Sunday, April 3, 2022

How to Stop Doing Shit that Feels Bad and That You Don't Want to Do with People You Don't Want to Do it With

I'm turning 45 this year, which is comfortably middle age, if not beyond. When I was 22, as a going-away present from my second ever full-time job, my supervisor gave me a book called How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

This was in the early 2000's, before “self-care” had evolved much beyond "Calgon, take me away.” Before “female empowerment branding,” when the word "boundary" meant the confines of a geographical area and a “trigger” was just part of a gun.

These concepts (if not the terms) existed, of course, both in life and in this book and others, and although I read the book, I failed spectacularly to internalize it. 

This year I really hit a wall in terms of "self-care." I realized that I needed to stop treating my body and my mind like shit; learn to ask for what I need (or take it, if necessary); set and enforce kind but firm boundaries with people and with my time; be more present; do deep breathing; exercise five times a week; practice “gratitude”; drink more water; write more; read more; and generally do a lot of other mental (and to a lesser extent physical) re-wiring that I’d previously dismissed as bullshit new-age pablum for sad privileged white ladies like myself with nothing of consequence to be sad about. 

I didn't want to do these cloying things until I realized that they were the only things that were going to save me from an unrecoverable life tailspin. And they were all free, so my disdain for their marketing didn’t have to be an obstacle.

2022 was going to be the year I did this.

So I started reading more books to help me see the value in this annoying fucking crap: The Body Keeps the Score; The Courage to Be DislikedBreathCodependent No More; and the Mountain is You, to name a few. (That last one I wish I could put 10,000 copies of into a UN Cargo plane and air drop them, rescue-style, onto the roofs of every woman I know). 

I reluctantly started to internalize their lessons with help from other converts--numerous lifelong friends who evangelized the revolutionary concept that it is actually--shockingly--totally fucking OK to just stop doing shit that feels bad, and that you don't want to do, with people you don't want to do it with. In fact, someone should write that book: "How to Stop Doing Shit that Feels Bad and That You Don't Want to Do With People You Don't Want to Do it With." For now it'll just have to suffice as the title of a blog post.

But that’s what a lot of it all boils down to: not spending what precious time you have on earth engaging in futile conflicts or going places out of a sense of obligation or trying to make other people happy when everyone is responsible for their own happiness. Recognizing when the path you are on is uncomfortable and having the clarity to know it and do something about it, which can be even more uncomfortable at first because growth and change is scary and hard.

It requires an enormous amount of “checking in” with yourself from moment to moment, which is another version of being present I guess. It requires 
embracing hard and uncomfortable and real feelings, and letting them wash over you and acknowledge the reality of them without necessarily hearing them as a call to impulsive action.

It requires establishing and enforcing firm boundaries with the people in your life who, for their own reasons, tend to ignore your boundaries, and it sometimes means moving on from those relationships. It requires identifying your own needs and asserting them —not in any “selfish” way, but in a way that you can conserve valuable energy and show up for the things and people in your life that matter most. It means taking tiny concrete steps toward what seem like insurmountable goals without tripping on the future.

It’s hard AF, but it’s worth it. 






Friday, February 25, 2022

No But for Real Though What the Fuck Did I Just Read

Ok my dudes. 

I know that a lot of people loved this book. Enough to make it a number one best seller in the Failing New York Times, and a pick for Elle Woods’ book club. So far be it for me to shit in anyone else’s root beer float — but seriously … what in the North Cackalacka fuck did I just read?

I’ve been reading voraciously (on paper) of late, in a vain attempt to escape the “news” of plague and war that continues to stream from this glowing rectangle in a relentless surge of clickbait, and the feelings of despair and helplessness it engenders.

Being an unrepentant snob about literary fiction and all fiction … and also nonfiction … and ok fine every 
word ever printed, I suppose I was predisposed to hate this book. But I thought I’d give it a shot. After all, I enjoy mass market candy as much as the next customer at Hudson News. Stephen King, for example, is a master of the craft. But this book was a hot mess, and believe me it takes one to know one.

They say life’s too short to finish books you hate. I say I can’t rip a book like this a new asshole until I get to the very last word. It’s just unfair. So I persevered in my hate-read, and I am officially renaming this book “Where the Sun Don’t Shine.” Because by the time I reached the last page, that’s exactly where I wanted to stick it. Again: if you read this book and liked it, I’m sorry. If you haven’t read it, don’t worry: I won’t include any spoilers in this “review.”

This book was basically a discordant mashup of Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson, the Secret Life of Bees, an Audubon Society quarterly edited by Jane Goodall, the Blue Lagoon, Mary Higgins Clark, and soft-core erotica for white wine moms. 

You can almost see the 108-minute movie playing as you read it: picture a Prince of Tides/The Lake House remake starring Ryan Gosling, one of those Chrises, and maybe that creepy nanny from “Servant” on Apple+, all in a dumpster fire triumvirate of leaf-peeping, crying, and dry humping in a skiff tied up to a tree in the Outer Banks. 

For all I know, it’s already in production.

The book is set in the 1960s, apparently to make full use of all historically available racist/sexist tropes and pidgeon English, with the dialogue written in cringey, contrived southern slang. Sentences like “well that thar fella’s so lowdown he’d hafta climb a ten-foot ladder to kiss a rattler’s ass!” Not that exact sentence, of course, but ones like it. Also a lot of courtroom cliches like “the State rests” and “I’ll allow it!” Which, as someone who’s spent the better part of two decades in and out of courtrooms, was extra cringe.

The main character, Kya Clark, lives alone in a marsh shack after her psycho abusive alcoholic dad drove the rest of her family away with a crow bar. She manages to outrun North Carolina children’s services for years and survive off the land, collecting bird feathers, painting shells, gathering and selling mussels, and buying sardines and saltines from a jolly old Black man named “Jumpin’.”  

Between the ages of 14 and 22 or so, Kya meets two local studs who just randomly motor through the marsh: one of them is a sort of Dr. Doolittle-meets-Bear Grylls-type who teaches her to read, tells her what her period is, and gets her panties wet. He also sets her on an improbable course to becoming a bestselling author of field guides, somehow. The other is a swaggering Tom Brady playboy/sex pest from town who swoops in to run game after Doolittle bounces to Chapel Hill for his marine biology degree. Tom Brady meets an untimely and suspicious end, and the rest is what it is.

After roasting this book in a brief earlier post, someone sent me an article in Slate about the author. Apparently, she’s wanted for questioning in Zimbabwe in connection with the murder of an elephant poacher? And there’s also a New Yorker article about it? Serious Tiger King/Gorillas in the Mist vibes! Definitely not the stuff of a LIVELAUGHLOVE publicity tour, let’s admit. I skimmed the ten-zillion word New Yorker report and it’s a whodunnit that’s more like a the author’s stepsondunnit. Three white interlopers buy a one-way ticket to Africa to save the elephants and righteously murder a poacher? 

This angle turns a benign little beach read into a chilling memoir and basically saved the entire fucking thing for me. If you have 17 hours to spend glued to a hate-read and its salacious backstory, this one’s for you!






Saturday, January 22, 2022

Abridge Too Far

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(First Amendment to the United States Constitution)

This week, a federal judge here in Alaska ruled that Governor Dunleavy violated my free speech rights under the state and federal constitutions, and also breached Alaska employment law, when he fired me for my personal blog and social media posts criticizing President Trump. 

The story was reported on extensively in local media and picked up nationally and internationally. The 39-page order from district court judge John Sedwick can be found here, for those inclined to dive into the weeds of First Amendment employment law.

Otherwise, the basic gist is this: 

From 2006 to 2018, I was a good lawyer and valued longtime employee of the Alaska Attorney General's Office. I had no problems at work---other than the fact that I was unwilling to stop complaining about Trump on the internet. 

I started this parenting and lifestyle blog in 2014, but in 2015, I began to recognize the existential threat Trump posed—and still poses—to democracy, and felt compelled to keep calling it out. I understood the risks to my personal and professional life that this involved, but knowing I was within my legal rights, I naively assumed that the government would honor them. (Ironic, I know). 

Regardless, I felt congenitally incapable of shutting up, and was unable to stop myself from identifying daily the havoc Trump was wreaking. As the main income-earner in my four-person family and the only one with health insurance, it was a big gamble.

Fast forward to December 3, 2018, when Trumpian acolyte Mike Dunleavy took office as Alaska's 12th governor, and fired me within 20 minutes of being sworn in. 

My termination came on the heels of a forced resignation letter that Dunleavy's Chief of Staff, a Karl Rove-type operator named Tuckerman Babcock, had demanded from me and hundreds of other non-unionized state employees. This was an unprecedented, norm-shattering flex by an incoming administration. I immediately contacted the ACLU, which filed a lawsuit on my behalf the next month. The ACLU also brought a companion case for two state psychiatrists who refused to submit their resignations at all.

This past Thursday, Judge Sedwick, who was appointed by George Bush, issued a long order in my case making a few important findings under complicated U.S. Supreme Court precedent governing public employees' free speech rights. (The order came three months after a ruling in the psychiatrists' case from the same judge that the resignation demands were an unlawful "patronage scheme" or loyalty pledge and therefore inherently unconstitutional).

Because I was not in a union, I lacked automatic constitutional protections in my job. So the question became whether I could be fired for political (associational and free speech) reasons. The answer would be yes, if I were a "policymaker" as that term is defined in this line of cases. But I was not a policymaker, so the question next became whether the government could prove that my personal speech caused legitimate and sufficient “workplace disruption” to refute the presumption that Dunleavy and Babcock fired me because they disagreed with my views. 

They couldn't show that. And because they couldn't, the judge concluded I had been unconstitutionally fired. And because the state had fired me unconstitutionally, it acted in bad faith, giving rise to money damages under my claim for a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing in Alaska employment law. So the state violated state law as well. 

Judge Sedwick recognized that had the state gone about my termination differently, they could reasonably have taken "adverse employment action" against me for my blogging. But given the evidence in the case, this is a bit like saying to a burglar that had he not broken into a house and stolen things, he wouldn't have been arrested for burglary. 

The other interesting legal angle here, in both cases, was the judge's analysis of the qualified immunity doctrine. 

Qualified immunity is what protects government employees from personal liability in their work. In practice it functions more like absolute immunity, because it's very hard to lose. You have to do something really bad and pretty much knowingly bonkers. 

In the psychiatrists' case, Judge Sedwick found that the resignation scheme was bad enough to strip Dunleavy and Babcock of qualified immunity and make them personally liable for their conduct. Not so in my case, which didn't surprise me. As I said, it's very rare for a defendant to lose qualified immunity, and the government has an interest in a robust qualified immunity doctrine; otherwise no one would ever risk working for the government.

Judge Sedwick's order in my case resolved (at least at the trial court level) what's called the "merits" phase of the lawsuit, and the next phase is damages. The constitutional violations entitle me to injunctive and declaratory (non-monetary relief), and the state law claims entitle me to monetary damages. I'm really not sure where that phase will go--that's very much to be decided, as is the state's appetite for an appeal.

In any event, I've now had some time to process the psychological and emotional toll of this "victory." 

I put victory in scare quotes because I'm not sitting here rejoicing. I’m not running around the bases after a walk-off grand slam or dining out on the press coverage. Ok, fine, I am dining out on the press coverage.

But I'm not happy. Far from it. It took three years and ten days to make one single point about free speech. It took three years and ten days to get a federal judge to say yes, this was illegal, and yes, it was unconstitutional.

As a government lawyer myself, I’ve always known that democracy is fragile, justice is glacial, and the constitution is not a self-executing document. In other words, it means nothing if it's not enforced. The problem is, it's hard and expensive to enforce, and there isn't much incentive to do so. 

Being a litigant is time-consuming, brutal, and humiliating. By the time the average citizen catches up with governmental misconduct, the bad actors have collected its spoils, are long gone, and have paid off the victim with public money. What do they care? Nothing but media shaming and excoriation and the occasional financial penalty seems to make even a dent.

But my hope is that this case sends a few messages beyond "Trump-bashing lawyer mostly wins free speech suit," as a reporter at Bloomberg Business News so wryly and accurately put it. And while it's funny that my characterization of Trump as a "fascist cantaloupe" and "Edward Cheeto-Hands" is now forever enshrined in the federal jurisprudential canon, it's not the most important thing.

I hope this case makes future administrations think twice before demanding that everyone pledge loyalty to them or relinquish their jobs or even careers.

I hope it gives non-unionized state employees in Alaska some measure of protection in their jobs, and some assurances that they do not all unequivocally check their constitutional rights at the door just because they work for the state. 

I hope it encourages good citizens to start and continue careers in government. Most of all, I hope it encourages people to continue to speak up and push back against totalitarianism, autocracy, and erosion of the rule of law, because as every scholar of authoritarianism knows, your voice is the only weapon you have in that battle.

I was in a rare and unique position to do something grandiose to prove a point. I was a practicing government lawyer and knew my rights. I had a blog with a good following and was self-destructive enough to use it to make what I thought were important observations about a very dangerous situation. And the people in power were reckless and arrogant enough to approach my firing in the perfect way to subject them to maximum liability. 

In other words, the whole thing was teed up for a great free speech case.

But it came at a huge personal cost. I lost friends and colleagues. I lost what little faith I'd had in systems and structures of employment, democracy, and personal loyalty. My mental health was (and remains) shaky. I absorbed lots of online vitriol, most of which I tried—often unsuccessfully—to ignore. For three years, ten days, and counting, I’ve felt afraid, ashamed, and very much alone. 

People have been thanking me for fighting the good fight and for sticking my neck out and standing up to bullies. I didn't do it because I wanted to. I did it because I could, and because I had to. I'd do it again in a minute.




Monday, January 17, 2022

45 Things I’ve Learned by 45

I’m turning 45 this year and here are 45 things I’ve learned.

  1. Time is your most precious asset and only you can control how you choose to spend it.
  2. What other people think of you is none of your business.
  3. There is real power in simply ignoring and disengaging from negativity.
  4. Adult friendships should build you up and enhance your life, not drain you of energy. 
  5. There are more great relationships out there than there is time for.
  6. Timing is everything.
  7. No job is worth enduring abuse or a loss of principles.
  8. You can justify anything, including abuse, using mental gymnastics.
  9. We tell ourselves lies to avoid difficult changes.
  10. Your career is not your identity. 
  11. Your kids are not your identity.
  12. You can’t change who your kids are-all you can do is help them grow up to be the best possible versions of themselves. 
  13. Reading a book is always a great escape.
  14. Fresh air and exercise are great for mental health, but so is Prozac.
  15. It’s ok to be anxious and depressed. 
  16. There is no such thing as “normal.”
  17. Other peoples’ reactions and responses to you are not your problem.
  18. You can’t rescue someone from themselves. 
  19. You can’t go back and fix someone else’s trauma.
  20. You can’t go back and fix your own trauma, but you can learn and change from it.
  21. Moments of quiet solitude are crucial.
  22. The need for external validation is a bottomless pit to be avoided at all costs. 
  23. Cutting other people down diminishes you.
  24. Tiny, localized acts of random kindness can make the biggest difference. 
  25. Lower your expectations of other people and you might be pleasantly surprised. 
  26. “What if” thinking is a huge barrier to change.
  27. You don’t owe anyone an immediate response to anything.
  28. A work emergency is very rarely an actual emergency, unless you’re working in a literal  emergency room.
  29. Human history has always been violent, scary, and unpredictable— it isn’t just now.
  30. Art and music are always worthwhile.
  31. A comfortable mattress will automatically and instantly improve 1/3 of your life.
  32. The first rule of burning down the patriarchy is to never use other women for kindling. 
  33. Always stand up to bullies.
  34. When someone describes a lived experience to you, believe them.
  35. Self care is not selfish.
  36. Empathy is a good quality to cultivate. 
  37. You can’t solve anyone else’s character deficits.
  38. People are driven by unseen and highly individualized forces that not even they understand.
  39. Your first impression of a situation isn’t always right: Always question your assumptions. 
  40. Travel is a great reset for new perspective.
  41. A screenshot is forever. 
  42. Get off your phone when you’re talking to someone in person.
  43. Never run after a bus, a romance, or a job because there will always be another. 
  44. No one person can be all things to you: family, partners, and friends can only fill certain and specific roles in your life at certain times.
  45. Change is the scariest thing in the world but that’s where the best growth happens.




Friday, December 24, 2021

And I Turned Out Fine


This is not an original idea. (I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those). But I read it somewhere in the abyss of the internet and wish I could credit the author. The gist is this: if you were treated badly as a young person but “turned out fine” and on that logic justify treating other people like shit, you did not in fact “turn out fine.”

I guess this is called “lateral violence,” which is some 2021 term for professional hazing I suppose—the experience of being a young professional woman who is abused or mistreated by other women at work. 

I am 44 years old. This mostly happened in my 20s with early jobs, before I went to law school, but it happened in more subtle and long-lasting ways after that as well. 

My shift supervisor at my first food service job screamed and yelled at us constantly for every infraction and didn’t back down until we yelled back. 

My first boss in the New York City publishing industry made me cry that deep, shame-drenched cry in the bathroom every week—the one where you can’t catch your breath. 

The dean of my law school humiliated me by screaming at me in front of hundreds of students and faculty for trying to promote a pro bono graduation requirement at my law school. My first clinical law professor was a terrifying presence who excoriated us for our every tiny mistake. (Also shame cry on those).

A young mother who supervised me during an internship had an enormous temper tantrum at all the interns during trial preparation. 

My first real promotion as a lawyer had to be wrested from female management by pointing out that a man with the same level of experience as me was coming to the office—in my literal former position—at a full salary range higher than I had after five years. My favorite mentor whom I trusted and loved so much later abetted my illegal firing and shit-talked me in a deposition. 

All women. Is it their fault as individuals? Not really. They were just playing their part in a formidable system intentionally designed to cannibalize women.

This is not to say that I have not had some positive women mentorship experiences over the course of my work life, which started at age 17 and continues to this day. I certainly have, but they’re the exceptions that prove the rule. 

Now I mostly work alone. I don’t have any one person, much less layers of people standing sentinel over my professional progress, and that’s fine with me. But I do miss mentoring young women at work because it gave me the chance to rectify misery that I had experienced and that had hurt me so deeply. 

I think about my mother. 

Her childhood fucking sucked. She was an orphan by 11. She grew up in foster care. She went to medical school when there were only nine other women in her class of over 100. She has supervised residents ever since and always told me the same thing: 

Just because your life was hard doesn’t mean you should want other peoples’ lives to be hard. That makes zero sense. There is no value in that. It doesn’t fix what happened to you. It doesn’t change the past. It’s spiteful, vengeful, and petty. It doesn’t make the world better. In fact, it makes it worse. And when women do it to each other, the only people who benefit are the men around them. My mother is my lodestar for female mentorship.

Recently one of my former mentees got a big new job. She wasn’t the first and most certainly won’t be the last to get a bigger, more prestigious job than I could ever hope to have or want, and I couldn’t be happier for them. This time I almost cried when I found out, because I was thrilled for her and also because I knew I had an impact on her career and helped give her an extra boost of confidence now and then. I don’t think there’s anything particularly admirable or especially noble about that. It should be the default course of conduct and the norm. Women should support and uplift each other or else we will never make any progress at work or anywhere else.

We should normalize that. I haven’t always done it successfully, but I always try. If we can just do that—one tiny interaction at a time—we really will turn out fine. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Practice Tips for New Lawyers


13 THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT LEARN IN LAW SCHOOL

 

Whether you represent government clients or private clients, there are certain strategies to practicing law that you might not learn in law school. Understanding these and keeping them in the back of your mind will improve your practice anywhere. These are 13 things you might not learn in law school.

 

1.Research creatively.

 

The foundation of any good attorney work product is thorough legal research. But good legal research involves more than just typing a bunch of search terms into Westlaw or Lexis, printing off cases and journal articles, and Blue Booking them to perfection. Yes, you need to do all of that. You need to look at every relevant case, and every case cited in those cases. But in doing that, you need to think carefully about the facts of each of those cases and how those facts differ in meaningful ways from the case you’re working on, including—and this is important—the procedural posture and context those cases were decided inAnd often, you need to go beyond the case law. You might need to research legislative history by studying prior versions of legislation and legislative hearings. You might need to go into old files in your office that may have records you need. You might need to look at similar cases involving the same litigants that may not be reported on Westlaw or Lexis, or that only exist in a trial-level court file somewhereYou might need to delve into the commentary on the court rules or study the local rules of the court you’re in. You might need to go online to many other sources aside from Westlaw or Lexis. That’s researching creatively.


2.Write like an advocate.

 

When you brief the court, you need to write like an advocate. Writing like an advocate does not mean ignoring the weaknesses or bad facts in your caseThis is important-you can never get away from bad facts. They are what they are. But advocacy means underplaying or distinguishing those bad facts and weaknesses in favor of your case’s strengths. An advocacy brief is not a bench memo to a judge, research memo to a senior attorney, or an advice memo to a clientIt should not be neutral in tone or expose/attempt to reconcile every hole and problem in your caseAdvocacy writing showcases the strengths of your case, and why you should win. Every time you write a paragraph in a brief to the court, whether it’s a minor motion or an appellate brief, read it back to yourself and ask yourself two questions(1) “how doesthis paragraph advance my client’s interests?”; and (2) “will this paragraph give the judge a reason to rule my way? If you can answer yes to those two questions, you are writing like an advocate.

 

3.Think strategically.

 

Thinking strategically means taking the long view of your case. Being strategic doesn’t mean playing games or being conniving. It means taking a close look at the chessboard. Think about how each thing you do on a case may or may not yield a certain outcome down the line. If you are a visual learner, draw a decision tree of options and ways things could play out. Think about your theory of the case: what is the case about in one sentence? What does it all boil down to? What are you trying to accomplish or convince the judge of, other than that you should simply win? Even if you do win, what will be the final outcome for your client? A Pyrrhic victory is not always a good thing. Think broadly and strategically about your case—not just how to write the perfect sentence or achieve small victories along the way. Sometimes a small concession will yield a bigger victory down the line. Thinking strategically about your case in a broad sense will help you determine the smaller procedural steps you need to take to get to the best result.

 

4.Know your enemy & know your audience.

 

Do opposition research. Opposing counsel is not your friend. The judge is not your friend. Read and find out everything you can about your opposing counsel and your judge, including what they have written and how they have behaved in other cases, so you know who you are dealing with and what you can expect. Talk to other people who have dealt with opposing counsel or who have appeared before the judge in your case. In a similar vein, the people you work with--your clients, colleagues,and superiors can be your friends—but they are your clients, colleagues, and superiors first. When you’re writing to these audiences, obviously you are not writing an advocacy piece the way you are when you write to the court, but you are always writing clearly, concisely, and professionally in service of your clients’ interests, and that brings me to the next point:

 

5.Project confidence—not bravado.

 

There is a difference between confidence and bravado, and senior attorneys and clients can tell the difference. Confidence comes from having done your homework and preparation and being as sure as you can be of the answer.  If the answer isn’t clear, and it often isn’t, you can still be confident in even that conclusion. Bravado comes from being insecure and afraid and investing too much of your own ego in your practice. In addition to being transparent, indulging in bravado will cloud your judgment and prevent you from getting to the right answers to a legal problem. When delivering an answer to a legal problem to a client or senior attorney, or when arguing before the court, always project confidence, which means acting capable. But don’t pretend you know things you don’t know.  Don’t be afraid of simply saying some version of: “I don’t know the answer to that at the moment, but I am confident I can find it out, and will get back to you ASAP.” Clients, senior attorneys, and judges will appreciate confident candor and a right answer later a lot more than they will appreciate bravado and a wrong answer now.

 

6.Find a mentor, or ten.

 

There are people you will encounter in your career whom you admire and want to emulate, and who are good role models and mentors. I can rattle off about ten different people who have been mentors for me. Identify these people early on and cultivate relationships with them, if they are willing to reciprocate. Bounce ideas off of them. Run drafts of documents past them. Seek their professional advice whenever you can.

 

7.Observe constantly—including yourself!

 

The reality is there are terrible lawyers and there are great lawyers, and there’s everything in between. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses as a lawyer. Observe as many lawyers as you can and get a sense of their style. Think about what they do that you want to emulate. What do they do that you want to avoid? Read as many motions and briefs as you can. Attend as many hearings, oral arguments, client meetings, moot courts, depositions, and trials as you can, so you can figure out mistakes you never want to make and things you always want to do. And you want to be observing yourself as well. For example, onething I always like to do is order the CD of oral argument from the court after I have an oral argument. Oral argument is probably one of the things I’m the least comfortable with, so I like to go back and listen to myself and the judge to improve my oral advocacy and see what worked and what didn’t.

 

8.Ask questions.

 

Often a client or senior attorney will rattle off a list of demands and questions at a mile a minute. You will sit there scribbling away, and go back to your desk and realize you only wrote down three legible words of what they said. Don’t be afraid to go back and ask for clarification—multiple times if necessary. You will feel stupid doing this, but you shouldn’t. What’s stupid is to embark on a huge project not knowing what was asked of you. Make sure you have a good understanding of what is being asked of you and realize you may not gain that understanding during your first conversation on the topic. 

 

9.Own your mistakes.

 

Everyone makes mistakes in practice. For example, you might send confidential discovery or an email to someone who shouldn’t have received it or you might forget a court deadline or a discovery deadline. If you make a mistake, admit it quickly and seek help fixing it if necessary. Don’t paper over mistakes or pretend they didn’t happen because you’re embarrassed or you think you’ll be able to hide it. Most of the time, you shouldn’t be embarrassed and you can’t hide it. Pretending otherwise only makes things worse. Practicing law isn’t brain surgery, and unless you’re a capital defender, no one is going to die because you made a mistake. (Even then, a mistake you make probably won’t kill your client). There are very few mistakes in this profession that can’t be fixed or remedied in some way or other. The best thing to do when you realize you’ve made a mistake is to acknowledge it quickly to the client, court, or senior attorney and take whatever steps you need to take to fix it.

 

10.Cross-examine your client.

 

A big mistake many new lawyers make is to accept their clients’ version of reality at face value. Avoid this at all costs. Accepting your client’s narrative harms your case and it harms your client’s interests, because the things they omit and leave out can ambush you later. What you don’t find out now, your opposing counsel will find out later. You have to get a little bit adversarial with your clients sometimes. You have to “cross-examine” them and question their conduct and what they’ve done in a given situation. They will get defensive, but don’t let that stop you from getting to the real facts, not their editorialized version of the facts.

 

11.Create a paper trail.

 

If you are in court, or anticipate you will be, always be thinking about the record in your case. E-mail and letters can be your friends. Memorialize conversations with opposing counsel in e-mail or a letter, even when doing so is not required by the civil rules. If appropriate, memorialize privileged conversations with clients and senior attorneys (and mark them privileged and confidential, of course) so everyone is clear on what advice was given and what course of action was decided upon. If an issue of professional ethics arises in a case, consult with bar counsel or ethics counsel and do a memo to your file that you did that, describing the ethical issue and the advice you received on how to resolve it.

 

12.Don’t reinvent the wheel.

 

If you’re a new lawyer working on a problem, chances are you’re not the first person to confront that problem. Noone gives a new lawyer an issue of first impression and expects them to crack it straight out of the box. In addition to all the traditional research methods, there are short cuts you can take that will not depreciate your work product. Every office has templates of motions, letters, etc. that have been used in various situations. Save yourself time and your clients’ money by availing yourself of existing resources to get the job done more efficiently.

 

13.A draft is not a draft.

 

Anytime you give a client, senior attorney, or anyone in your office a draft to look at, it really shouldn’t be a “draft.” It should be the most polished, final work product you can produce. No one wants to read stream-of-consciousness ramblings or see typos or grammatical mistakes in a draft.