Tag Archives: lawyers

2018 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 2

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy   

This is a short novel about the death of a worldly, high court judge in Russia and the reaction of the people around him. The book was beautiful, though even as I write that I realize how odd it sounds. A story about a self-absorbed man dying? Beautiful? Yet it was. It was beautiful because Tolstoy captures how death makes humans sympathetic, even the most insufferable among us.

Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals

This is a powerful memoir about one girl’s experience during a year of forced integration in Little Rock, Arkansas. I read some of the cases in law school, but it is a different thing to hear it from a 15 year old’s perspective. Whether or not you agree with the politics, it makes for an interesting, thought-provoking read. (Also, I found the book so absorbing I had to remind myself that this was Real Life and not Fiction, so I couldn’t be disappointed when my ship died.) I almost put this book in the Mid Blowing Reads category, and it still might belong there. It is one of those excellent memoirs that places one individual’s experience within the broader changes of history and in the process really makes history personal. (I will say as warning, there is one scene that does make it inappropriate for younger readers.)  

Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This was a powerful, sweet memoir about baseball and childhood. Goodwin recounts her experience as a kid in the 1950s, bonding over baseball with her Dad and reading with her Mom. It doesn’t feel anywhere close to 272 pages. This is the story of childhood innocence, New York, and the rivalry of Dodger, Giant, and Yankee fans. It is brief, sweet, and memorable.

I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

As a fifteen year old, Malala was shot in the head at point-blank range by the Taliban. Her crime? Seeking an education as a female in Pakistan. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this book and I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve heard Malala’s story; it is a powerful one. She makes it even more powerful, however, by allowing her passion for her country to come through in her writing. She talks about Pakistan’s conflicts, history, and beauty. Her love is strong and because it is strong, she cuts through the hate, misinterpretation, and confusion and allows her readers to see and love her country too.

Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges by Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner

Justice Scalia and his thoughts on two skills courtroom lawyers must develop: persuasive thinking and persuasive writing. It is a practical and interesting book for lawyers. I particularly appreciated the portions about brief writing, as that carries the most immediate use for me. Potentially useful for non-lawyers but not perhaps my first recommendation.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Like many celebrity memoirs, I picked this book up without a clue as to who Felicia Day was. But I loved the title. And honestly, I ended up loving the book. I mean, she was homeschooled! ME TOO. All her friends in high school came from the internet! SAME! After graduating, she moved to Hollywood to pursue stardom! Oh wait, not me. In fact, once Day left high school, this book ceased to be relatable, but never ceased to be enjoyable. Initially, I liked it because of it reminded me of, well, me. Yet as she opens up about her anxiety and depression, I was reminded of many of my close friends and the world they live in that I often struggle to understand. I feel like Felicia Day’s writing helped bridge that gap a little. Not a perfect book, a little vulgar at times, but one that hit close to home and made me chuckle often. I may not be a gamer, but I sure know what it is like to have all your friends come from the internet. It is fun to find someone else who understands.

(Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BETHANY!!!!)


Not the CEO

I thought I was done geeking out about the Strength Finders test. But I’m not. 

I learned something new about myself today!

The Strength Finders test measures strengths based on 34 different attributes. So much I knew. (As previously blogged, my top five are Strategic, Communication, Positivity, Learner, and Input.) However, what I didn’t know was that Clifton Strengths classifies those 34 attributes into 4 different types: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking

The sheet I received describes the types like this: People with dominant Executing themes know how to make things happen. People with dominant Influencing themes know how to take charge, speak up, and make sure that the team is heard. People with dominant Relationship Building themes have the ability to build stronger relationships that can hold a team together and make the team greater than the sum of its parts. People with dominant Strategic Thinking themes help teams consider what could be. They absorb and analyze information that can inform better decisions. 

Guess what I learned? I do not have a single strength in Executing. Not this time I took the test. Not the last time. I guess not ever! 

Slightly less shocking given my recent discoveries, my dominant strength comes from Strategic Thinking. I absorb facts and find problems. I look for solutions. I’m happiest and most effective when doing this. I do not know about Amy 2017, but that sure describes Amy 2018. 

And I think I am okay with that. 

Strategic Thinking doesn’t sound like me. It sounds like someone who likes math, or plays chess, or runs the War Department. But I guess it also sounds like someone who loves writing research papers and playing Sudoku and growing community field offices. So that’s me. 

My results illustrate two other things about me that I did not previously realize: 

1. Leadership Style.

When I think of leaders, I think of the executive type. Those people know how to get things done. They have descriptors like Achiever, Arranger, Discipline, and Responsibility. I want those strengths and to be the sort of person who leads others with a single-focused drive. But that isn’t me.

Just because I am not an executive leader doesn’t mean I am not a leader, though. My leadership skills reflect big-picture problem solving. I plot. I plan. Sometimes I even follow through on those plans. I am less the executive CEO type…and more the in house legal consultant. (Hey, that’s convenient!) 

2. I might not be as entrepreneurial as I thought. 

I love entrepreneurs. I want to be one. But when I started thinking about my strengths, the lack of executing stands out pretty strongly. It also explains some of my previous difficulties running a field office. Just because I can see a problem does not mean I am good at fixing it. I need to work with others who can. 

No one functions entirely solo, but turns out I really can’t. I would never accomplish anything and I would unhappy if I tried. It isn’t the way I am wired. Far from depressing me, I find the realization somewhat freeing. I do not need to build, or accomplish, anything on my own. I am most effective when working with others.

I suppose that is probably true for everyone, but I still find it gratifying. I do not need to partner with an Executing type because I am weaker or underdeveloped in that area, but because I am better and more fulfilled doing something else. Heck, that’s the beauty of the free market. I do not know why it surprises me so much to find that in my everyday life!

On a more personal level, my discovery looks like this: Maybe I do not actually want to start my own law firm like I thought. Maybe that was the expectation I placed on myself because I am not a natural, executing leader but I still want the independence that comes with authority. So I told myself I needed to start a law firm to gain that independence. You know what that tells me, though? Independence is the value I crave, not authority. 

Where does that leave me? Somewhere between a need for others and a desire for independence. I do not know what that looks like yet, but I do know that when I find that sweet spot, I will be set


Chemical Imbalance and the Law

I recently finished Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. In the book, Sinek demonstrates how work environments impact five different chemicals in the human body: Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Cortisol. Endorphins mask physical pain with pleasure in times of stress or fear (the “runner’s high”). Dopamine rewards goal oriented behavior with a rush of pleasure when we complete something we set out to do. Serotonin releases feelings of pride and pleasure when we feel like people like or respect us. Oxytocin generates a sense of love, friendship, or deep contentment when we see people we like and trust. Cortisol triggers flight or fight instincts in times of high stress or danger.

Since these chemicals impact the way humans survive and interact with one another, they play an important role in work environments. High stress, competitive environments where employees feel powerless and pressured to produce big or risk losing their jobs produce unhealthy, chemically imbalanced workers. This imbalance applies to CEOs and janitors alike, regardless of perceived job pressure. (In fact, the imbalance likely impacts the janitor more if he feels powerless to change the situation.)

In jobs that emphasize short-term results over long-term relationships, workers depend on their survival chemicals: Endorphins, Dopamine, and Cortisol. This creates an environment where people live in a “flight or fight” mentality and are constantly stressed about meeting high goals and expectations. When Cortisol is released, the body shuts down “unnecessary” systems, including the immune system. This impacts a person’s physical and mental well-being. However, because of Endorphins and Dopamine, it doesn’t feel like a constant barrage. It can feel good and even addicting. These chemicals, however, only mask the damage caused by stress, they don’t fix it.

Further, with work environments that foster uncertainty and anxiety come lowered levels of Serotonin and Oxytocin – meaning people feel less appreciated, content, and socially engaged at work. Where jobs are highly competitive, employees view each other as competitors instead of allies. People feel less comfortable sharing ideas, making mistakes, or collaborating on projects. This impacts not only a company’s ability to thrive, but the individual’s.

A prime example of an unhealthy business environment would be General Electric at the end of the 1980s. At the end of each year, the bottom 10% of GE managers whose divisions contributed least to the company’s share price were fired. If the bottom 10% automatically get fired and you see someone struggling, would you help them out? Probably not. You would be putting your own job at risk.

However, more than isolating employees, such environments also foster unethical behavior. When short-term goals matter above all else, things like honesty, integrity, and compliance fall to the wayside. People focus on survival, and when that behavior gets rewarded, they get a Dopamine hit and continue to behave that way. Spread out over time, this behavior leads to corruption and the eventual downfall of a company.

As an avid reader of business books that emphasize the importance of culture, Sinek’s analysis did not surprise me. It shouldn’t surprise you either. People want fulfilling jobs. Humans weren’t designed for constant, high-level stress. It is easy to recognize bad practices in a business.

Yet this stressful, high-pressure, chemically imbalanced environment reflects the very culture that is expected, even rewarded, in the legal profession.

Want to go “big law”? Think long hours and high stress loads. Want to work in criminal law? Prosecutor or defense attorney, someone’s freedom now depends on you. Want to work at a boutique firm, or even start your own law firm? Gotta make sure you make enough to pay off those heavy student loans. How do you pay those off? You take on more jobs, create a higher stress load, and keep going, going, going. For each client, you must strive for justice. Money is at stake. Freedom is at stake. Your ability, or lack of ability, impacts countless lives.

Is it any wonder the legal profession is rife with alcoholism and ranks third in suicides behind doctors and dentists?

The pressure doesn’t begin once you land your first job: it starts pre-law school. Where you work often depends on where you go to law school. The best jobs go to the best schools. Early on driven, goal-oriented people with a natural affinity for Dopamine stand out and get into the schools. Once in the school, the best employers take only the best students. This is the way of the world. You are now competing against your classmates, and because law school grades on a curve, this isn’t a place where everyone can do well. You either receive one of the scarce As, or you don’t. If there are limited As, are you going to help your classmate get one? Not if it hurts your chances. Goodbye Serotonin and Oxytocin, this is not the place for you.

Law school is 3 years. For 3 years, you can survive anything, right? You can survive finals worth 100% of your grade (STRESSSSS!) You can survive competitive classmates and high interest rates on your loans. You can survive…sure, your Cortisol is firing but your Endorphins and Dopamine tell you it is okay. And maybe it would be okay if it actually ended in 3 years, but that isn’t the way the legal profession works. In the real world, law school is child’s play. But this too will be okay, you’ve learned to cope. Probably through alcohol. Definitely through something addictive. Want to make partner in a firm? Want to save the world? Of course you do. Time to get to work. Hit me with the Dopamine.

What happens in the business world when the wrong things get incentivized? Companies become corrupt and self-destruct. Now imagine what happens when you wrongly incentive a whole profession.

Is it any wonder lawyers get a bad rap? Lawyers are stigmatized as ethic-less and money-hungry. Yet the law is designed as an adversarial system where every case comes with high stakes and in law school we are taught to deal with that pressure through isolation and alcoholism. Culturally, we’ve created a chemically imbalanced environment for the very people we entrust with justice. I am sure there are lawyers and law firms that overcome this. There might even be law schools out there seeking balance. It is still a huge problem, however, and not one that only affects those who “have a personality for the law.” Just take a look at our justice system.

I don’t know what the solution is, or if there even is one. I do know that change needs to happen and it needs to start in our law schools. 


Midterm Musings

I accidentally gave up coffee again. I really didn’t mean to, but here a week has gone by and I haven’t had a drop. I used to drink at least three cups a day. There is something comforting in the thought that I can fall out of my bad habits quite as easily as my good ones.

The problem started with midterms. I had my first ever law school exam on Monday. The Thursday before, I started throwing up and blamed a 24 hour bug. By Saturday, I acknowledged that it was probably nerves (and possibly coffee withdrawal.) I remained nauseous through Tuesday morning.

I have never been someone with test anxiety so it is rather embarrassing to experience it now. I find it perfectly understandable that someone else might be nervous, but me? The thought takes me down a peg.

Or six.

So goes law school. I want to blog more but attending law school is a lot like walking fast up a steep hill in high heels. I know I am getting somewhere, and I will have great calves when I get there, but in the moment I am afraid that if I try and talk about it, all you will hear are my gasps and sobs. 

My brain knows that this all part of a bigger process, but I am not sure my heart does yet. I am broken down to be built up. I will eventually reach the top of the hill and it will be worth it. However, here in the weeds, it is easy to forget that. Emotionally I feel drained. My habits, good and bad, are erratic and the thought of quitting crosses my mind at least once a day. I feel socially isolated and academically unmotivated. The future seems dim and uncertain. I have always been the girl with a goal, now my goals shift and flutter and fall apart. 

Everyone tells me that I am normal, that this is just the way law school is. Sometimes that knowledge helps, sometimes not. After all, I did not come here to be everyone else. Yet, at the same time, it is comforting. The faculty and staff here get it. They went through this. The 2 and 3Ls may smirk knowingly, but at the end of the day, they survived. I will too. 

Amidst my  angst and uncertainty, there still remains an unshakable confidence. I like being here. I am happy. I am challenged. I don’t want to quit (usually.) The law is fun and I am learning interesting things. This is a world I enjoy being part of. I like the fast-paced learning style and the substantial amount of stuff I know now that I did not know two months ago. I can see my progress quite easily.

The disconnect comes when I turn around and try to see my future. People at the law school always ask me what kind of law I want to practice, and then tell me that no one actually knows anyway, so if you do know, you don’t know, so don’t stress. Simple, right? If only. It is a weird mix of “don’t have a plan” but simultaneously “try everything so you can make a plan.” Oh, but also, “don’t overwhelm yourself.” Yet while not overwhelming yourself, “MAKE SURE YOU GET GOOD GRADES.” Ahhhh, but there is a curve, so statistically, you won’t make good grades. But that is okay, because everybody gets a job eventually. (Probably.) Now go figure out what kind of law you want to practice, so that you can network in that area. But remember, don’t have a plan.  

Is it any wonder the law is full of alcoholics? 

In this mess, I got nauseous and stressed and accidentally gave up coffee. Now I think I should make a concerted effort to stay off it. The last thing I need is another stimulus. We’ll see how long this good intention lasts!  With the way life has been going, I may be downing six cups tomorrow. 

I think I will make it a little longer than that, though. 


The Overabundant Emotions of Orientation

What a week it has been! 

Orientations are always a little awkward. New school, new place, new people. I find it extremely stressful. As a rule, I like people. However, the balancing act of making a good first impression (over and over and over again), while scouting potential friends and study buddies, while also attempting to find the bathroom is a little bit too much for me. By the end of the day, I’m exhausted and frustrated and convinced everything went horrendously wrong. Then I wake up the next morning and discover that the world has not, in fact, ended and that I’m energized and ready to try again. After all, it has only been 24 hours. New friends, here I come. 

But it is hard to make friends. First strangers must become acquaintances, and then acquaintances must be developed and nurtured into friends. This can take time. I want immediacy. Frustration creeps in. I start to convince myself that I am not going to make any friends, that I’m isolated…and then I remember. I only met these people 48 hours ago. I need to give it time. 

But you see, it doesn’t feel like 48 hours. It feels like a lifetime. By the end of the day I’m exhausted. I don’t want to attend the optional, evening events my classmates are attending. I don’t want to join them as they go from bar to bar. Their idea of a good time is not my idea of a good time. I start worrying that they will all bond without me but I’m just Too. Dang. Tired. to care. I need alone time to put things back into perspective. It has only been 72 hours. I have 3 years to make friends. 

And so I stress myself out. I worry that I should be more social and then I worry because I don’t want to be social. I’m tired of small talk but I want what small talk can eventually brings…deep conversations. 

How to describe orientation? Bewildering and isolating. And yet…there are those moments that make it worth it. Like exploring the library. I’m so excited about the law library. I could (and probably will!) spend hours down there. There are so many books with dry sounding titles that make my mouth water. I’m so eager to dig into legal theory and jurisprudence that it will be a struggle to prioritize my actual studies of contracts and civil procedures.  I’m not worried though. Those things fascinate me too. I’m going to take advantage of this legal education. 

The law librarians also make orientation better. They are wonderful. So are the professors I’ve met. I can’t wait for them to start keeping office hours so I can drop by and talk. It is hard to stay discouraged when I feel so confident about what I’m doing. The law is definitely the subject for me! The more I hear, the more encouraged I am. I am more and more convinced that this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. 

Friends will come. When not overtired, I’m confident in this too. It will just take time. After all, I have only known them for 4 days.

That is my week in a nutshell. Don’t worry, I’m not nearly as emotionally unstable as I sound! I’m just impatient (and prone to dramatics.) Classes start Wednesday and they are going to be awesome. Blogging is very cathartic. I remember why I used to do this every day. Hopefully you’ll be hearing from me more consistently! 


What Good Are Ambulance Chasers Anyway?

There are a lot of schmarmy looking lawyers on TV. You know who I am talking about. They smile winsomely at the camera, their salt and pepper hair clipped short, assertively proclaiming that you are being denied your rights.

“If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident…”

“If you’ve been denied disability from the government…”

“If you died taking a harmful medication…”

They are the ones to talk to. No fees unless they win the case! Then they turn serious and cross their arms…the defenders of justice, the righters of wrongs, must always cross their arms if it is a TV commercial or a billboard. I suppose they’d do it on the radio if you could see. Because they are trustworthy.

Except they don’t seem very trustworthy. They seem…well, schmarmy. Who calls those toll free numbers anyway? You know plenty of people who were denied disability for a perfectly good reason call that number. How many of those success stories can be believed? The thousands of dollars pouring into the innocent victims’ pockets…it just strikes a weird cord. And there are so many commercials! What good do they do? No wonder lawyers get a bad rap!

Despite their annoyingness, cheesiness, and possibly even downright creepiness, there is another element to these commercials. I don’t know if the stories are real, or relevant, or a waste of time. They do, however, play an important role in promoting our democracy. Our government was created on the basis of a Western legal tradition. It was not something that developed over night. It took the combined efforts of precedence and identification to cultivate and sustain the freedom we take for granted today.

To adequately reap the benefits of our legal system, freedom must be maintained. To maintain freedom, there must be a legal field of right and wrong…laws. Politics becomes important as those laws develop but that is a post for another day. What I want you to grasp is the balance that must be upheld for our society to flourish. There must be law to keep order, but there must also be a way to keep order from getting out of hand and squashing freedom.

Those lawyers on TV represent part of the way our society does that. Sometimes, you are unfairly denied disability from the government. Sometimes, you die from taking harmful medication. There are innocent victims out there. There are also a lot of crooks, cheats, and leaches that take advantage of the system. It offends the sensibilities that the two get mixed together. However, both must be defended because to remove that right is to remove our freedom. Democracy may not be the neatest system. People fall through the cracks or take advantage of the system. They must have their say in court anyway. To ignore it is to become a despotic state, unable to help anyone. Why do we need defense lawyers? Because even the guilty must get justice. Why do we need ambulance chasers? Because in the end, fraudulently or innocently, our system must continue to maintain freedoms and precedence and part of that is having a system in place to fairly keep order.

I don’t expect you to change your mind about lawyers, or bad commercials, or the supposed benefits being denied. I don’t really like them much myself. I do hope, however, that the next time a commercial comes on telling you that there are no fees until the case is won!…that you will pause and think. There is something bigger at work. As humans we are fallen, dishonest, and sometimes schmarmy creatures. Time and generations have tackled the problem, though, case by case, year by year, and we have a system that stands through it. We have courts and we have freedom. Our system is not perfect, but we are guaranteed much of what we take for granted because of it.