Tag Archives: work

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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2016 – Goals

I do believe in new year’s resolutions.  A new year’s resolution in 2007 started me running and down the path to losing 30lbs.  It led to me discovering all kinds of wonderful things about myself.  A resolution in 2011 to Get a Job led me to two fantastic opportunities that paved the way to better things later.  In 2012 my resolution was to Get A Better Job.  In 2014 my resolution was to Have a Baby and Do an Olympic Distance Triathlon.

So, right now I’m still stubbornly at around the weight I was post-delivery.  So my goal is to kick the baby weight, now that I’m done nursing. I’m signed up for another session of Fit 4 Mom’s Body Back boot camp, which is awesome and includes a meal plan and journaling and feedback on your food journal.

I signed up for a half marathon and a sprint distance triathlon. I signed up for a training plan for the half marathon and I have high hopes of doing the local Masters swim class this summer.

My other main goal is to simply my life. To spend more weekends at home.  To say no more.  We have a toddler now, and our life needs to be more about making sure she is enjoying herself and getting to do things that suit her and challenge her.  None of us is at our best when she is running around a brewery and getting stuck to the floor and my husband is trying to chug a flight of samplers and I’m chasing down the waitress with my credit card to get the check paid ASAP.  We have a few big trips planned, but we have a lot of weekends at home.  We built a deck. We joined our local science museum.  The good thing is, it becomes easier to say no when your child is less portable.  Our daughter has needs.  She wants our attention.  She does not want to linger at a bar for cocktails.  She isn’t happy to sleep in her carrier or nurse at the table anymore.  And people don’t invite you out as much after they see an epic meltdown.  (My in-laws had asked if we’d like to go out to dinner tonight, and we passed, and once they saw our kid have an epic meltdown over the mere existence of her Ikea play tent, they understood why we had opted for takeout.)

Anyone else make goals? Setting limits for themselves this year? What are you going to make happen?

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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 : 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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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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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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Last week was the big fancy dinner that my job throws.  Unlike a lot of nonprofit functions, this one is usually not boring, and doesn’t involve a lot of big financial requests.  And it made me feel very inspired, but mostly it made me feel lucky and thankful.

You guys, I work for the best people in the world.  I truly and genuinely believe this.  I work for people that care about me as a person, about me as a lawyer, and about women in general.  I think this is awesome.  Our organization does good work, and I feel like I have all of the support in the world from my boss.

I point out a lot that I work regular hours.  And I brag about this not because it means I get home at 5pm, but because I truly believe that my office’s fierce protection of regular hours is more about them trying to improve work-life balance for Americans and trying to prevent staff burnout.  I don’t make a lot of money, but my office has my back.  Additionally, my company creates part-time positions designed to help stay-at-home parents re-enter the workforce, and positions like mine allow the idea of having children and a fulfilling career seem possible, and I think that is really important for organizations that are committed to improving the lives and status of women.

This year, it’s pretty easy to say what I’m thankful for, because it’s my job.  It’s my job that reminds me continually why I went to law school.  It’s my job that gave me a chance as a lawyer, that values me as a professional, and it’s my job that allows me to continue to serve person after person who is in desperate need.  It’s my job that makes me feel fulfilled, which has made me happier than I knew I could be.

Plus I get to walk to work.

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