Wednesday, June 30, 2010
During my research project, I realized how much reading case law is second nature to me. I can (and sometimes do) pick up a stack of cases and skim through it flippantly during my lunch break in search of something relevant to an issue I'm dealing with. I can even do this while scarfing down a bowl of raisin, date and walnut oatmeal, sipping Det Dr. Pepper, and catching up on my emails. Reading caselaw is just a routine part of my life.
BUT. To this day, I can STILL remember the very first time I ever read a legal opinion. Not just a nicely edited portion of an opinion conveniently printed in a caselaw book- but an actual case, printed in full from a legal report.
It's clear to me now that an essential part of lawschool is the hazing of not knowing what the hell you're doing. In this respect, lawschool totally prepares you for a shining career in the legal field. In fact, I think the motto of legal education across the country should be "if you think you know what you're doing, you're probably doing it wrong" or "if you have no clue what's going on, you're in the right place." Anyway, back to reading caselaw.... If you look up the definition of legal career, the words "on the job training" should be the first thing you read.
The first time a lawstudent reads an actual case is a major milestone, fundamental to the experience of becoming a lawyer. Or, at the very least, a definingly traumatic experience. For me, it was scary, exciting and adventurous. And I believe the accompanying feeling of utter confusion it brought may never be rivaled.
The first law case I ever read was Marbury v. Madison (boy, what a doozy for a first time caselaw reader). (Tangent: The second case I ever read was Pierson v. Post. Seriously? One person sued another person over a dead fox? Moral of the story-- "fox killers always prosper?"). The day before my first 1L lawschool class, I opened up and printed the case. And... I couldn't get past the first page without thinking I was reading something in code or foreign language.
The caption was intimidating and scary- what did it all mean? What is a plaintiff? What is a defendant. What are the justices saying? Are they writing in latin? Then I remember how amazed I was when my Professor unravelled the case for me, dissecting it piece by piece. I remember how awestruck I was to learn that just the name of a case tells you who was suing who and where and when. I was amazed to discover that the seemingly incoherent document I read the night before actually meant something, and it meant something rather significant in the field of law.
I clearly remember looking at the jibberish contained within that first case, reading it diligently all the way through and still not knowing who had "won" the suit? In fact, I can't tell you how many times I did this my first semester of law school.
"So a case is 'remanded'.... wait, who wins again?" (Sound familiar?)
Looking back at where I was before lawschool, before I was consumed by the strange requirement to read case law, it's not hard to be amazed at how much has become second nature and fundamental to what I do on a daily basis. Without remembering how far I've come, it's so easy to take for granted all the stuff that I've learned that lead me to where I am now.
Practicing law is such a wild, exhilarating ride. Or I could just be a total nerd.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I love each of Jacob's new stages. He's funny, smart, charming, sweet and mischevious. He tells us "I love you" (or at least, "I lub oo"). He picks up and copies our mannerisms, like holding up his hands when he asks where something "went." He also copies our phrases like "how about this." The other day he asked me for a sucker. After I told him no, he smiled, cocked his head coyly to the side and said, "Please mommy. I like sucker." Of course, I instantly gave in. Who can resist the sweet voice and head tilt?
But with each new stage of Jacob that I come to know and love, I still yearn for that little baby I once knew. The one who crawled across the living room floor. The one with the baby talk. The one with the fat, rolly legs. I know I can have another baby and that might be what this feeling is about- me telling myself I'm ready for another one. But, at the same time, I don't want just ANY baby. I'm yearning specifically for the baby that I once knew. The one that has grown up into such a handsome little toddler. It's silly to feel this way when I have such a thriving, healthy boy who adds to much joy to our lives, but I can't help it.
It reminds me that he's going to be changing for the rest of his life. He will still always be the same person but he's going to grow up so much that the person he eventually becomes will be unrecognizable as the boy he is now. That is exciting and kinda sad at the same time. I want to bottle him up and always remember him. I hate relying on my fuzzy and faulty memory for a sense of the baby he used to be and the toddler he is now.
Aint that just life?! As moms, we're doomed to fall desperately in love with something that is always changing, becoming more independent and growing more and more away from us. And it's our very love, care and guidance (and success as moms) that gives them the ability to set out on their own and live their own lives. UGH! Life's so not fair!
Friday, June 25, 2010
Q: Do you have any specialized training or education in [relevant construction field]?
A: Not really. I did take a night class in car mechanics.
Q: So, if I heard you correctly, you plan on providing an opinion regarding the allegedly defective siding and roofing on this project, correct?
Q: So what, in your opinion, are the defects with regards to siding and roofing?
A: I have no idea what the issue with the siding is. And the roof, well, I have no clue what's going on there.
Q: So, what are you going to testify as to the standard of care of the [relevant party] in this case?
A: What do you mean by "standard of care?"
Q: I mean the level of conduct they are required to follow, their workmanship or professionalism.
A: I guess, well, I'm still not sure what you mean. Like whether they did all the work in their contract?
Q: I mean, are you going to say whether or not they performed their work in a professional, or workmanlike manner?
A: I'm sorry, I still don't understand what you are asking.
An expert who has no idea what a standard of care is? OMG.
Q: Are you going to testify about causation?
A: I'm, sorry I don't understand.
Q: Are you going to testify about whether a party's work caused the alleged damages?
A: I'm sorry, I still don't get it. Can you take the legalese out of your question.
And my personal favorite:
Q: How did you come to your conclusion that the [relevant pary] used sufficient and not excessive force in pressure washing the building? Did you do any calculations or analysis?
A: Well, that's just what I think and I spray my house with a hose all the time-- I do it to kill bees.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
So Partner sends me an email asking for my assistance in preparing for trial. Then Associate walks into my office:
Associate: "Hey, did you get Partner's email? Do you know what you need to help with?"
Me: "Yes, I got it right here. Prepare jury instructions and.... motions in lime?"
Associate: "Um, you mean 'motions in limine.' Do you think you can handle those? I'll give you all the prior status reports and pleadings that you will need."
Me: "Sure, no problem. Actually, I'm pretty excited."
Associate walks out of my office. I take a big breath, turn to my computer screen and immediately google "motions in limine." This is the epitome of being thrown into practice. You get to work on assignments you never knew existed with names you can barely pronounce. Like voir dire....who the hell came up with that term?
Then there's the jury instructions. The first ten jury instructions were kind of fun. You have to establish the elements and burdens of proof for each claim and try to present them in a coherent fashion to the jury. Except the pattern jury instructions are dripping with legalese. I re-read them and kept thinking to myself- really? I barely understand this definition of proximate cause and I went to lawschool. You're going to pull 12 random people off the street and talk to them about superceding causes unbroken by a direct chain of sequential events? Good luck with that. I might as well write all these jury instructions in Chinese. The jury can just decide which party is correct by which witnesses have the most realistic looking toupes.
Also, I have a beef with exhibit lists. Can someone please explain to me why I have to review an "exhibit list" containing 997 exhibits? Seriously? My poor brain can't handle it all. Why do we even need exhibits? I mean people swear to tell the truth (the whole truth and nothin' but the truth) anyway, right (ha ha)?
After I'm done with all that, I get to work on voir dire questions and a trial brief. Cool huh? Actually, I have no idea because I have never seen a single set of voir dire questions and I have no idea what a trial brief is! Let the fun begin!
The crazy thing is that most cases never get this close to trial. Many lawyers never really get a chance to do trial prep work. I should feel lucky that I get some of this experience so early on in my career. But I can't help but be amazed at how much of the trial prep for this high stakes case is being done by lawyers who have no idea what they are doing (me!). Then I reemember, in the field of law, you never have all the answers.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
We found out that one of Jacob's grandmas might not be able to watch him anymore. During the work week Jacob spends half the time with my mom and half the time with my husband's mom. We've been so blessed that he is being watched by people who love him almost as much as we do. And we've been so fortunate that we haven't had to pay a small fortune in child care. With our mortgage and my student loans, it would be rough.
So, right now we're re-thinking our child care options. We only need to find child care for twice a week but it's still stressing me out. The thought of leaving Jacob with someone who is not family for 11 hours a day (7am to 6pm) is totally weighing on my mind and filling me with guilt. Then there's the cost. Then there's the ever present but usually dormant thought that maybe I'm making the wrong decision by going to work. And then there's the fact that we want to add to our family soon, so the guilt and the cost will likely double. It all makes my stomach churn.
I keep reassuring myself that anytime I feel that I need to, I can quit my job. Quit my career. We could survive off my husband's salary if I took a mindless part time job to cover my monthly student loans. But I love my career. I could never find another job I enjoy this much. And I've worked SO hard to get this far. I worked my BUTT off to get where I am now. Can I just throw it all away- is that even responsible considering my $120K in student loans- in order to satisfy the little nibbles of guilt that come and go?
I think I have to accept the fact that I will never be 100% at ease with my decisions no matter which path I take. But it just plain sucks. I just want to know what's "right." But in life, just as in the practice of law, there is never a simple "right" answer. Life and law are all about muddling through.
Sidenote: We had a great Father's Day weekend. We went on a seaplane tour of Seattle and then had a three course meal on Lake Union!
Thursday, June 17, 2010
And guess what I get to do today? Resume document review of 27 banker boxes full of construction documents! I started this task yesterday and I only got through about 8 boxes for the entire day. In total, I reviewed 4 years worth of construction meeting minutes, 2 years worth of change orders, and god-only-knows how much random correspondence. UGH. 19 more boxes of awesomeness to go. Opposing counsel did their review of these boxes in one day- with 6 people helping out. I get to do it in 2 days, by myself. YAY! (not).
So, you know what's not so awesome about finally having a bar number? Opposing counsel gets to see how new your bar number is and try to take advantage of you. It's pretty much a lovely walk in the park with a rainbow sno-cone....
Weeks ago I was tasked with scheduling this awesome document review project with opposing counsel. The documents are at a third party counsel's office (this party already settled out of the case). After working with everyone and their important schedules, I finally got a week set aside for the doc review. Weeks later and one day before opposing counsel is supposed to review the files (it just worked out that they were scheduled to review first) a partner from opposing counsel's office calls me up all frantic-like. He claims he wasn't involved in the whole scheduling process and begged me to switch days with opposing counsel.
I was a little bit excited to have a partner from opposing counsel's office call me. See, I'm IMPORTANT now. I have a BAR NUMBER. (insert head inflate). So I decided to be nice and accomodate him. This is what that complying with the "spirit of discovery" is all about right? So I agree to switch days and we both left the conversation satisfied. However, I did think it was odd that instead of just rescheduling his day for review he specifically asked me if I would take his day so he could take my day.
I pop into Partner's office to let him know about the schedule change. Partner looks at me and asks, "did he say why he couldn't go tomorrow?" I reply, "No, he just told me he had a conflict and asked if I could go first." Then Partner looks at me again and with this wise old expression on his face (except he's not really old and, in fact, he's kid of hot- in a partner-sort-of-way) he says, "I think he wanted you to go first so he could copy all the documents you flagged."
That's when it all made sense. DUH. Why else wouldn't he just reschedule with the third party who has the documents? Why else would he make a specific effort to call me and request to switch days? on the phone he was so pleasant and I thought I was doing him a major favor. But to find out that he was swindling me the whole time- UGH! I feel so burned!
So what did Partner and I decide to do? We called third party with the documents, and rescheduled our review for later in the week (to be honest, we weren't prepared to view the documents one day early because we were waiting for a phone call from our client regarding what we should be looking for). Small victories are important in the practice of law. Especially when you are staring into the heart of a mountainous pile of banker boxes awaiting your review.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
I feel so official! I never knew five little numbers could have such an effect! I almost feel like a different person. Later in the afternoon, I had to make several calls about a discovery issue. When I introduced myself over the phone, I made a very special effort to mention that I was an attorney working for Firm X as opposing to just "Cee from Firm X."
I've only been an admitted attorney for one day and my head has already doubled in size.
Tomorrow I get to sign my very first pleading which will be an Answer in a small claim personal injury lawsuit. I think this is a worthy occasion to bust out my talking Napolean Dynamite pen.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Friday, June 11, 2010
When I'm in the office, I can't help but look around at all the associates without families and totally envy them. They have no problem billing their hours. They can stay until 7, or 9, or even 11pm getting all their work done. Then they can saunter home whenever they feel like and pass out cold, or whatever else their hearts desire. They always seem knee-deep in their work. They always seem focused. They have less distractions. They have the corner office next to the partners. They get handed the more complex cases. They probably even make more. They can automatically RSVP "yes" to all after hourse office functions, whether it be happy hour with the partners, conferences, marketing gimmicks to meet new clients. When the partners say "do this," they can have it done the next day.
I compare their work and lifestyle to mine and I think I need to be like them to really exceed expectations at my firm. I need to become my job. Maybe that's not true. In fact, I used to believe just the opposite. You know what though, if time was abundant, I think the career-advancing playing field would be more level between associates with families and those without. If I had as many hours as I needed to finish my work, bill my hours, attend work-social function, play with my kid, do the dishes and laundry, tuck my kid in, spend quality time with my husband, enjoy a little "me" time and sleep, I could easily be as successful as anyone out there.
Lately I feel like I've had to give up so many "me" activities. And it's making me feel rundown and blah. I don't get to work out very often. I don't get enough sleep. I barely get any chores done. I've stayed late at the office three times this week but it doesn't matter. No matter how much time and energy I sacrifice to the JOB, I feel like I'm STILL spread too thin all over the place and STILL behind at work. My sacrifices just don't feel worth it.
I'm not really that bitter though. When I look around at the associates without families, I realize that I may envy them sometimes but I'd never switch places with them. I have this amazing second life at home. This life away from work is so amazing and so rewarding. My son is literally the highlight of my life. He's the real purpose of my life- work is just something that I enjoy that keeps me busy and eating. If Jacob turns out to be the only legacy I leave behind and the only thing I really accomplish, I might just be ok with that.
That said, I wonder if how I feel would change if I was a stay at home mom. Would I look at my family life less fondly? With less amazement? Does it only seem so wondeful because I don't get enough of it? That I don't know. But I do know that I'm glad to have a reason to leave the office at 5pm. I'm ecstatic that I get to come home to cuddles and hugs and daily adventures with my son. If I have to say "no" to a work function, I'm thrilled it's because I have a date planned with my husband. When I'm distracted at work I'm glad that it's because I'm thinking and worrying about these guys:
Monday, June 7, 2010
I disliked the name so much I even considered having my own kid call me something else. But that didn't work. In my mind and for reasons I cannot explain to you now, "mama" and all the other alternatives seemed even worse than "mom." Still, I couldn't fathom what it would be like to have someone call me "mom." The thought left a strange taste in my mouth.
Now, almost 2 years later, hearing the words "mama" come out of my son's mouth is up there with my top most favorite things in the world. I swear to you, there is no sweeter sound than hearing Jacob call me "mama." Whether he walks up to me for no particular reason, cheerfully exclaiming, "Hi Mama!" Or whether he is crying my name after a fall or in protest of his bed time. I especially love when he reaches his hands up to me and says "Mama, hold you!" It melts my heart every time.
I didn't love it overnight though. I had to grow into the name about as much as I had to grow into the role. When my son was a newborn and someone would hand him to me saying, "he wants his mama," I would internally recoil. (Not at my son, just at the word). "Really? Do I look like a mama? Because I don't feel like someone who would be called a mama." It wasn't until my son started to talk and refer to me as "mama" that I started to warm to the word. The way he said it just dripped with babycheek-pinching sweetness (oh my gosh, yes, I became one of those people who pinches their kid's cheeks- help!).
Recently, my husband shared with me how much he loves when Jacob looks at him and says, "Da-da!" And I knew exactly what he was talking about. Maybe hearing your child call you "mama" or "dada" is so pleasant because it conveys a sense of belonging, connection or attachment. Maybe it evidences that special bond that only a parent can truly have with another human being: the bond of creation or the bond of sharing the same flesh as another person (but I'm sure non-biological parents feel the same way). Maybe it has to do with an instinct, ownership or a feeling of pride. Or maybe it just has to do with the cuteness that radiates from every square milimeter of my kid's skin surface area (that's the closest I will ever come to doing math on this blog).
All I know is that whatever IT is, IT is so very strong. I could be dead set not to let my son have another cookie. I can be firmly planted in my decision not to let him watch Elmo. I could be determined not rush and pick him up and baby him each time that he falls down. But all he has to do is reach for me and cry "mama" and the game is over, I'm powerless. Clearly, I will not be the disciplinarian in this family.
Our clients are VERY strict about what bills they will pay. I have to word my billing entries just perfectly if I want them to be accepted as a legitimate billing task. It's a steep learning curve. And we get audited quite often- just think of the billable hours I lose from reviewing my time entries, correcting my audited entries and appealing their denial of my time entries.
I think you all are right that generally, associates should not be cutting their own time. In general, I don't do this unless a partner specifically tells me I can't bill more than X hours for a certain task. For example: one partner wanted me to put together a checklist and memo about how to subpoena non-parties. He told me this was not billable. When I had to put together a subpoena, he instructed me that whenever he's the partner on the case, a task like this cannot be billed at more than a .1. Yeah, that's 6 minutes for something that took me 30 minutes to do. This problem doesn't come up very often though and I know as I do more of these things I will become more efficient. (For the person who asked about stipulations: we generally will see if the other side will stipulate to provide records. If they won't, then we will subpoena the records from the party who maintains them. In my experience, plaintiffs will usually stipulate to authorize the release of medical records unless they have prior injuries and want to keep them from being discovered.)
Another billing problem is purely the result of me being at the bottom of the totem pole. When there are non-billable, non-client related marketing projects, those tasks generally will fall on me until the firm hires someone who is greener than I am.
So I know this billable hour thing will get easier when I become more experienced and when the non-billable work gets handed down to someone else. The problem is that I'm a semi-perfectionists. If there is a guideline or a bar set, I like to exceed it as much as possible. Not meetng my weekly/monthly billable hour requirement is killing me. I feel like a bad associate. I know the firm will cut me some slack for a while but it personally irks me that I can't meet the goal. I survived law school so you'd think I'd be used to being just mediocre or just passing by now. But I'm not. The inner perfectionist in me still lives.
I want to beat the billable hour. I will beat the billable hour. I just need to find the motivation. Or I need to block all access to the internet/my phone/tv/cooking magazines/my child. Yeah, that might work.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
We were three tables from the stage. That's three tables from their amazing, synchronized-pelvic-thrusting dance moves. Three tables from the source of their amazing sound. Three tables away from THEM! They sounded so amazing, they definitely did not dissapoint. The whole time I couldn't believe I was actually seeing them sing in person. I told my husband we have to name our next son Wanya....
I'm embarassed to say that when they sang their song, "mama" and dedicated it to all the moms in the audience, I was tearing up all over the place. I'm a little horrified. When did I become that person? That person who cries at everything? Can I just chalk it up to the power of their music? Let's just go with that.
But we're just getting to the good part. Thanks to my husband's connections, we finagled our way to a pair of VIP meet and greet back stage passes! As we wandered the backstage corridor, I got so nervous! OMG. What will I say to them? I didn't want to sound lame but I didn't want to sound like an obsessive groupie either. It turned out to be very laid back and casual and they were so generous. We shook their hands, posed for a quick photo and got their autographs. It went by so fast, I barely remember it.
But I do remember that they smelled really, really good. And I'll never wash my hand again.
Friday, June 4, 2010
I think my unmotivation stems from the little monster I call the Billable Hour (Bill for short).
I am obviously behind schedule when it comes to meeting my year end billable hour requirement. I know I have the entire year to make this up, (I'm hoping for a string of crazy depositions across the state, this would equate to billable hour heaven). At the end of each month, the partners circulate a table which shows how many hours each associate has billed and how far they are above or behind target. I dread this each month. Not only do I have to face how behind I am, but every other associate in the office gets to know about my daily struggle with Bill.
When I was a summer associate, I easily billed 8 hours a day. Easy Peasy. This is because people handed me assignments and all I had to do was what I was instructed to do. But now that I'm an associate, I have to spent time thinking about my cases and trying to figure out what to do next. I have to learn everything from scratch as I go. For example, no matter how new you are, it's not acceptable to bill an hour for preparing a simple stipulation for the release of medical records, even if your first one legitimately takes you that long. And I'm still trying to build my reputation in the firm so something as small as asking a partner a question takes me an unusual amount of prep time. I don't want to sound stupid, I want to know all the facts and issues and I want to rehearse what I'm going to say. I can't bill for stuff like this but it seems to suck the hours out of my day.
My first couple months were slow but I was rearing to go. Now I have a lot of work but I can't find the motivation. When I think about how far behind I am I become freakishly intimidated. It's like staring into the deep blue belly of the Puget Sound, trying to get the inspiration to jump into the cold water. I have every intention of sitting at my desk until all my hours are billed (at least for just the day) but I keep stalling or finding excuses (another cup of coffee, errand during lunch, grabbing a quick lunch, and then when I get home I think "oh I'm tired, I'll bill those hours tomorrow). And Bill keeps growing bigger and meaner. Welcome to my Catch-22.
I think I need to refocus and regroup. I mean, my upcoming tasks are actually pretty interesting. I should be excited to do them. I just need to stop worrying about the Billable hour and how far behind I am an just focus on the tasks I need to accomplish. Easier said than done. I also need to build better working habits (such as do a task right away instead of putting it on a steadily growing to-do list), work more efficiently and figure out how to cut out unnecessary distractions.
Finally, I need to find some motivation. I know it's here somewhere. Is it under my desk, nope just 5 pairs of shoes under there (including one pair of Frye boots- don't ask). Is it in my drawer, nope just three king-sized Hershey bars. Oh well, I'll find it....eventually...in fact, I'll put that on my to-do list: "find motivation." Maybe I can get around to that next week.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Thanks to the long Memorial Day weekend, Tuesday was my Monday. And yes, my billable hours are going to suffer for that. But let's not think about that right now.
When we got home from the coast, instead of finding a happy envelope containing my bar card waiting for me, I found a sad, wrinkled, wet and waterstained envelope containing my returned bar application. I'm not even sure why the post office returned it. It had nothing on it telling me what was wrong with it! I was so mad! This was the second time it had been returned to me (the first time, I didn't put enough postage).
So on my Tuesday-Monday I decided to hand deliver my application on my way to the office. After scouring the block where the bar association was supposed to be and walking into wrong buildings for like 10 minutes, I found the bar association across the street, marked clearly by a sign with big bold letters. Ooops. Dur.
I crossed the street and walked into the building. Then I got into the wrong set of elevators and ended up on an entirely wrong floor. I finally made my way back to the lobby where I eventually found the elevator that would take me to the correct floor. I marched proudly into the bar association office in my slacks and sneakers and then, not so proudly, handed over my still-wet and water stained bar application.
When I handed the receptionist my application, I couldn't for the life of me remember the word for "wet." I looked at her and said, "Sorry my application is..... uh.... watery." She looked across the table at the weird girl in green sneakers (that would be me) and probably mistook me for a legal messenger (but at least I didn't smell like one- man why do they all stink? And what's up with their weird bags?).
I finally made it to my office after stopping at Starbucks and spilling coffee down my pants. I plopped down in my office chair and not one second later an associate storms in and (frantically) asks, "Hey, can I see your appendix? Where's your appendix?"
What? I stared at him blankly for a second trying to process his statement. "You want to see my appendix? You mean like this one?" I point to my abdomen where I believe my appendix to be. He looks at me all crazy like then roars a horrendous laugh out of the gaping hole in his contorted face. "No wierdo. I need to see the appendix to your motion for reconsideration because I'm preparing one too and I want to see what yours looks like."
Oh yeah. THAT APPENDIX! Me = laughing stock of the 22nd floor office suite.
So that was my Non-Monday Monday. Phew.
Oh yeah, this is the icing on the cake: at one point in the day I was on a semi-important phone call with one of our experts. We started to discuss the case and the science that would support our position on a liability issue. He starts to say something really important but I can't find a pen to jot the information down. I have the phone tucked between my ear and my shoulder and I'm using two hands to surf around the top of the desk, pushing stacks of paper everywhich way to locate that DANG PEN. I give up and open my "pen" drawer where I find one blue, one red and one green CRAYON. Don't ask why I have crayons in my desk.
So yes, I took down a super important note with a flashy blue crayon. I couldn't help smiling from ear to ear each time I pressed the blue tip to my notepad. In fact, I think I should use crayon more often....I wonder what the partners would think if I handed them a note in blue crayon?