Wednesday, September 24, 2014

7 of the Best Things About Life After Law School

For the most part I enjoyed law school, but I've realized that life after law school is sooo much better than being in school, and here are just a few reasons why:

1) Having a normal schedule. Sure, in law school it was nice to not have to get going till 11am some days, but the trade-off was all those nights staying up until 3, 4, and 5am, lots of evening classes, and tons of weekend work. Here, I don't mind starting my day between 7:30 and 8:30 if it means I don't have to be awake at 2am and generally don't have to work on the weekends. I mean, I worked 11 hours today, but now I am done for the day and don't have late-night work to do.

2) No more studying! I actually don't mind studying all that much if I'm learning something interesting, but it is so nice not to have to cram for exams and strain to memorize/ understand huge amounts of material in short periods of time. Now, my version of "studying" is looking up things I need to know in the family law books I have, reading the sections I need, and moving on with my day.

3) Being able to only interact with people who are ADULTS. I don't mean never being around kids; I'm talking about not having to be around people who are my age but incredibly immature. Law school is brimming with immaturity and drama, and it is so wonderful to be leaving that behind and to have no one in my life right now who is toxic, narcissistic, backstabbing, etc. I made great friends in law school, but I will also readily say (and I think anyone who's been there would agree with me) that I met the most difficult people I've ever met in my life in law school. I saw one of those people this morning in court. I wasn't sure why she was there, but it was probably for a case her firm is handling. I saw this girl, quickly thought back to how incredibly mean she was in law school, and did not say hello. And it felt so good! (And on a related note--the way you treat people doesn't just go away down the road, even though some people seem to think that. There are people that I will always trust and respect because of the way they treated others in law school, even 30 years down the road. And there are also two people (this girl was one of them) who I will never respect or recommend in any way whatsoever, for the rest of our careers, because of the way they treated people in law school. It doesn't go away. If you asked me my opinion of them in 30 years, it would not matter one bit to me what they had done in the intervening time--my opinion of them simply isn't going to change.)

4) Paychecks, Like, real ones, not student loan payouts. Enough said.

5) Weekends. Weekends when you're working are 100 times better than school weekends, because not only do I typically not have to work on weekends, I also appreciate them so much more because they're pretty much the only times in the week when I have free time to do whatever I want. I love the weekends these days: time off, sleeping in, lounging in my pajamas watching TV, going for a long run, going shopping, and whatever else I want to do.

6) Working on real cases that affect real people! This is awesome. In law school we slaved over appellate briefs and memos about "hypothetical" cases. Now, they're real, the people are real, and the issues are real.

7) Having someone try to network with you instead of the other way around! For example, the other day a law student asked ME for my card, and I realized that I had pretty much succeeded in life (kidding). But I remember very well how hard it can be to get a job these days, especially since many people are not able, or sometimes not willing, to help students fresh out of school to find employment. So I promised myself a long time ago that as soon as I was in a position to help students get jobs or at least get them connected with potential employers, that I would do everything I possibly could to help them out. As for the student who asked me for my card? We're getting together for lunch soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Current Obsessions

It's been a LONG time since I've done one of these posts--so bear with me, this list might be long. Here are some products, activities, food, etc. that I am really into right now:
  • Anything with a Chevron print. Especially if it's pink and white. Like my new mousepad!
  • And I am loving these iPhone cases from (Christmas list item?) I mean, my name's not Alexia, but how cute is this? 

  • The globe I just got for my apartment! Really affordable (Target--cheaper than I've found these anywhere else) and it completely rounds out the international/ urban/ vintage travel-y look I have going on in the living room:

  • Any monogrammed things. For some reason I've been really into these lately . . . as the mousepad example above shows. 
  • J Crew floral skirt. So cute, and I think I'm going to pair it with a navy oxford shirt, a navy bag, and nude flats or heels for the office:

  • This running shirt. And along with it, the Nike running app:

  • Indian street food from this amazing restaurant nearby:

  • This:

  • My office! I've done some decorating and here's what it looks like now:

Lots of books:

  • Spotify premium. Now that I finally have a real smartphone, it is so nice and convenient to be able to play music anywhere (especially in my car) without having to own the songs, for a small fee of $9.99 a month. I will never buy CDs again because there's no need for it. And smartphones, in my opinion, also make iPods completely obsolete. It's so great to have pretty much any song there is at my fingertips for such a low price, because these days a single CD with 10 songs on it costs $20, and you may not even like all the songs.
  • Coinstar!! For anyone who's not familiar, at a Coinstar machine (usually in grocery stores and places like that), you can dump in all your unused change and it will count it for you and then convert it into cash or gift cards. No one spends piles of dimes or nickels, right? So this money would otherwise pretty much go unused. I had a big pile of change (no quarters though, because I use all of those to do laundry at my apartment), and it had been sitting in my car for weeks. So I took it to Coinstar and just like that . . . $20 Starbucks gift card. 
  • Lazy Sunday mornings. Since starting work and going to my church up here, Sunday has become my favorite day of the week, which is saying something, because for years Sunday has been one of my least favorite days of the week (and no worries, it has nothing to do with church per se). I  was just never really a huge fan of Sunday in college and law school because that was the day that all my most frustrating errands/ hardest homework/ cleaning that I put off invariably got assigned to. Also, it was always just hard to get up early enough on Sundays for church when I had been getting up early all week and when Saturday nights often involved being out late. Now though, my church up here has realized that lots of people don't necessarily want to give up one of the two mornings a week they have to sleep in, and they offer services throughout the day. I go to the 5pm service, so it's the best of both worlds--I can go to a church I really like AND spend all morning on Sundays in my pajamas, or going to brunch, or whatever else I want to do. (I still feel a little weird about sending emails or texts or running to Target or whatnot on Sunday mornings--I do go to church, I promise). And as for the other problem, well, I generally don't take work home with me, and I try to get my errands more or less done on Saturdays, so that I don't have to race around stressed out all day on Sunday. Because that's a really bad way to start the week. 
  • Every season of Criminal Minds is now on Netflix streaming. Need I say more? And since I gave up the DVD plan to save money, more instant streaming options get me really excited. 
  • Coming up with creative clothing options for work! Basically, the rule I've come up with for myself for professional attire is that you should never go cheap on the base of your outfit--in my career, that usually means a suit (I prefer simple skirt/ blazer suit sets). I will never buy suits at Goodwill/ Target/ etc. no matter how much I love cheap finds! Because it will just look cheap and probably won't really fit right and may be sewn oddly or what have you. Ann Taylor is my go-to for suits, and I see these as investments because you want to be able to wear them for years. But, once you have the basic suit, you can pair it with a LOT of different kinds of tops, shoes, jewelry, and accessories and it will still look great. Don't spend a lot of money on these other pieces--or at least, you don't have to. And the accessories are your chance to show your personality a little. I can't wear a leopard print dress to work, but how about a leopard print belt? You also can play with patterns and colors a lot when it comes to shirts and blouses that you wear with the suit. For these other pieces, you can go all out at Target, thrift stores, Kmart, H&M, etc., and no one will ever know. For example, here's some pieces I've added to my wardrobe:

These were all very affordable but pretty high-quality. One of my secrets to stretching my clothing budget for work is right here:

This is technically nothing more than a V-neck T-shirt. It was on sale for $7. But, when you pair it with a nice higher-end black suit, black heels, and pearls, it looks great and very professional, and no one will ever know how little you paid for it. Also, for more clothing ideas from someone who's far more of an expert than me, check out my cousin's fashion blog: High Class, Low Cash

Well that's about it for now! Enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Finding a Good Place

I don't have much time to blog these days, and it has been at least 6 weeks since I wrote in a journal, which is something really important for my own emotional health and well-being, so tonight I'm having a chai tea latte & writing party at Starbucks and it's going to be great. It's time for writing for my blog, writing in my journal, and reading my Bible, which I'm sorry to say has been really neglected in recent days. The Bible app on my phone is just not the same as my real Bible with all of its stains and ripped pages and underlining, and I'm ready to get back to the real thing. My thoughts are all over the place right now and there's a lot of different things on my mind that I want to share with you, but this is a start.

So, I work with pretty much the best people in the world, and I am so blessed to be where I am. I'm finding my place here. We have a lot of fun together and are always laughing about something. I don't feel quite comfortable enough yet to really show people my sense of humor because so far I've been pretty much all business in the office, but I feel like in the next few weeks I will get to that point and really join in to some of these conversations. Yesterday I was totally absorbed in a parenting plan I was working on, and didn't really notice that pretty much everyone else in the office had already left (most people stay till 6 or so, but not on Fridays--usually we're gone by 5:30 or so on Fridays). Then E. came back by my office at about 5:45 and was like, "It's Friday night! Leave!" I said, "But I'm not done yet!" She said, "It's ok, you can finish your project on Monday!" Then she started asking me whether I was getting acclimated and whether I was making friends and feeling comfortable here and things like that, and it made me really emotional because I'm still getting used to how wonderful it is to work in a place where people care about me. People don't ask you questions like that unless they really care about you, and it feels so, so good to work with people who are kind and who actually care. I haven't always had that privilege (read: former job where the boss yelled at people all the time for anything and everything). For my first couple weeks of working here, I was so scared to make any mistakes on my work because I was afraid of getting yelled at because that's what I'm used to, but I've realized by now that that's simply not going to happen, and it's like breathing a huge sigh of relief as I've realized: This is not my old job. God has given me something better. And I don't know how to tell you how good it feels to go to work in a place like this, a place where laughing is the norm instead of yelling, a place where it's not cutthroat competitive and we all get along, a place where I don't have to be scared to make mistakes because I know D. and E. will simply calmly show me how to fix my mistakes instead of getting mad. And a place where my boss pretty much kicks me out of the office because it's Friday night and time for the weekend. :) All I really wanted going into this job was to be treated with a baseline level of respect and professionalism, and I've been given so much more than that. I've been given people who are kind and funny and generous, and it is such a blessing to work with them. I'm happy and excited when I wake up in the morning to go to work, and that in and of itself is a great feeling. Life is too short to wake up 5 days a week dreading your job, or to be in a bad mood every Sunday night because the weekend is over.

I've been extra emotional this week about everything, and I've not really been able to pinpoint exactly why. I've been emotional about realizing that I'm in a good place now, and I don't need to be stressed out about anything here, because I have people here who care about me and who are going to help me out. I've been emotional about the ongoing stressful state of career and life limbo that is waiting for bar results. Sometimes I can "forget" about it for a short time, but then I remember and usually end up feeling just kind of mad because having your whole life up in the air for 3 straight months is not so much fun, especially when you desperately want to keep what you've been given because you love it, but it all depends on what happens in October. I'm doing my best to trust, to believe that God is FOR me no matter what happens. He is for me. I've been emotional today because this day marks exactly four years since one of my close friends in college died from cancer. I know that there will always be a heaviness of heart when I revisit that experience and that time in my life. I don't think about it very much and I talk about it even less, but no matter how far removed you are from it, you never completely stop missing someone you've lost. I've been emotional, in a good way, about how God keeps allowing me to cross paths with people who are looking for community in this city as badly as I am. I ran into someone I knew in law school at church last Sunday, and I wouldn't have even called her a "friend" exactly just because we barely knew each other. But we're both new in town and we were so excited to see each other just because it's so good to run into a familiar face. And we talked and have been texting all week about starting up a Christian female attorneys' small group here, and I'm so excited about it! I think it will be great both for spiritual support and networking (two of my favorite things!) I still love networking. Networking is how I got this job, and now one of my job responsibilities is to make contacts with others and build relationships in the community to help promote "client development" and meet people who may need our legal services. We had our first client development meeting this week, and I was told that I didn't need to produce a list of potential referrals because I had only been working here for 3 weeks and wasn't expected to have met anyone yet. But I had been out and about meeting people at my church small group and other events the entire previous week, so I made a list anyway of my potential contacts from those meetings. The founder of the firm had this to say about my list: "Lauren, I can't wait to see what you'll be able to do when you've worked at this law firm for more than three weeks!" (Soft skills/ networking for the win!) I mean, it's just socializing with a purpose, and we all know I love to socialize because I love to talk . . .

Well, I have a big week ahead of court, depositions, community group, meeting to brainstorm the attorneys' small group, brunch with Jenny, some DIY projects I want to do in the apartment, and I'm sure some other stuff that will come up last minute. I have some fashion and decorating blog posts hopefully coming soon, so stay tuned for those!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Engaging the Mess

As many of you know, I work in family law. I've found that several times when I am talking with Christians and they ask me what I do (or back in law school, when they'd ask me what I planned to do), I'd tell them that I planned to do/ currently do family law. Several times, the person asking has followed up with the question, "Does that include divorce?" in a seriously disapproving tone. For example, while I was in Haiti, two different conversations with Americans at the mission practically ground to a halt when they found out that I planned to practice an area of law that includes divorce law. I could just sense their confusion . . . I could tell they were thinking, "Wait a minute--you're here on a mission trip, so obviously mission and ministry is important to you, but your job back home is to do what?" I felt judged, and to be perfectly honest, I felt like those two people kind of wrote me off as someone who can't possibly be a serious Christian the second they found out that I wanted to work with people who are going through divorces. Because God hates divorce, so if you represent someone in their divorce, you're enabling them to sin, right? Not exactly. In fact, not at all.

Yes, God does hate divorce and the Bible tells us as much. I think we can probably all agree that God's design is for marriage to last for a lifetime. He is grieved over broken marriages, broken homes, and broken families. But here's how I need to respond when people incredulously question why any Christian would ever step into divorce law, and why I, personally, can do so and still consider myself to be serving the Lord in my career.

First of all, I want to honor God with my life above all else, and I would never have pursued a career that I didn't believe would accomplish that. Second, I really believe that God has called me to this field, and he has opened so, so many doors for me to work in this field. And I say that because this is where God has led me after lots and lots of prayer and indecision about what to do with my life. You don't have to defend God's calling on your life to anyone or justify why He's led you to do a particular task--frankly, you just need to obey His leading.

But with those things said, I think there are a lot of things we need to realize about my clients--people who want to get divorced or people who have gotten divorced already. First, when people come to a lawyer because their marriage is failing, it's not the lawyer's fault that their marriage is failing! Their marriage is their responsibility. I didn't make anyone's marriages fail; they made their marriages fail. Just because they come to me for advice on how to move forward doesn't mean I am playing any role in the collapse of their marriage.

And I would add here that not everyone who gets divorced does so for selfish or foolish reasons, and I don't believe it's right to judge people with broken marriages when we don't know their stories. Not everyone who seeks a divorce does so just because they "can't get along" with their spouse or because they argue a lot or because there's someone else. Some people, especially women, seek divorces because they're being constantly physically and emotionally abused, often in connection with drug abuse and alcoholism, and it's not safe or healthy for them or their children to remain in that environment. I'm not sure whether others would consider this theologically sound, but I believe it is acceptable, if not necessary, to seek a divorce in those circumstances. After all, the Bible doesn't simply command married folks to not get divorced while being silent about the issues of justice, protecting the welfare of children, and speaking up for people who can't speak up for themselves. If you or your children are in danger in your marriage, you need to get help, and in some extreme situations that may involve ending the marriage. Of course, in an ideal world we would never need to talk about this. In an ideal world, marriage would always work, and married people would always be safe in their own homes and with their own spouses. But I don't think anyone needs a reminder that we don't live in that world.

Moreover, in Georgia, as in many states, one party can seek a divorce on no-fault grounds, claiming the marriage is "irretrievably broken." This means that many people I see in my law firm have gotten served with divorce papers from their spouse even if they don't really know what went wrong, or even if they desperately want to give the marriage another shot. But if they don't deal with the situation and find someone to represent them, no one will be able to protect their interests moving forward. It's not just about representing people who are determined to get a divorce themselves; it's about helping people who are grieving and scared because their spouse has decided the marriage is not worth saving, and they don't know what to do. Irretrievably broken. I've seen those words on almost every divorce pleading I've ever read, and they still make me cringe. I've worked with many people who feel defeated by those words and their finality and what they mean for their lives, people who begin to believe that their lives are irretrievably broken or, even worse, that they are that way--damaged goods, cast off, unworthy. They carry those words around like so many scarlet letters, ashamed and wondering how they got to this point in their lives.

It is my job to minister to people who are grieving their failed marriages and shattered dreams and to show them the love of Jesus while I fight to protect their interests. Yes, of course the Bible talks about how God hates divorce. But God also hates injustice. God hates it when children are left in vulnerable situations with no one to speak up for them. God hates it when the "least of these" are ignored. God hates it when vindictive spouses try to personally or financially ruin the person they previously loved, leaving a trail of broken hearts and broken lives in the process. Love of neighbor and justice for the broken and destitute demands that believers step in to situations like these. I'm drawn to these situations because God has led me to this field, and while the brokenness of others makes me grieve for them, I just can't ignore it. I can't step aside just because the mess is distasteful or the emotions are painful. I find great joy in offering whatever light and hope I can to people who are in these agonizing situations, because they will remember the person who was kind to them, who listened to them, and who helped and protected them in their time of greatest need.

I might add that I consider my job to be just as much about helping children as it is about helping married couples, which is why I want to eventually volunteer some of my time as a guardian ad litem to speak up specifically for children's interests in these types of cases. Almost all of these couples have children, and those children need to be protected and provided for financially through our child support statutes when their parents break up. It's common for the standard of living for women after a divorce to drop by up to about 33%, and women get primary custody of the children a majority of the time. Part of my job is to help minimize those painful financial impacts so that my clients and their children remain provided for. I've also worked with men who weren't the breadwinners and who would be left with virtually nothing and entirely taken advantage of by their spouses if their interests weren't protected. It's my job to step in to situations like that.

In my three weeks at the firm, let's just say I've already seen and heard some nasty stuff that breaks my heart, things I can't talk about with others but that I certainly can pray about. I know that I will need to go to counseling on a pretty regular basis throughout my career just to be able to talk to someone about some of the terrible stuff you see and hear when you work on divorce cases. But I can pray about those situations, and I can pray for those children. I can pray for them by name on my way to the courthouse for their custody hearing, as I did this week.

Divorce is messy stuff. There's no denying that. But who is better at engaging the mess than Christians? If I don't help these clients, they will go to another attorney. It's not like they're not going to get a divorce if I refuse to represent them for fear that I'm "promoting divorce." They will just go to someone else--and I'd far prefer that they come to me, someone who is a Christian and does care about them and wants to minister to them in their time of need--than to someone who just wants their money. Christians are called to be in virtually every field of human endeavor, including this one. I don't see my job as helping marriages break up. My job is to protect the interests of my clients and help them to look out for the welfare of their children and their finances when they are already traveling down the path of divorce. And if I think there's any possibility of reconciliation, you'd better believe I'll encourage my client to get back in there and try to work it out. I'm blessed to be working with other lawyers who feel that way about it too. Our business model is to encourage prospective clients to work it out, even if we lose their business as a result. I've respected my boss from the day I first met him because I could tell he's in this for the right reasons. But I've never respected him more than the day he told a prospective client, "I hope you don't ever have to come back to our office. We'll help you if you do, but if you think there's any way you can make it work, I want you to go make it work."

I see my job as being to minister to people in a time of their greatest brokenness. Believers, we need to engage this mess, because if we don't, someone else will. And even if my clients have never given faith a second thought, maybe someday they will look back and think that their attorney showed them the love of Christ and be willing to give Him a chance. Maybe they'll realize that He is the only one who can truly heal and redeem our brokenness. That He makes all things new. That He specializes in picking up the shattered pieces of our lives and molding them into something beautiful. That because He allowed Himself to be bruised and broken and shattered for us, nothing in our lives is beyond redemption. Maybe they'll realize that because of Jesus Christ, our lives cannot be irretrievably broken, no matter what words our laws use. Because he tracks down and picks up all of the shards of a shattered heart. He declares that our past cannot define us and our present is not the end of our story. I want my clients to know Him through what I do. That is my hope, and this is my job, and I won't apologize to people for it. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Week 3 of Lawyer Life

Friends, I have made it through three full weeks of more or less being an attorney (just waiting on the law license to make it official)! I like my job so much, even on days like today when I spent the majority of the day poring over financial spreadsheets for clients calculating payments owed to them under consent orders and postnuptial agreements. I learned today that there's a really easy way to become the most popular person in the office, and that's to bring in Krispy Kreme doughnuts on a Friday morning. D. said, "Lauren, you're setting a precedent--now we're going to expect these from you every Friday!" But they got devoured, as I predicted, because people in my law firm really like to eat (I mean, it's true). They make fun of me because they say I never eat anything, which is so not true, but I don't blame them for thinking that because I'm usually way more focused on trying to be professional and carry on a good conversation than on actually eating when we go to lunch together.

I'm also trying to bond with every single person in the firm and not get all clique-ish with my own practice group or, worse, only hang out with the other attorneys and ignore our amazing paralegals and support staff. I'm not sure if it's particularly common for our attorneys to invite paralegals to lunch, but I did this week, because I figured even if that's not done too often, there's no harm in putting myself out there and showing that I'm willing to connect with everybody. I also coordinated a group lunch with "the other side of the hall," aka, the guys in the business litigation group that I would rarely see otherwise.

I've gotten used to wearing a suit, pantyhose, and heels every single day, and now whenever I'm off work I pretty much only want to throw on a T-shirt or something and make no effort at all because I have to be so polished the rest of the time. I've drunk more coffee in the last three weeks than I probably ever have before, because I am not a big coffee drinker, but now every morning I get myself coffee in the break room because that's pretty much what everyone else does. I've found myself getting more and more refills lately during the day, which probably means I'm starting to need my caffeine, but oh well. I also went to a bar association breakfast on Thursday morning and have filled up my calendar for the next month with bar events, young lawyers' events, and seminars on various family law topics.

I've been very focused for the last three weeks on making sure I get started on the right foot and start building a very good reputation quickly, because you don't get to "fix" a bad reputation later. I want to be known around the office as someone who is dependable, personable, professional, and able to do excellent work. I've also been trying to work on "soft skills" for the office, which are things like taking initiative, volunteering to pitch in on projects when you see there's a need, being friendly to everyone and taking time to talk to others so people feel like you're part of the team, remembering other people's interests and likes and dislikes, etc. For example, if you know your boss is particularly interested in a certain new development in an area of child custody, sending him or her a thoughtful article on the topic that you just read is totally a soft skill, because it shows that you're tuned in and thinking of them. Keeping track of what's important to others is a soft skill. For example, I noticed that my boss has someone's birthday noted on his calendar pretty much every day, so I kind of figured that remembering people's birthdays is important to him, and made a mental note of that. It was his birthday on Monday, and he was out of the office for a couple days, but when I saw him next on Wednesday, I made sure to tell him happy birthday and he seemed really pleased that I remembered. And let's be real, I brought the doughnuts today because it was one of my soft skill development goals for the week, not just because I wanted to be nice.

I still have new-girl worries a lot and have had some freak outs about very minor things (such as, is it ok to text my boss? Because it's 8:00 on Sunday night and I need to know if we're meeting in court tomorrow or at the office and then driving together. So I sent the text, and to my relief, she wasn't like, oh for Pete's sakes it's the weekend and please don't bother me . . . although I'm not sure why I was so worried she would say that in the first place). It's still so early in the job that I honestly get really excited when either one of the two partners I work with says something as simple as "See you tomorrow Lauren!" because I think, "Whew, they still want me to come back tomorrow!"

Every day at this job I am reminded that you really never know unless you try. I've had a lot of moments when I pause and look around my office and think, "I cannot believe I actually work here!" I had had my eyes on a job at this firm since late last fall but I kept thinking, "There is no way they will ever hire ME--no way. I'm too young and have virtually no experience and they don't hire people right out of law school anyway." I am so, so glad that I woke up on a morning in January this year and decided to just try and sent them my resume. That was the best thing I could have done, because you just don't know what will happen. And even though I am the youngest lawyer there by at least 5 years and one of the only women and by far the least experienced, they still gave me a chance and I hope I get to spend a long, long time there making everybody happy that they took a chance on me.