Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Practice of Law

To keep up my Bar license, I need to get 15 credits a year. And I need to do that because every other month or so I get to be Judge Janet in arbitration cases which allows me to order men attorneys around and write brilliant decisions which may or may not be appealed. The work, which I love, is a teeny tiny sliver of the rest of my life.

So yesterday I attended my required continuing legal education (CLE). Basically, it was a course designed to teach us how miserable the practice of law is and to help us cope with it in two ways: 1) by changing the profession...and/or 2) by changing ourselves. Nobody, to my surprise offered the solution of CHANGING PROFESSIONS. Some of the statistics were shocking. One third of all attorneys suffer from anxiety, depression, obsessive compusive disorder or all of the above. But 70% of all attorneys suffer from problems related to alcohol.

The thing is none of this was new to me. I left my law firm exactly 20 years ago when my son was a newborn. He was a screamer and frankly, I couldn't bear to leave him in day care. I loved him and even I could hardly stand his screaming. How in the world could someone who didn't love him take care of the colicky little thing? But frankly, he was just the excuse. I hated my job and I was surrounded by the most dysfunctional people ever. Marriages were falling apart; one of the partner's daughters had become a prostitute; the legal assistants were sleeping with the expert witnesses; I had to represent the senior partner's son in a criminal matter for masturbating on a public bus.....and.....oh yes, this is the book I'm planning to write.

The sad thing is I was really good at what I did. As I have written before on this blog, one of my cases made the law books and if I do say so myself, I was quite persuasive to juries. But the ideal was not the everyday reality of life in a law firm of terribly bright but crazy people.

Yesterday, I was in a room full of lawyers grappling with issues that I resolved 20 years ago. The day convinced me that nothing has changed in all of these years and clearly, I made the right choice to become an almost full-time parent. It was fun because I love to meet quirky people.

One of the discussion leaders was a late fiftyish small woman. Immediately, there was something about her I didn't trust. Perhaps it was her resume. She started with oil law firms in Houston but now she "sustains the human spirit and well being in the context of the legal profession". I don't know--maybe it was the perpetual smile or her slow response of "thank you for sharing" when someone offered a comment. Somehow, I could completely imagine her screaming abusively at the gardner or the cleaning person or flipping someone off in traffic. I think she may have screamed at her husband because she had no wedding ring.

The woman my age who sat next to me was, in her words, requiring an incredible amount of "healing" to recover from years and years of her stressful law job. We were to share with one another two pie chart circles that we made with crayons--one representing our ideal life and the other our actual life. Sadly, she kind of indicated she'd had a major break down. But at the end of the day, she handed me her business card which showed her expertise and new part time work to be that of a "Life guide--guiding the hearts and souls of leaders."

Finally, I enjoyed the man to my left. He was a criminal defense attorney whose main complaint was the lack of ethics and reward of such behavior in a good number of the prosecutors he opposes. But at lunch, he disappeared which I thought was odd because he had driven three hours from another city to attend this special seminar. He missed the crayon drawings but then showed up and I figured he'd had a long lunch but no.....! He explained that his way of coping with the miserable practice of law is to run barefoot. Though it was a cool fall day and we were downtown amongst concrete, he had taken off and had run five miles around the Space Needle and back without any shoes or socks.

My eyes were very wide and I was trying so hard to control my twitchy smile as he explained the reflexology and the science of it. I asked if it hurt--no problem. I asked about the rain--no problem. I asked about the roughness of his feet--no problem. The woman on the other side of him commented that maybe he wasn't as interested in wearing sling back sandals without socks like we were. Well, what a deal!

All in all, I had a good time at the conference. The previous seminar a month ago was "Advanced Non-Profit Organizations II--Complex Governance Issues". Nobody talked to one another and I did not understand a word that was said the entire day; and it was actually in English. The Seattle iciness had melted with yesterday's group, that's for sure. It was held at a law school and I wished I could have dragged in all of the students I saw during breaks. I would have asked them to sit and listen carefully--very carefully. Certainly, I made the right choice 20 years ago and yes, I was the only one in the room whose "ideal" crayon life matched up fairly closely with my "actual" life.