftentimes both parties will press charges against each other, or the other party will press charges/call the police to threaten/retaliate against the client.  Anyway, the problem with this is, because of ongoing de facto segregation in my city, most of the criminals are poor and black.  I know I don’t post pictures of myself here, but I am neither of those things.  Further, I dress like a professional.  Which leads to the inevitable question:

“Scuse me, you the state’s attorney?”

“Scuse me, are you my public defender?” 

“Scuse me, you an attorney?”

“Well, if you’re not the state’s attorney, where is the state’s attorney?” 

I don’t really like answering these questions, because they often end in requests for representation or advice, so I tend to dress down a bit on criminal accompaniment days.  Which sometimes leads to the state’s attorney asking me who the hell I am when I start giving my client legal advice.  Today is Friday, which means I usually wear jeans if I don’t have court, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable wearing jeans to do a CA or talk to a client, ever.  Unless they show up on Friday without warning and don’t give me enough time to put on my dress pants.  

If you were to go to court, what would you wear? I think the line to skirt is “dress like a normal person who doesn’t own a suit”, but I don’t really remember what it is like to not own a suit.  

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When I grow Up

I was inspired by this post this morning to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wanted to be a marine biologist for awhile there.  I wanted to be a coral disease researcher, stopping the spread of white band and black band disease.  I was not very good at science though, so I had to go to my fallback career of being a lawyer.  Because yes, since I was 9 or 10 years old, I wanted to be a lawyer. 

I rethought whether I wanted to be a lawyer a couple of times in high school and in college, but I’m not entirely sure that I chose this career as much as it chose me.  I knew in law school that I belonged there, and I worked harder in law school than in undergrad or college because I felt like I was meant to do this.  When I graduated, and I rethought whether I wanted to be a lawyer because I couldn’t find a job, I kept coming back to, “but this is what I want to be.” When people encourage me to find my passion and pursue it, I just look at them blankly.  My passion is practicing law.  It is helping people.  I don’t know if that will change, I don’t know if it will always look the way it does, but when I think about now where I want my career to go in the next 30 years, I don’t want to go terribly far from where I am.  I want to practice law.  I want to be a lawyer when I grow up.  Do I always want to litigate? No. Do I always want to deal with clients? No. But I do know that I’m not one of those lawyers who cannot stand the idea of practicing, and I also know that that makes me very, very lucky.  I know that there are many people who hate this field as much as I like it, and I hope for all of them that they get to find something else they love. 

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