Odd and Curious Thoughts (about being a lawyer)

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(1)    You have to purchase replacement shoes.  As in “this is part of my wardrobe so it’s totally worth the investment because the leather is peeling off the back of these cheap ones because I hobble across pavement all the time to and from my car and don’t tell me your job is casual or you work from home and all you wear is flip flops because I will cut you.”  Anywho, back to purchasing heels.  Black is generally best.

(2)    People come into your office leading with statements like “I hope I’m not interrupting you but we have a situation.” Tantalizing.

(3)    Sometimes when it’s a boring Tuesday you can just wave your arms around in the hallway of a clinic and say things to a supervisor like “we can’t have our doctors left bare and bleeding on the stand and left with no defenses and when I say ‘medical record integrity’ I am dead serious,” and watch new nurses just blink and stare at you in fear and then you’re all “just kidding I’m just looking for the bathroom.”

(4)    When at cocktail parties, you just say you work in management so you won’t get asked how much child support some deadbeat ex is supposed to pay or whether a landlord has a duty to get rid of the cockroaches.  Because when drinking a cosmo at a swanky bar you don’t want to talk about someone’s bitter divorce and/or roaches. Mostly no to the roaches.

(5)    Why is someone here at this swanky bar that lives in an apartment with roaches and is not instead at Home Depot buying some sort of spray?

(6)    Saying you’re a lawyer makes one think you’re rich, when in reality most real estate salesman and drug reps I know make more money than lawyers.  Unless you successfully sue Exxon, in which case you’re doing fairly well and don’t have to worry about roaches. Or dates.  Or heels with worn leather backsides.

(7)    Sometimes when you’re skimming an article about a mass layoff, you begin to wonder if proper notice was given and start randomly researching the elements of a certain statute to see if that company did their due diligence and wonder what their severance agreements looked like and you’re all GOOD GRACIOUS WOMAN IT’S THURSDAY NIGHT DRINK A BEER AND QUIT RESEARCHING RANDOM CRAP THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU, YOUR CLIENT, OR YOUR LIFE.

(8)    Often a lawyer thinks “why didn’t I just become a language arts teacher or perhaps work in the Estee Lauder counter in the mall?”  Why is no one saying anything. Maybe it’s just me.

(9)    Being a lawyer means you read a lot of words, so if you are trying to date a lawyer you should stay away from statements like “hey you’re pretty I really don’t spell too great but maybe we should go on a date my name is Doug?” Just a tip.  A random tip I know nothing about.  Not that I’m a spelling or grammar nerd (Seriously, Doug? Seriously?)

(10) When you get a phone call and the Caller ID says “Office of Inspector General” or “Federal Bureau of Investigation” it’s best to just go to lunch because those people are so boring and have no sense of humor.

(11) And lastly, when your head hits the pillow at night, you can say with a deep breath that you helped create a lasting impression upon the world because you provided a legal opinion on some random subject that tomorrow, no one will remember.

It’s lovely being a lawyer.  Honestly I’d pick it over any other profession.  It keeps the lights on, helps me afford bug spray, allows me to make fun of myself, stocks my closet with shoes, and keeps my brain active so when I’m old and senile the health care workers will hear me shout “RES IPSA LOQUITOR!” at the top of my lungs as they feed me pudding. And honestly, isn’t that what life’s all about?

Photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/69184488@N06/8091027271/sizes/m/in/photolist-djYCwc-bFk1NR-8aff6R-c8V8Em-eHj6Be-ff8wth-9Qoo8Z-ehZE6X-awyExV-g1KQ9p-a5FMNo-g1KHa3-bapa4P-g1KZ7p-atMLeP-dDFnsH-drbbq2-bAWJxe-drb26U-bo2TuS-9KcQNo-b4N7Vi-g1KXpN-g1KxNh-dravcT-bap7qM-dfwcL9-cvcGRQ-cFaD11-g9jp6i-iFiov3-dDFLiV-ceZiJ5-ceZbmJ-draE2E-7GSFBT-9fP1au-cqxYZG-9zdAAF-ejD5JR-9ePFJY-daMu6v-gwmN7H-dLDZcD-gwmAC2-dravCe-g1KNQJ-g1Ljrp-cK43Df-7Jta4f-g1EDcJ/

 

On Being a Lawyer

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All of us are trained for something.  We make cappuccinos or hold human hearts in our hands or fix leaky pipes.  Well, I happen to be a lawyer.

Having this profession means I’m trained to look at words with a certain critical eye, wondering how sentences back clients into corners, or create paper giants that will take off their straw hats someday when no one expects, when executives have new jobs and children are peacefully sleeping in their beds and the moon is fading next to the morning sun.  It’s then when the aggrieved will roar.

I once got a call on a Tuesday afternoon from a heart surgeon with kind wrinkles and silver hair who liked to volunteer at the local community clinic and had a pretty young wife. His voice cracked and his breathing was quick, and I knew.  I knew that this highly-educated man, who could remain calm under any form of pressure, was breaking.  A life could be on the line and squiggly lines could flatten but this man who would take deep cleansing breaths and call a code and draw from deep immeasurable pools of training and experience was trapped in a world he didn’t understand.

He’d been sued.  

And the moment his name was scrawled on bloody paper, the middle initial pierced between the first and last in print before him, the color ran from his face and all he saw was his life’s work twirling like a tornado, flocks of patients running from his office and the medical board digging into his charts like a dog after a meaty bone.  A house in the mountains and a Range Rover and kids at Stanford all faded, and all he saw was this.  He dialed my number with shaky fingers and said he didn’t understand.  He treated the patient’s family for a decade.  He was scared to death and swirling.  But now?  I called my own form of code and took a deep cleansing breath, working to save a different form of life.

I’ve spent a dozen years living this profession.  I can’t say I’m the best attorney that’s ever practiced, but I’m not afraid of analyzing a non-compete or looking up an issue I’ve never encountered or going head-to-head with some dude in a suit with an ego problem.  I’ve got this.  I know this.  I’ve grown into these pants.  And I realize it’s a mix of talent and determination and a good measure of grit, thankful for the good fortune of having parents who put education a priority and being born in a first-world nation. But mostly I’m just thankful I’ve been given this calling, and this ability to think differently, to help those who need it most.  I want to look into this man’s face and hold his hand and tell him that no one has the ability to rip his heritage away.  I’ve got this, I tell him.  And I mean it.

There are times I want squeeze out of these pants I’ve worn so long.  Do something different.  Shed the lawyer image. But even if I change into flannel pajamas and surround myself with play dates and grocery store runs, the call of law never really leaves.   Because once you know something – when you live it and study it and peel back the onion layers to smell it and cry it and feel it inside – it never goes away. Lawsuits that haven’t occurred yet in the far distant future plague my mind, wedged between actions and limitations, and arguments shuffle in priority order while I’m driving or eating toast or mopping a kitchen floor.  My mind’s a domino game of what-ifs and probabilities and percentages of risk, drawing circles around bombs that might never detonate.  Protect and secure and make safe.  That’s what policeman do and what mothers do and what lawyers do as well, although we get to wear more expensive uniforms and have sexier shoes.

I like to call myself a writer, but much as I want to hide from it, I’m also a lawyer.  Because I have spent too many hot showers trying to develop counter arguments that will not fail.  I can solve problems others cannot, and respond in the language lawyers understand, and I have the ability to stand in the face of an adversary and say with full confidence that “I do not fear you.” That is power, and something a man who has fixed a hundred leaky hearts cannot do.

So I suppose I’ll always wear these pants, stitched with secret knives to shred all those paper dragons, who may never appear and just might turn out to be crumpled up tissue and sticks.  But every once in a while one will emerge large and ominous, and it’s in that moment I realize I’m in my element, and I was born for this, and I’ll never escape. Because I don’t just wear the pants of a lawyer any more.  The fabric has soaked into my skin and my own body has absorbed it up, so now it’s just a part of me, walking.

 

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/j3net/6685160247/sizes/m/in/photolist-bbKcez-bbKfSB-dq1geJ-6Fccs1-6HE651-2Q2BtS-b2eMJF-eWeLza-b2eMH4-3Vffdh-72Xu7k-9gPGE7-81vq7u-KXbeE-KTGWZ-b4nZ2V-9eYkKf-9eYrg1-3i7THe-89t6ZU-89t6Vq-89pRyX-89pRBF-aZL5P-5ZzqdY-7yuBfg-gPqCd-kUsL5-dfktGr-9U6y5C-e4gwkA-9TgDFw-8QFsa9-9eSBC1-bztzMR-RTmgQ-7ZzA3C-KX7ZK-9n1Cpg-9n1CrK-9n4FsJ-9hd4Sb-KX4Mi-6F9t6v-o8dM-KWW1g-77hYXW-77hZ6E-77hYt5-77hYFb-77e4cr/

Role Play

It’s no surprise that I went into health law. Being a natural control freak, it has been nice over the past dozen years to be the one in charge. To say to a surgeon, who is so incredibly skilled and calm under pressure, it’s okay. Let me explain how this works. Even though inside, I’m probably laughing a bit, like “this is only a deposition!  If it ends badly, what’s a half-day mediation among friends?” And yet I’m a lawyer, and this is what I know. Surgeons tell me colonoscopies are easy, but you stick me in front of some sleeping guy with a probe, I’d faint on his anesthesia-filled abdomen like a Victorian bride.

I think I’ve worked with doctors long enough to know how to relate to them. They know how to deduce and diagnose and empirically treat.  We lawyers know how to protect and defend and watch over them.  We each play an important role.  And, if my legal knowledge fails to impress a physician, I simply need to sit for an hour listening to their drug-seeking patients explain how they flushed their Norco pills down the toilet by accident while the doctor gets back on schedule.  That wins them over every time.

If you are a drug-seeking patient, by the way, let’s all just agree to come up with more creative stories.  How many times does one actually lean over and inadvertently dump an entire bottle of pills into the toilet?  Pills that are allegedly so vital to your daily survival as a human being?  If this really does happen, you should (1) create some other story that sounds more plausible, maybe one involving aliens; (2) “I left them in my friend’s car in Las Vegas” is never an acceptable substitute; and (3) try to go without your pain medication for a day so you won’t fall asleep or feely loopy while you are learning basic life skills like “hand stability” and “how to open child-safety locks without spraying pills all about the dang place.”   

But whether you’re a doctor or lawyer or rocket scientist, it’s never fun looking at life from the vantage point of a patient.   When I was lying there in a hospital bed in a paper-thin gown so many times, staring at water-stained ceiling tiles, I felt helpless. I hung onto my physician’s every word.  I tried to understand the things they were all collectively telling me, but it all sounded so strange.  You have a detached retina.  You have an unexplainable infection.  Your heart stopped. You have cancer. Those statements were harsh and foreign to my ears.  I wasn’t trained at this.  I was out of my comfort zone. All I saw was a doctor’s mouth moving, throwing my entire world around like balls in the air.  Cataracts and cancer.   Bleeding incisions and scars.  Bouncing up and down, up and down, up and down.  Crazy words I couldn’t control.

Then I realized we are most scared of what we don’t understand. I understand how to be a lawyer.  Pediatricians understand why children get sick.  Surgeons know how to cut. But put a doctor on the witness stand, or try to explain a complex Rule 11 agreement, or why a counter-claim is necessary, and a doctor looks more like a patient who has been told they have a tumor.  What?  Come again?  I’ve not researched that.  I’m not trained in this area.  For this, I am not prepared.  And that’s terrifying.

We all want to feel comfortable.  Some are experts at making an Americano with two raw sugars and a dash of steamed milk.  Others can peel cysts off an ovary with their bare hands.  Others still can argue a case in front of a Federal Judge and an impaneled jury.  But put any one of them in different shoes, and there would be mass hysteria.  Vascular surgeons building houses?  Internists writing contracts? Lawyers fixing air conditioning units?  Unacceptable.  Type A people like us need to be in control.  That’s why we chose a career that only some can attain.  Multiple degrees somehow shield us from failure.   From attack.  From fear.

But to be a child of God, we must strip off the titles.  It doesn’t really matter whether you pour coffee or set broken bones.  God doesn’t give you more points for writing contracts than for fixing sewer lines.  We all simply have a role to play in this world.  Trust me – if a thoracic surgeon is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he is no better off than a gardener or a street sweeper.   Titles nor residency nor a thousand letters of reference matter.  They all just float like dead leaves to the ground.  People crunch atop them on the way to their office buildings and news stands and subway stops.  Student loans and years of education are useless, ready to be bagged up and thrown away, never to be thought of again.

Self-importance has no role to play in a Christian’s life.  We aren’t meant to find our worth in a material world.  Through our titles or careers.   Through our lineage or trust or years of service.  We are simply designed to serve.  To seek God’s truth and wisdom as vigorously as we pursue our degrees, and when we feel that we know enough, realize that we have so much left to learn.  After all – we all have scars, and bleeding incisions, and cancer that invades our purest intentions.  We are all drug-seekers of some kind, although our drug is power and control and feeling too comfortable rather than something we abuse in pill form.

Someday, in the blink of an eye, it will all be over.  On that day, we walk in tandem. The drug seekers.  The doctors.  The lawyers.  The latte makers.  We are all on the same level field, playing a role until the curtain comes down.

new beginnings

I quit my job.

Well, that’s a bit of a lie.  I walked out of my job as General Counsel for a large and wonderful company to stay home more.  To bake and volunteer and write.  And take the occasional calls from my former company that might crop up that they find useful to ask a lawyer.  But working from home in an oversized t-shirt billing by the hour, taking occasional phone calls from doctors that have questions, isn’t the same as really working.  I’ve always worked.  I went to law school to earn a great salary and feed my brain and wear heels.  I love heels.

But finally, I admitted to myself that I couldn’t keep up. There were select toilets in our home that even our dog wouldn’t drink from.  I was forgetting to pay bills and couldn’t seem to pack lunches and was always screaming at my daughter to get her shoes on.  I almost cried when I tried to bake homemade bread one weekend and the dough wouldn’t even rise.  My life was starting to spin out of control.  With two small children and a brain that never shuts off and writing that was finished inside my head but not yet recorded on paper, something had to give.  I was tired of running.  I was tired of yelling.  I was just flat-out tired.

So I stopped.

It’s been exactly four days since my newfound freedom.  I sent my son to day care every single day, which perhaps I should feel guilty about.  But I don’t.  I did heaps of laundry and sent off thank-you notes and made some tea.  I read some articles I’d been meaning to read and unpacked boxes of law books I schlepped home from my office.   I took a nap and read to my daughter and opened my eyes to what I’d been missing all this time.   Peace, really.  And clean toilets.

So here I sit.  I can feel a dozen years of legal experience begin the slow process of atrophy.  I can see that hanging on to my old world will not last forever, although billing by the hour is nice.  I feel God tugging on my sweater and tapping me on the shoulder, like something is just around the corner – up ahead.  I just can’t quite make it out with all the fog around me.  I’m defogging.  And praying.  And trying to learn how to bake bread.  For real.  Someone needs to send me a better recipe.

It’s a huge leap to quit a career.  It’s easy to tell people it’s for the kids.  So you can be a better mother.  But I didn’t think I was a horrible mother before.  I think it’s more about finding your footing.  Making sure the place that you stand is the place you really want to be.  Right now, in this moment, I know I’m heading in the right direction.  That’s something.  Even though it might not involve heels.

So here’s to freedom, wherever it takes me.  Probably to the grocery store.  And the bathroom, to clean more toilets.

legal eagle

I am both revolted and thrilled at being a lawyer.

 

There are times I am confident I chose the right profession.  Instead of saying I’m a project manager or I do consulting work for a computer software company (yawn/bore/snooze), I get to say I’m an attorney.  That means I’m smart.  Tough.  It stands for something.  I get to wear heels and I’m not easily threatened.  I look forward to a good adversary and can hold my own in a swearing match.  And I’ll be damned if I didn’t settle an entire case once for $500 and a ream of copy paper.

 

And yet.

 

My heels are not from Neiman’s.  I got them at TJ Maxx with the size 10 sticker still firmly implanted on the inside of the heel.  I don’t read the Wall Street Journal, although I used to subscribe and marvel at those dot-art pictures, flipping through it to find a movie review or a piece on sea lions.  But all I found were boring articles on the economy.  Then I realized it’s called the Wall Street Freaking Journal and such articles are actually important to some (boring lame uninspired) people.  I dropped my subscription.

 

In my free time, instead of going to the theatre or golfing, I get online to check out what Angelina Jolie wore to the Oscars.  I like to search for hidden treasure at Goodwill and think of all the recipes I can make that contain pumpkin. In law school, I went on a hunt for antique mayonnaise jars the day before my Taxation of Estates final.  My study group just shook their head as if I went on some trek in the Amazon.  “What?” I said as I unscrewed a rusty lid and stuck my nose inside to see if the jar still smelled.

 

There is just something about law that’s flat-out boring.  A few months ago, I sat all day long in a freezing cold conference room staring at presentations about healthcare reform.  The speakers were just giddy about the subject matter and pranced about the podium rubbing their hands together with glee, espousing their opinions on section 501(r) and whether the government would come out with new regulations and – oh hell.  I was focusing on some lady’s hair and didn’t keep track of the rest.  I was impressed with their enthusiasm, though.  All top-of-their-class with great hair and Washington internships.  I can imagine them all conversing at a dinner party, giggling and drinking Bordeaux.   I worked for Representative Williams!  Really I did! I have an ornament to prove it!  Congressional Aide I was!  Bloody hell!

 

I kept pretending to take a call so I could step outside into the lobby.  I gave men around me that why can’t my office just leave me alone, already? look while I pressed my phone to my ear like I couldn’t hear and eased out of the room.  We were across the street from the capital; it’s not like we were in Somalia with questionable cell phone reception.  In reality, I was calling my secretary to tell her that I was dangerously close to letting my bar card expire and having a go at a juggling career.   I wondered if she had eaten lunch.  Did she have a sandwich?  Was there rain in the forecast?  Did she say she had ham? After the fifth call, my secretary told me to get off the phone and go back in.

 

“You’re starting to become annoying,” she said.

 

I trudged in and plunked down in my chair, opening spam emails to pass the time.  Did you know Frontgate was having a bedding sale and The Body Shop offered free shipping?  Fascinating!  I was so bored I texted everyone I knew with little random statements, such as “sitting at a CLE!” or “you having a good day?” or  “I’d like to slit my wrists because I chose the most boring career on the planet and perhaps I should re-evaluate my life here on earth and buy nicer shoes.”  But everyone else was busy or distracted or annoyed and didn’t respond.  I sat there rubbing my temples and smiling at the man next to me who said this was one of the best conferences yet.  “Oh yes,” I said.  “So informative.  Did you know about those relaxed jurisdictional rules?  Insane!”  We all giggled and adjusted our glasses and looked back at the speaker.  I tried to not focus on his freakishly thick hair, but let’s face it.  My focus was helplessly lost.

 

All the folks that talk at these conferences are from big mega-firms.  They eat and breathe this stuff.  They wouldn’t think of pondering whether strawberry and fig go together for the purposes of making jam or whether they should make seventeen hand-made birthday party invitations for a five-year-old.  Maybe I did choose the wrong career.   Maybe I missed my calling.

 

But then, I go back to work the next day, with a night full of rest and a mug full of strong coffee.  I listen to the methodical voices on NPR and inch up north through rush hour traffic.  When I get to the office, I have four voicemails from people who need my advice.  I have emails from folks who care what I think, who want me to help them answer their questions.  Edit their letters.  Review their contracts. Ease their minds.  No one cares about my shoes, although today I am rockin Ann Klein Leopard-print peek-a-boos.

 

I laugh when someone tells me they will sue, because I know they are lying and instead simply forgot to take their bipolar meds.  I have a head that’s bursting with knowledge about causation and limits of liability and risk.  I am a professional, and can go head-to-head with others because I’ve earned the right.  Then, at that very moment, I know I’m meant to be an attorney.  Those speakers are dull because they choose to be dull.  I celebrate Wednesdays and send out quotes from Joan Rivers via email and shop for old jars.  And if I need something from the conference, I can always look through the powerpoint slides. I suppose that, despite hating legal conferences, I like what I do.  After all, when someone says they’ll have their lawyer call me, I get a tingly feeling in my stomach.  “Go ahead,” I say through a crooked grin.  “I welcome the call.”

 

Here’s to being a lawyer.  Go ahead.  Sue me.