Monday, September 5, 2011

A Renewed Sense of Purpose

I just finished watching Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. I'm still crying, not only because it was a well told story about a terrible series of tragic events, but also because it hit home on a professional level.

Without going into details, two intertwined centerpieces of this documentary are the judicial and child welfare systems of Canada, and their failures in this particular matter. For those of you who have watched this movie, will watch it (WARNING: lots of tissues are necessary), or those who will simply read about it online, you witness Zachary's grandparents' anger and frustration with the courts and child protective services. I see similar frustration with my clients who are involved in any sort of court proceeding involving children. I've always empathized with their feelings, but as an attorney, I've never been able to divorce my emotions from the knowledge of the limitations of the law, the policy decisions behind the deliberate procedural slowness, and due process concerns, and reach a point of true sympathy. The emotional distance is a blessing and a curse, but this movie unflinchingly shows how it is a curse.

I venture to guess that a lot of attorneys, as well as other professionals, experience times when they are in a rut and don't feel the zeal that once drew them to work. I've been in a bit of a funk lately, not really related to work itself, but in trying to get the closing on my office building scheduled (slow bank + tight funds = tense me). I've just been a little more on edge as of late and I've not been as engaged with work as I like to be, and it's added to the emotional distance between myself and my clients.

Not to sound silly or cliche, but this movie has whipped me back to full attention, full engagement, and full vigor. I am an attorney, someone in whom others trust with their most sensitive problems, the problems that have gone on so long that they can no longer handle them alone. I provide people with information that I take for granted. I am in a unique position to help. Because I'm neck deep in it every day, and am around others who are in it every day, I sometimes forget that I'm in this unique position. But then I see something like this movie, and I'm reminded that I have the capacity- and the duty- to help.

Monday, February 21, 2011


As to be expected, a lot has changed on the work front since I last posted. Work is thankfully abundant, clients are paying as they are supposed to, and my husband's old job re-opened and he is back in a salaried position (which was our original plan when I first planned the office opening). I've gone from looking for a part-time job to bringing home more earnings last month than I was paid in a month at my last job. It's a great, fulfilling feeling.

Work has come from many unexpected places, like opposing counsel, parents of opposing parties, and old bosses. When you treat others with civility and in a professional manner, these positive traits rise above the argument of the day and these "opponents" trust you enough to send business your way. It's hard to remember to play nice while advocating for your client at times, but if you stay above the fray, it shows.

I know I have to keep hustling for the day this work slows down or dries up completely, but I'm confident that the work will come if I continue to take good care of my current clients. I'm a big believer in karma (and word-of-mouth advertising), so if I keep on keepin' on, good things are bound to come my way.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Don't Knock the Hustle

A quick update on the office- all is going pretty well. We've been open almost six months now, and between word of mouth recommendations with the locals and contract with my old firm, work has been steady and we're paying the bills.

Being the reasonable and prudent person I am (ha, get it?), I've decided I am going to get a small part-time job on the side (read: 10 hours a week, MAX!). I want to put back a little extra money for emergencies, and we simply aren't there yet with work in the office. I know it will come, but rather than sit idly by and wait for good fortune to show up, I'm getting a side gig.

This has not been a quick decision. I have debated whether a part-time job would undermine my reputation as an attorney. People seeking attorneys want one who is successful, both in reality and in appearance. Having an outside job might give potential clients the wrong impression, that I'm not very good and have to seek other work to make ends meet, which isn't the case. On the other hand, I know other attorneys with outside jobs, and the extra work hasn't impacted their legal reputation (not that I have heard of, anyway).

So I begin the search for a part-time job, preferably one that I'll enjoy. Since the job is not necessary, I'm going to be picky. I have already picked up an application for a position I think I'll like- playing with makeup all day!

Here's to making a little extra jingle!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hamburger v. Steak

It's been a while since I've posted. Here's a quick summary of what's happened in the past 4 months- I quit my old job and opened a law office. Business has gone pretty well so far, or well enough to pay the bills, anyway. Hubby and I have dropped cable, really cut back on eating out, refinanced our cars to lower the payments, and eat at least two dinners per week with our parents (who conveniently live en route to our office). With these changes, we've been able to make do with what we've been able to earn.

So far, the biggest challenge hasn't been legal- no mind-bending legal mysteries, no CSI-like crimes to defend- but rather has been learning to live on an uneven cash flow. As my fellow attorney Laura, who has her own office, told me recently, "It's always hamburger or steak." Although in our situation it feels more like ramen noodles or lunch meat, the analogy is still the same. I imagine any business goes through the same ebb and flow, but when you're used to a paycheck every two weeks, it's tough to adjust.

I know we'll make it. We may have to cut some more expenses or find extra work somewhere else, but we'll make it. *Throws beret into the air*

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Uncertain Self-Reliance v. Comfortable Misery

I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, then that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding.- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, Series I (Self-Reliance).

In law school, everyone fights for the ever-elusive "A," not for the sake of excelling, but for the promise of a clerkship in BigLaw, a "tower firm," with its high pay, expense accounts, and glory. I was not immune to the allure of getting my own BlackBerry, going to happy hour every other day, and making well over $10K in a summer. Beyond this, I think the true allure for law students and young lawyers is the appearance that these firms take care of you. Steady work and great pay.

My grades weren't quite BigLaw material, so I went to work for MediumLaw. The pay isn't as high, but neither are the hourly requirements. This has largely been a great arrangement: TONS of experience, lots of exposure across the eastern part of Kentucky and parts of West Virginia, and congenial co-workers, all of which are important for a young attorney.

Much like the fabled BigLaw, however, MediumLaw also has a nasty habit to taking advantage of the insecurities of young attorneys. You are asked to do more and more, but for the same pay. You do it in order to protect your fledgling reputation and to show the older attorneys that you're capable of handling a larger and more complicated workload, but there comes a time when you feel like a chump for working 60 hours when you're being paid for 40.

I've been frustrated at work for almost a year now. While I am grateful for the experience I've gained where I am and for the pretty decent pay, I feel like I should have a larger sense of accomplishment when I put in a hard day's/week's/month's work.

God, fate, karma, whatever you call it, apparently has sensed my frustration and has placed a path before me. It started with a chance conversation with a retired attorney who conducted a mediation in which I participated. He asked me where I was from, what I was doing now, and what I wanted to do long term. His office is in the county next to my home county, so he was familiar with the legal landscape there. He encouraged me to strike out on my own, as my hometown is an under-served area, the attorneys are all men of a certain age, and he was convinced that a young, smart attorney like myself would do well there.

I'm as cynical as anyone, so anytime I get a gushing compliment, I tend to look for an ulterior motive. But there was none here. This attorney is a former prosecutor and county attorney, and is as no-nonsense as I've ever met. The man smokes a corn cob pipe (really!) and has a deer head hanging in his office. As my husband would say, "He's the kind of guy who barbecues with a scowl on his face." He's not the bull-shitting type.

The idea of opening my own office had crossed my mind before, but would always be pushed out of the way with dreams of landing a job in BigLaw with big pay or a cushy government job with less pay but less stress and better benefits. Now, however, going on my own became a more serious option. I pitched the idea to my husband, who is also an attorney, and to my surprise, he was 100% on board. We're both risk-adverse, so the idea of trying to make it on our own is terrifying, but thrilling all at once.

Almost immediately, I began to scour the Internet to figure out what all I would need to get started: shredders, phones, bankruptcy filing software, desks, forms for filing my PSC or PLLC with the Secretary of State, so on and so forth. I ordered a book from the ABA, How to Start and Build a Law Practice (which has been GREAT, by the way). I was in it to win it.

The final push I needed came this past Friday. I decided to go to my hometown to look at available office space. I met with a realtor about a ridiculously cheap building that turned out to be nothing but rotting wood and mold. As we stepped out of that lawsuit waiting to happen, I asked him if he knew of any other space available for sale or rent, as I was thinking about opening a law office. He mentioned that the lease on his real estate office was ending in a little over a month. I told him I'd follow him there and take a look.

This office is perfect. It's on Main Street (literally), across the road from the courthouse, has lovely display windows (it was a department store in a former life), and the rent is ridiculously cheap. The kicker? The kindly realtor advised he wasn't opening another office to replace this one and didn't want to move and store the office furniture, so he offered it to me, no charge. Chairs, desks, conference table, bookshelves, a veritable start-your-own-law-office kit. For free. I was nearly speechless. My step-mother was not, as usual, and profusely thanked him, took almost half of his business cards and promised to spread his name far and wide (which she will).

I'm now anxiously awaiting the call from the company that manages the property. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that no one has beat me to it already. I would assume a realtor would be aware, more so than we non-realtor folks, if his office was already promised to someone else, but you never know.

I've been walking on air since Friday. I'm already drafting a business plan, thinking of all the people I will need to contact for business once I get started (all within the Rules of Professional Responsibility, of course), what font I want to use on my letterhead and office door, and in what areas I should and should not practice.

So I stand on the edge, ready to take a leap of faith. I'm not looking to become a billboard/phonebook staple. I just want to feel a sense of accomplishment when I lay down at night and a sense of purpose when I wake in the morning.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Experience v. Potential

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. -Benjamin Franklin (or Albert Einstein, depending on your source).

What part of the human mind convinces us that people we have known for many years will change their negative behavior? Is it our ego, believing that we are so wonderful that others will change to please us, or is it more altruistic, stemming from a desire to see everyone reach their true potential? I would love to think it is the latter, but my cynical side believes it is more likely the former.

My relationship with my mother has followed a fairly predictable pattern for many years: a period of intense attachment followed by a much longer period of complete separation. When she comes back on the scene, there are apologies, regrets for not keeping in touch, catching up, and eventually the making of grand plans to make up for lost time. We get together, reminisce and have a great time. Then nothing. No fight, no goodbyes, just nothing.

I will think about calling her, but usually talk myself out of it. She's the parent, I'm the child. She should call me. I shouldn't have to pursue her for a relationship. Or should I? As I approach 30, should I grow up and accept the responsibility of cultivating a relationship upon myself, or do I wait for her to finally do it herself?

I look to my step-mother for guidance in this situation. She's seen me through all parts of this cycle in the past. She's also been in the same situation, but with her now deceased father. During his final year, while his health was declining, she visited him most days of the week, cared for him and tried to get to know him better. When he finally passed, she went back and forth between feelings of regret and anger. She wanted to forgive him and have a relationship, yet couldn't bring herself to do it. I wonder if I will have that same regret if I don't take a proactive stance with my mother. Knowing me, I probably will.

So I stand, facing the start of another cycle. I want to believe it will be better this time. I want to try to make it better this time. That's not crazy, is it?