Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Everything I know about being a lawyer...

Remember those cheesy posters that hung in every doctor’s office, waiting room, or teachers’ lounge… “Everything I know now I learned in Kindergarten”?? Sure you do. They were everywhere. And of course it didn’t take long for them to morph into such classics as “Everything I know now I learned from my Cat”.

As lawyers our children are often looked upon as liabilities. They hurt our ability to do our jobs…or so society says. If you have kids you can’t be a good lawyer. 

Well, I must respectfully disagree with society. I believe I am a better lawyer because I am a Mom. My children have taught me more about being a good lawyer than any of my professors in law school.

So, if I was to write a cheesy poster…mine would read:

Everything I know about being a good lawyer, I learned from my kids…

Short and sweet is always best. As a Mom I don’t have 30 minutes to explain to my three year old why we don’t put playing cards in the DVD player. The lawyer in me wants to delve into a lengthy discourse explaining why we do not do this. But my Mom side knows better…it knows that I have exactly 3.2 seconds to get my point across before my three year old loses interest. So I always put my best arguments first and keep it short and sweet. I treat my juries the same way…instead of taking 10 minutes to explain why my client should win, I remember my kids’ attention span and go short and sweet. And yes, I have found that most average citizens sitting on a jury (and judges) share the same attention span as my 3 year old.

Repeat Yourself…a lot. The great Bill Cosby said this the best in his old comedy routines. Children don’t hear something that you just say once. A child does not hear “Come here”…so you have to say “Come here, come here, come here, here, here, here!” I think because I do this on a daily basis, it has carried over into my professional life. If I have a strong argument, I make sure that I repeat it throughout my trial or brief. I want to make sure when the jury is deliberating they remember “Timing isn’t everything” or whatever it is I am arguing. It works. I’ve even noticed in rulings on my motions, I’ll catch the judges stating my catchphrase throughout the ruling.

Don’t be the biter. Any daycare Mom knows that at daycare there are the biters and the kids that are bitten. Sure the biters may appear to have the upper hand, I mean they may get the toy after they bit the holder of the same…but look at what happens? It doesn’t take long for everyone to find out who the biter is, even though the accident report only says the child was bitten by a “friend”. So is it really worth it to be the biter? Definitely not. As an attorney your reputation is more important than your knowledge, I guarantee it.

Why do 5 things when you can do 10?  Because I am a Mom I multi-task with the best of them. I mean come on, while I’m writing this blog I have a load of laundry in, I’m doing prep work for dinner tomorrow, and I’m watching my favorite show in the background on my DVR. After I became a Mom I became much more productive with my time. As a lawyer I have similar time constraints…I may only have 5 minutes to come up with a response to a last minute argument raised by opposing counsel. Because I am a Mom, I guarantee you I can get more done in that time frame than other attorneys. I mean have they ever had to cook dinner while helping a 4 year old with homework, stopping a three year old from eating dog food, and feeding a baby?

Yes, the good guys do sometimes win. As a defense lawyer, I am very cynical. I always have the uphill battle, I mean I am the one representing the person who is being sued. So it automatically doesn’t look good for me based solely on my position after the “v.” in the caption. So, after years of doing this job, you start to think that the “good guys” never win. But all the countless fairytales I read to my daughter remind me each day that yes, the good guys do and should win. So it helps to keep my cyncism at bay.

If it smells like poop…it is poop. Yes, I’ve changed enough diapers in my day to know this fact. When I’m preparing for a trial or writing a brief, I’ll get a bad feeling in my gut about an argument…it just seems weak. Often attorneys have this feeling about arguments or theories, yet they don’t trust themselves and they go with it. You know what, they lose because their “poopy” argument clouded their great one. So if an argument smells like poop to me, its gone, everytime.

Appearing busy = an exceptional lawyer. If you try to schedule depositions or trials with me you will find it quite challenging. Yes, I have a lot of files, but I also have a lot of barriers to my calendar because of my kids. My assistant or myself will tell the person that I have a “commitment” whether personal or not. I can’t tell you the number of times opposing counsel have said to me in depositions… “Wow you are a hard woman to track down, you must be a great lawyer to carry that load”. So yeah after they say that I don’t mention that I had to reschedule our deposition because of my daughter’s dance pictures.

Storytelling is a lost art...find it. Being a Mom has taught me to never underestimate the power of storytelling. It’s not enough to tell a story…you have to be good at it. My kids would quickly lose interest if I read their bedtime stories in a monotone voice with no feeling. Same is true for a juror…if you can’t tell a good story and at least try and appear like the fantasically interesting Hollywood versions of attorneys they watch nightly on NBC, then you’ll lose their interest and often your case . Okay so no I don’t pull out my “Big bad wolf” voice during my closing arguments, but I can guarantee you I’m much more interesting to listen to in trial because I am constantly practicing my storytelling.

Make time for Manners. As a Mom I am constantly telling my kids, “say please”, “say excuse me”, and “always say thank you”. As adults we forget that. But Moms don’t forget it, because the moment we do we hear little voices piping up “Mom, you forgot to say PLEASE”. This constant attention to manners has paid off for me big time. A clerk at the Courthouse once told me that she was going to help me expedite a last minute "oh crap I forgot it" motion up to the judge because I was always so friendly and polite when I talked to her. See, like I tell my 4 year old…manners matter.

Learn to spot the Wolf. Every children’s story or movie always has the bad guy in disguise. “Grandmother what big EYES you have”. I have learned through my children how to spot the wolves of the world. I know what attorneys to trust and which ones to watch out for. I know what witnesses to dig deeper into. I have honed my judgment skills. Who knew Little Red Riding Hood would be so helpful?

Move on. Children don’t dwell. If they do something wrong, they apologize and then quickly move on. No harm, no foul. When I started my career everytime I made a mistake I would take it to heart. My children have taught me that mistakes happen…apologize for them and move on.

Don’t wait for the confession…it won’t come. Ever notice how when something breaks in the presence of two children, conveniently neither of them know what happened? I used to make the parenting mistake of waiting and waiting for the confession… “Okay, who did it?” I wasted so much time waiting for someone to confess. Then I realized that I didn’t need the confession, I could get the information I need by setting up a prima facie case of the crime… “Okay, so J did you use this beautiful purple paint in your picture today (in an excited tone)?” “Yes, Mommy I sure did”. “Oh I bet your brother didn’t even think to use that beautiful purple paint in his picture (in a “you are such a better artist than your brother” tone)”. “No, Mommy he didn’t even want to use purple”. And presto I found the culprit who decided our khaki walls would look better with big purple splashes of paint on them. I use the same principles in examining witnesses. I used to question witnesses over and over to get them to admit to something…and of course all this led to was “Asked and Answered” objections and no confessions. People don’t want to say they did something wrong…so set it up. I now build up the facts so that the jury can figure it out without seeing the writing (or Crayola Washable paint) on the wall.

Have fun. Children have fun in their lives. They truly enjoy their surroundings. Watching my kids has taught me to just have fun in my profession. I’m a better lawyer because I find the joy in litigating. If I really like a case, I find myself better at defending it. So I find the joy in my cases. Being a lawyer is fun…so enjoy it! I mean there aren’t many professions where you can yell at people to your heart's content and get paid for it, now are there?

So next time a young upstart associate tries to make you feel they are so much better than you because they are sans kids, or you feel like you are being Mommytracked, remember you gave birth to some of the greatest teachers of trial advocacy out there. So let them think that you learned all your excellent trial skills at Harvard or some fancy trial academy...you and your kids will know the secret.



  1. Kids are actually the greatest inspiration parents can have to perform better in their profession. The desire to provide a better quality of living for their children can definitely be a strong motivation for parents. And I must say, your posters are exceptionally great! The most important tip: Have fun! :)

    Jacquelyn Gwin

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