Archive for the ‘My Story’ Category

“For the first time in my life, it makes me deeply question what women can achieve in this society.” “I still can’t believe all this is real.” “There is no silver lining here.” Many reacted to last night’s election with so much shock and pain. I feel the pain and despair too, very deeply. But I get a perverse kind of comfort from the thought that I—and so many others—feel pain and despair, on a smaller scale, almost every single other day too. To work for the little guy, in isolation and in anonymity, with little or no financial reward or social recognition, and sometimes with no success, is to feel despair on a daily basis. I don’t have the mantle of authority that comes with being part of an organization, especially a respected white-shoe firm or district attorney’s office. I’m just me, a young, inexperienced, soft-spoken, slight, insignificant woman, who works in an attic […]

We . . . turned our courts into giant unthinking machines for sweeping our problem citizens under a rug. . . . [I]nstead of dealing with problems like poverty, drug abuse and mental illness, we increasingly just removed them all from view by putting them in jail.” ~ Matt Taibbi, “Cruel and Unusual Punishment,” Rolling Stone  The Myth Criminal punishment was at one time often very public: we whipped or executed outlaws before throngs of onlookers, or displayed them in the stocks in the public square.  Now we spirit the condemned away to hidden prison cells, forgotten by the rest of us, a modern-day form of ostracism.  The punishment of convicts occurs behind closed doors, much of it in secret. Adding to the cloak of invisibility is the popular media, which saturates us with fictionalized and misleading versions of what prison and the people inside it must be like. The new show […]

Today we had oral argument on a motion to dismiss. A beautiful sunny day in a spacious, peaceful courthouse. We arrived early, the partner and I, and waited in one of the corner courtrooms for the judge. After the court reporter and clerk were settled, and the lawyers had presented their business cards so their names could be entered into the minutes, the judge appeared from chambers, took her seat at the bench, and said a curt “Good afternoon” to each of the two lawyers standing at the podiums before her. The judge directed her first question at us. I could see my partner’s back tense as she prepared to answer, her right heel rocking back and forth like a restless five-year-old’s. She started to drift. She was spending too much time arguing about what the statute meant. We had agreed this morning that she would instead argue that the facts fit […]

Two weeks ago I visited my client at Juvenile Hall. After locking my belongings in a locker in the deserted visitors’ waiting area, I was shepherded through four sets of locked doors by a female voice on the intercom. Inside, the voice told me to freeze until the transfer of one of the youths at the far end of the corridor was completed. I caught my first glimpse of Julian in Unit 2, where he was sitting among a group of teens in navy blue uniforms in a small room off of a large, empty central space. I walked toward the room and a man sitting outside it gestured toward one of the tables in the room. Two boys stood, hesitantly. “Julian,” the man said to them a second time, and through the glass wall of the room I saw one of the boys point to himself and mouth, “Me?,” in […]

One of the reasons I went to law school was to empower myself.  In a way I did, but I also learned how incredibly unempowered (powerless?) non-lawyers are in the legal system.  I always hated the idea that in my moments of need I would have to rely on some stuck-up lawyer wanting to charge me through the teeth.  I always thought that the court system was put in place for the average person.  It’s not though.  It is a forum for lawyers by lawyers. (Source: I Just Want to Practice Law . . .) I worked a lot this week on my juvenile appeal. First step was to pore through the hundreds of pages in the court transcript and the reporter’s transcript. The court transcript contains anything in writing that exists on the case: police reports, school reports, probation officer reports, formal charges, written motions, any other written correspondence. The […]

This week we lost one client and gained two. Ending the attorney-client relationship Our co-counsel and his client could not resolve their dispute about the fee agreement. Our co-counsel (lead counsel on the case) decided to withdraw, and my partner (who only just recently joined the case) decided to dissociate from the case before he did so, so that she would not then be left on the hook as the client’s only counsel on record. Otherwise, with only two months left until trial, the judge would likely insist she stay on the case. Two important lessons from this whole episode: When deciding whether to take a case, be as careful as possible about avoiding entering an attorney-client relationship with someone you might foresee personal conflict with. I’m not sure how exactly one can vet a prospective client in this regard, but it might be worth, at minimum, meeting with them […]

This week, the first at my new job, I have been confronted with more discretionary decisionmaking than I have ever encountered while working in this field. In prior law jobs, all of my assignments  — researching legal questions, investigating factual background, writing motions, preparing bench memoranda — were pretty cut-and-dry. Does this person have a Fourth Amendment claim? What are the country conditions in El Salvador? What are the elements of this client’s complaint? Now all of that seems so . . . boilerplate. What we did this week: Trying to resolve a fee dispute between a client and our co-counsel. He’s been calling the office pretty aggressively. The partner I’m working with asks me to research the client’s background, the value of the claim, anything that will help us decide whether to go any further with the case. We will meet with him next week to see if we can […]

Tonight I had dinner with a law school classmate and her friend from college, who is now a third-year associate at a big firm in San Francisco. We had barely been at our table for two minutes before she began to talk about her dreams of opening up a flower shop. “How long have you been at the firm?” I asked. “Two and a half years.” “Oh, that’s early to want out. Most of the people I know want to leave after four years or so.” “Not at my firm. More like one year.” She had recently spent three months working on a famous case between a Silicon Valley heavyweight and a foreign competitor. “Oh cool. What did you do for the case?” “Discovery.” When I asked what she worked on after that case, she said, “Nothing.” For the next several months she billed one or two hours a day, […]

Glitz and glamor One night during my first couple weeks at law school, my First Law Professor Ever — scion of an old-world order who still enjoys a nightly bourbon and cigar — invited my class of about 150 people, plus guests, to the offices of a prestigious New York City law firm for a little soiree overlooking the city. Somewhere between a sip of wine and a bite of cheese, FLPE stopped us all for a moment to welcome us to the profession. Sweeping his arms toward the sparkling night vista before us — the towering skyscrapers of the Financial District, the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge, the thousands of tiny pinpricks of light below — he finished off his little speech with a stentorian, “You’ve made it! The world is your oyster!” It was perhaps the setting — in a swanky law firm, with the city at our […]

When I decided to go to law school I was five years into a doctoral program in education policy. I had completed all my course requirements and passed my qualifying paper, but I was hitting a wall trying to come up with a dissertation proposal that would simultaneously interest me and satisfy my three advisors. As they dragged their feet with reading the qualifying paper and proposal drafts, I was running out of both money and patience.  To distract myself from frustration, isolation, and flagging sense of purpose I focused instead on wedding planning and on an injury I thought at the time was carpal tunnel syndrome but that now I think was just a manifestation of stress. On the day after my wedding in Salem, Massachusetts, the first of these distractions was gone. With no more wedding to plan, I sat with my mother and new husband in my […]