Journey, Law practice, My Life

The non-practicing attorney

The decision to stop practing, if that even what you call what I was doing, was not an easy one. It took a long time hemming and hawing over the right decision for me and it came down to two factors:

  1. Was I wasting all the work I had put in to not practice?
  2. What would everyone think?

I had spent the last three years in law school, toiling away for essentially a piece of paper and a big test. I had spent months preparing for the bar, waiting for results, and job searching. There were countless hours worrying over school and money, trying to keep my relationship together, and just trying to be human. If I decided not to practice, would I regret it? Would all that be wasted? And most importantly, would I be making a difference in the world?

Ultimately, I decided that practicing was exhausting. I went into law school wanting to make a difference and instead felt like the bulk of my time was spent plugging and chugging on motions or answer phone calls from strung out clients. I didn’t feel like I was making an impact in anyone’s life and I certainly wasn’t changing the world. The three years I spent in law school taught me a lot, and not just the actual law. It taught me to think critically, be skeptical, and always look for the hidden facts. It taught me I can be resilient, work well under pressure, and multitask like a champ. But, it was up to me to use those skills to do something important.

By not practicing, I am able to do just that. I still work with lawyers, I still have to keep up on legal news, and I still get to spend my free time researching things I’m passionate about. I get to talk to lawyers all over the world about things that made my law school and practice experience easier and can help them help their clients. But, because I’m not mentally and emotionally exhausted by practicing, I can take the skills I have to be a CASA/GAL, to help homeless individuals with their leases, and to take pro bono cases when I have the time. I’m able to be around for my future kids childhoods and go to PTA meetings. I can be actively involved in my community and create change there.

In the end, I’m happy with my decision. I think I got the best of both worlds, a stable job I love and the ability to effect change in my community. And as for what other people think, it just doesn’t matter.

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Law practice

Legal lingo

Hands down the worst part about law school for me was learning all the new language I needed to know to understand what was going on. Things like motions in limine and subrogation have thrown me off my entire legal career. I still run into legal words that I have no idea what they mean and have to spend a ton of time just understanding what they mean to get what I need to learn from my classes. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of words I still don’t understand 4 semesters into law school:

1. Subrogation-I’m not even going to try. We talk about this in payment systems all the time and I still only half understand what’s going on. (Apparently, it means: assuming the legal rights of a person for whom expenses or a debt has been paid)

2. Ad Hoc-I really should understand this since we talked about it a lot in undergrad and now in admin law. (This means: “for this purpose only” in Latin)

3. Parens Patriae-I guess its: Latin for “father of his country,” the term for the doctrine that the government is the ultimate guardian of all people under a disability, especially children, whose care is only “entrusted” to their parents.

4. En Banc-It has something to do with hearing a case but I couldn’t tell you what.  (French for “in the bench,” it signifies a decision by the full court of all the appeals judges in jurisdictions where there is more than one three- or four-judge panel)

So four semesters in and things that I should know as far as words go, I don’t. Luckily, there are things like Blacks Law Dictionary and Google to help figure these things out. Learning the legal lingo is just as difficult as learning a second language like Spanish or French, at least in my mind. There is a completely new set of vocabulary, cases are written in a sophisticated, educated language, and sometimes words that we no longer use are put in decisions. It’s not easy adjusting to a new language and even as a 2L I’m still learning new words. There’s nothing wrong with having to look up words until you understand what they say. Don’t be afraid of the new legal lingo you’ve thrown yourself into by going into law. It’s hard and you may not know words until you’ve used them a million times. No one expects an expert right off the bat.

Cases

You won’t always like the result…

Some cases are dumb. The courts were dumb, the outcome was dumb and by today’s standards would never fly. You read the case, expecting it to go a certain way and in the end, it goes the complete opposite. Sometimes, the cases are overturned later or the rule is changed but sometimes, they are decisions that forever change someone’s life or the circumstances the law is argued.

I think back to my undergrad Con Law class where we read Korematsu v. United States. The court decided that putting Japanese in camps during WWII was ok. Now, the case was overturned/discouraged, I can’t remember what exactly it was, years later. This whole case, you sit there saying “there is no way they can let this happen” and there they go, letting it happen. This may be a terrible example because I firmly believe it was a bad decision from the very beginning. However, the point stands that sometimes, you aren’t going to like the result.

My favorite cases are the ones where you want it to go a certain way but based on the law it simply can’t. Since it’s finals week I can’t think of an example (my brain is completely fried) but they do exist. You morally object to something in the case but there simply isn’t a good enough legal argument or evidence to support the outcome you want to see. Those are the worst cases because you see how the law does not always follow the morals we set in society but are based on giving people a full chance to prove they are not at fault for whatever the case is about.

Sometimes, the result is not what you hoped for and morally, every single thing rubs you the wrong way. Our justice system is designed with certain things in mind, protections and checks, to keep innocent people out of the judicial system. It’s a good system but there are flaws and sometimes things don’t go the way you want. The best thing you can do is learn to be the best lawyer possible to keep the innocent out of trouble and the guilty responsible for their actions.