Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Big News

So, I know you all probably want to know, so I'll just go ahead and tell you that I PASSED THE BAR EXAM!!! Of course, Friday was October 24th, the day that has loomed large in my mind for months, the day that was going to basically determine what a lot of my future is going to look like. This whole time, October 24th has been my stopping point. I could tell you what I'd probably be doing until then, but I couldn't tell you about after or plan for the days after. And now, I can! I get to live here indefinitely. I get to work at this law firm indefinitely. Indefinitely. There could not be a better word than that right now, since everything I have done in my adult life so far has been all about the end--college and law school have a predetermined end point and you know that no matter how much you're enjoying it, you will have to leave before long. I am absolutely thrilled that it is perfectly conceivable that I will be living in this city and working at this job ten years from now, or fifteen, or more. I get to STAY here indefinitely. And everything has changed as a result. I feel comfortable joining activities and truly making friends and committing to volunteer work and buying some furniture and things I need, and so forth, because I get to stay here. It's not temporary anymore, and literally everything else I have done since I was 18 years old has been all too temporary.

But before I go off any further on that tangent, let me tell you how it all actually happened. I will never forget where I was and who I was with when I found out. My sister Meagan flew in on Thursday night and was here till Monday morning. We had been planning for a long time that she was going to be here the weekend results came out. I had heard lots of different advice on how to handle checking bar results--should you do it with someone else or by yourself, where should you plan to check, etc. This may sound silly to some of you if you're thinking it's just like checking your grade on any old test, but it's not like that at all, because the very best case scenario is that if your name is not on that pass list, you will be spending a couple thousand dollars to take the test and a prep course again, and spending hundreds of hours to prepare for it. So checking those results is a very big nerve-wracking deal and you need to plan ahead for how you're going to find out. I had been thinking the whole time that I was going to leave my phone off all day Friday (to avoid getting texts from people about results), leave work a little early, and go check results at home with my sister. Then on Thursday afternoon D. asked me to go to this deposition with him the next day and told me it could last all day. (He was like, "What do you have going on tomorrow, besides this whole bar thing?" Um . . . not much!) So he told me that I could just excuse myself whenever I needed to so that I could go check results.

So at 10am on Friday I was sitting in opposing counsel's office and we were doing this deposition. At basically the last minute on Friday morning, I changed my mind and told Meagan to text me right away if I passed. I had been so hesitant to do that because I didn't want to be assuming the worst if I didn't hear anything from her--but I also by all means did not want to find out bad news in public. So we took a couple breaks during the deposition and each time I checked my phone for messages. At 11:50, I checked my phone again. Still nothing. At that point I got very nervous because I had had a gut feeling all along that the results were going to be released around noon, even though they weren't guaranteed to be posted before 4:30. At about 12:10, we finished the deposition and D. went into another room to meet with the opposing counsel while I stayed in the conference room with the client. I pulled out my phone again and saw that I had a picture message from Meagan, and I immediately knew what it was because I had told her to send me a screenshot of the pass list, not just to tell me "You passed!" It was in fact a screenshot of the list and my name was on it, and I just was like, "I passed the bar exam, I passed the bar exam!!" and the client and I hugged and D. and I hugged and I just kept saying, "I just don't even know what to say right now." I was just so, so relieved, and surprised, and happy, and it felt like the weight of the WORLD had just fallen off my shoulders. And then there was drinks with the coworkers, and a fancy dinner with my sister, and shopping, and cupcakes, and champagne, and you get the idea! We had a great weekend. And now, I still have to get sworn in to the State Bar of Georgia, but once I do that in two weeks or so, I will be a licensed attorney!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Going Beyond the Comfort Zone

Yesterday and today were pretty writing-heavy days at the office, which makes me really happy because I've realized I would be totally satisfied with my career if I could just sit and draft documents and write briefs for clients all day, every day. I enjoy being in court and preparing for hearings too, but I really think the writing is what I like more.

I'm excited because I've been asked to assist on a really big case where we're working to handle some very complex financial issues that have come up in one of our divorce cases. I've been asked to write the settlement agreement, complete with a ton of details about how the retirement accounts and pension plans will be split up, how child support and alimony will be handled, how real estate will be divided, etc. Never mind that I have never written one of these before, I want my finished product to look like I have been doing these for years. I'm learning not to say, "I don't really know how to do X" because if I don't know how to do it, well, I need to just learn/ teach myself/ ask someone to show me how to do it. If I've never done something before, that's all the more reason for me to be doing it now because then I have something else under my belt. So for the past two days I've pretty much just sat down and figured it out bit by bit. I've put in the merger clauses and tax indemnification provisions and all the details about dividing pension plans via qualified domestic relations orders. It's turned into a 25-page document and might get longer yet. I'm basically done for now, but I need to have a major conference with one of our tax lawyers on Monday to make sure I wrote in the tax provisions correctly before I pass it onto my boss. I'm hoping he can let me know if I made any serious mistakes before I embarrass myself in front of the partners with it.

I'm getting to the point, though, where I am okay with feeling dumb sometimes. Part of me would rather always know exactly what I'm doing and feel totally on top of things, but there is something to be said for being stretched WAY out of your comfort zone at work and challenged to develop new skills and push yourself to do things you've never done before. I was in a bad mood on Wednesday night because everything all day had just made me feel stupid (no one at the office has ever made me feel that way because they're all very patient, but I was just feeling that way in general after a day of not being able to figure out how to do anything people were asking me to do). And I was feeling very out of my league at this job and wondering if I was in over my head and if I would ever just get it. And I've been feeling very drained lately too, because I really love all the new things that have begun in my life in the past couple months, but adjusting to a new job/ new city/ new apartment/ new friends all at one time is pretty challenging, and I've had to learn and adapt to a huge number of things in a very short time. But then I realized that feeling clueless and overwhelmed sometimes means I'm pushing myself, and being challenged, and dealing with the discomfort that so often accompanies professional and personal growth. It's boring if you always know exactly what you're doing and are totally comfortable with your work. And I know that even if I feel dumb sometimes (some days more than others), I've still developed a lot of new skills just in the past few weeks in this job, and the more I keep working at it, the more natural it will probably feel.

My boss is going on vacation and she left this morning and won't get back till a week from Monday, after bar results come out a week from today. So before she left, she said, "Lauren, next time I see you, you're going to be a lawyer!" I'm thinking, boy I hope you're right! But I feel good/ relaxed/ at peace about the whole thing right now, no matter what happens. And she was like, "Text me as soon as you find out!" I hope I'll be getting to tell her that our firm officially has another attorney . . . very, very soon.

Well y'all, I need to go to bed because tomorrow is service project day at the refugee mission north of the city, and I have to be there at 8am. Enjoy your weekend!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Therefore I Have Hope

The Lord has been speaking to me lately about how incredibly often I hope and trust in the wrong things. We all do, really. We trust in our paychecks, our job security, our relationships, our own abilities and skills, and our own efforts to find favor with others and to get them to like us and approve of us. And I place my hope in the wrong things too, so much of the time. There's a difference, I think, between hoping for something and hoping in something. It is fine to hope for a better job, a spouse, or children, or to hope for seeing your name on the pass list when bar exam results are posted. The problem comes when we start placing our hope and confidence IN those things, believing that everything will be okay if we can only have them, and that the world will come crashing down if we can't. If we start believing that our lives and our joy hinge on a certain thing happening, then it's a good bet that we're hoping not just for that thing but in that thing, instead of hoping in the Lord.

I place too much trust in having some savings in a bank account and having my ducks in a row. I place too much trust in my own plans for my life and not enough in God's better plans. But the hope we have in the Lord is the hope of "even if." Even if the worst happens, even if our nightmare comes true, even if our loved one dies, even if the layoffs at our company leave us without a job, even if we get bad news about our health . . . even if, even then, we can still have hope in the mercies of the Lord.

The writer of Lamentations stood in the middle of a ruined city when he wrote these words: "Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion. Therefore I will wait for Him.' The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him."

There is so much solid gold in this passage, but first, one thing I've noticed just recently about it is that these verses make it so abundantly clear that we have total control over 1) what we call to our minds, and 2) what we say to ourselves. That may sound simple, but think of how often we believe we don't really have control over these things! We think we can't really control what is on our mind or the worry that might be plaguing us or what we convince ourselves is true. But we can. Calling something to mind implies an active effort, a conscious decision to think on these things. I will call to mind the unfailing love of the Lord. When fear of the future assaults my soul, I will call to mind all of the faithfulness of the Lord over my lifetime (blog post just about this, coming soon). I will call to mind that Jesus Christ is enough, and He's always been enough, and He will always be enough. I will call to mind the simple truth that everything I cannot do or be, He can and is. And I will say to myself and speak over my soul only truth, that the Lord is my portion. He is what I've been given, and that's all I need, and He is my delightful inheritance. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't control what you say to yourself and bring to your mind, or that you have to let the winds of anxiety and popular opinion and negativity and dread and despair steer your soul. It's not true. Choose another anchor for your soul.

And this passage also tells me that we cannot be consumed or destroyed, ever, no matter what, because of the love of the Lord. Even if we stand in the middle of a ruined city, literally or hypothetically. This is the sort of passage that, in our modern times and modern equivalents, I imagine coming out of the mouths of survivors standing in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped, or from refugees fleeing Syria after their homes have been destroyed and their families have been killed. Even then, all is not lost. We cannot lose everything. Because his mercies never fail. They are not yesterday's mercies, because they are new every morning. We don't have to try to "store up" the mercies of God out of fear that we're not getting fresh ones tomorrow, because we are. His mercy is never leftover or old or stale or something we've experienced before--it is brand-new. The Lord has enough new mercies for all the days of all the lives of every person on this planet. Celebrate the way the Lord showed you mercy yesterday, but understand all the while that you need to keep your eyes open for the way He's going to show you profound compassion today. Don't miss out because you're refusing to pay attention or are too consumed with the future or the past.

Lean in to the Lord this week, and place all of your hope and confidence in Him alone.

And finally, I just really want to encourage all of you to check out Hillsongs' Glorious Ruins album if you haven't done so already. I listened to it a few times last year but it just wasn't really speaking to me at that point in my life, but in the last two weeks I've been listening to it again, and it has been such a deep encouragement, especially this song called You Never Fail. These truths have just been washing over me in a really fresh way, and I think you all should listen to the album if you haven't yet!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Happy Fall, Y'all!

First of all, I hope you like the new blog layout! I don't think I'm going to keep it necessarily, but I was ready for a change, and I'm probably going to experiment with more styles in the next few weeks.

I think this may just be officially my favorite time of the year. I love how the weather turns crisper and the leaves start changing colors and you can stock up on pumpkin everything, from candles to lattes. I am planning to go to Bath and Body Works tomorrow for the big autumn shopping trip to get fall candles, fragrances, and soaps. It's time to get this apartment festive for the season!

This week has been really good for a number of different reasons. For one, I've just in the past few days been feeling like I have several good friends here and that lots of community is being birthed in a lot of different ways, and it feels so good. My social life is still slower than it was in law school, but I've also only been here for a couple of months, and it takes time. I'm helping to head up a Christian female attorneys' small group and am meeting several people through that, and I've been getting really involved in my community group at church and meeting a lot of good people that way too. I've also reconnected lately with someone from law school who lives here now, and we've become pretty close even though we never really hung out much when we were actually in school together. I've also been really connecting with a couple of the attorneys I keep seeing at seminars and events, and I am planning to reach out to those women more in the next few weeks to get to know them better, professionally and also personally. One of those attorneys asked me to head up a campaign among my colleagues to raise money for legal services for indigent clients in our community, so I've been jumping into that lately too. And I go to bar events all the time, so that's some prime friend-making opportunities there too. But this week was the first time since moving up here that I felt really comfortable and happy with the state of my friendships up here, and that makes a big difference.

For another thing, I was able to get some much-needed clarity on what, exactly, would happen with my employment in the event--however unlikely it may be--that my bar results are not good. To my great relief, I was told that we can work something out to allow me to keep working there and take the bar again in February--I would not be immediately done with my job if I fail the bar, and that's the biggest relief ever. But I think they like having me around at the office, and I'm pretty much at the point where I am totally comfortable with everybody. My paralegal was on the phone with someone the other day, and I overheard her saying, "Our new associate [me] actually comes in to the office on Mondays AND Fridays! And she actually works while she's here! It is so great, and we love her!" I almost burst out laughing right then because I guess not every associate she's worked with in the past has found it necessary to do those things? Haha. But really, just being professional and doing your job goes a long, long way.

My next week is booked up already with events pretty much every night--church event on Monday, family law banquet on Tuesday, small group ladies' dinner on Wednesday, and a wine tasting with the volunteer lawyers' group on Thursday, not to mention hearings and meetings and stuff like that during work hours. But that's all good, because staying busy will make this time of waiting that much easier.

Today I went to what I will probably hereafter be calling "the rich people Goodwill." It was this really swanky Goodwill in the wealthy part of town (who can afford to give away a like-new Ann Taylor top? Apparently, people who donate to this Goodwill! Thanks guys!) I made out like a bandit, seriously. Here is the haul of cute clothes I got for the whopping price tag of $22:

Above, the necklace is one I already had, but that's just an example of how I would style it. 

The lighting is a little weird in that photo, but you get the idea. I'm really excited about the fact that all of these tops are 1) work-appropriate if worn with a blazer, and 2) cute just on their own with a pair of jeans for the weekend. I need clothes that do double duty like that because it's not practical to have to basically have two wardrobes, one for work and one for the rest of the time. 

And I am really liking my jewelry and accessories rack in the bathroom! It's so easy for me to pick out what I need for each day. 

Well, that's about it for tonight! Have a great weekend!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Learning How to Be a Lawyer

I realized today that my bosses are probably ready for some ALONE TIME and are probably kind of tired of having an incredibly eager and inquisitive fake associate (not real till I'm licensed) follow them around and ask them tons of questions and ask permission to sit in on all their meetings and go to all their events with them. I don't have a ton of work to do yet and I certainly don't have my own cases yet (I probably won't have those till January or so), so I'm always looking for ways to just jump in and find work for myself. I know that sometimes D. and E. probably don't have time at the moment to walk me through how to do whatever project needs doing, so there's definitely some down time, some days more than others. But I've decided to set myself apart by taking a ton of initiative and just finding ways to bring value to the team (yep, in case you're wondering, that is a soft skill I'm working on). 

I've made it my habit to look at their Outlook calendars every morning, see what meetings they have going on (typically with clients, but sometimes with opposing counsel too), and then ask if I can sit in on those meetings. Then, during the meetings, I am taking lots of notes and listening the whole time to see if there is follow-up work to do (because there almost always is). Today, for example, I got myself work for the whole day by using this technique. I sat in on a meeting this morning with a client, and E. was saying that our next step would be to draft a parenting plan. So, naturally, after the meeting I'm like, "I'll go ahead and draft the parenting plan for [Client], so we can get the ball rolling on that." Then she asked me to also do the client's child support worksheet, and I told her I didn't really know how to do those (100% true) but that I would try. So I did most of the parenting plan and then realized I had to just tackle this whole child support worksheet thing. I didn't really know where to begin, so I just started looking at some examples from other cases, and then started picking through the entire file to get all the financial information I needed. (One thing I love about being a lawyer is how much you get to snoop into stuff that, but for your job, would be none of your business!) So, one way or another, I finished the child support worksheet, so we'll see. Virtually all the drafting I've done so far has been something I have never written before, because these cases tend to be much more complex than the cases I worked on at previous jobs. Many of them have lots of assets and business valuation and appraisals and amortization schedules and qualified domestic relations orders and refinancing and second mortgages and a whole lot of other stuff going on. (I feel like I'm doing great right now just based on the fact that I know what all those things mean. One step at a time.) 

Here are my work-related goals for the moment: 1) Get more involved in strategic case planning and decision-making, as opposed to carrying out just black-and-white tasks with a yes or no answer, like simple research questions. I recently dove into some of this strategic planning and research for a case with major jurisdictional issues, and it felt really good to be giving my input to some of the actual lawyering--the thought process, the decisions, the assessment of case strategy. 2) Make friends with family law attorneys in other firms to start making a name for myself in the broader legal community here--basically, just putting myself out there and letting people know I'm a brand new addition to the family law scene and am planning to practice here for as long as I can. 3) Start providing valuable information to my colleagues--in the form of the latest relevant articles, the latest cases, new legislation we need to be looking into, etc. I'm going to all these family law seminars for a reason, and I need to be passing on what I learn to others. There is so, so much I still don't know, but I want to be someone who's sharing what I learn with others.

Well, I've been reading all those articles and books about careers for years now and I am having so much fun finally putting some of that into practice. And now it is time for bed because I'm now incapable of staying up past 11pm. Have a good night!