Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Behind the Mute Button

I have always been one to appreciate technology. The IPod changed my life, the IPhone changed my world. Because of DVR I never miss a tv show, and I never forget to thank my GPS for "recalculating" after I miss my turn 6 times on the way to a court hearing in some dot-on-the-map county in rural Iowa.

But this week another piece of technology graced my "I can't live without you list"...the mute button on a telephone.  

If you've read my blog before, you know that my work-life has been taken over the past couple of years by a very large federal construction litigation. This case has 20 plus parties, mountains of blue prints and photographs, and so many documents that it has been given its own large filing cabinet in my office.

Two weeks out of every month the Court ordered us to set aside time for depositions in this case. And because of the size of this litigation, the depositions take place all over the country: St. Louis, Austin, Champaign. I represent one of the third-party defendants in this case and therefore most of the depositions do not have a whole lot to do with my case. And because I cannot possibly be away from my family to be in depositions 10 days out of every month , I do a lot of these depositions over the phone.

So this week I've been holed up in my office listening to hours of construction depositions. Monday morning I sat at my desk ready for a deposition that I thought would last about 4 hours. We started at 9:00, so when my clock hit 3:30 I started to get nervous.

My husband works 12 hour night shifts and therefore I have a very different schedule than most lawyers I know. My husband rotates, two days working, two days off, three days working, two days off, etc. I am literally held hostage to his factory's schedule. In fact, his work schedule sits on a large piece of paper on my desk and my assistant's desk. Because of his work schedule, while most attorneys stay after hours to catch up on billable hours or answer emails I have to be out of the door by 4:35 p.m. so I can get across town and pick up the kids from daycare. We don't have a backup plan, i.e. no family in town, no babysitter on call. Just me.

Now normally on this particular Monday I would not have to be nervous as Todd was off, but then as 3:45 passed I realized..."Oh crap, Todd's working overtime tonight". And as my luck would have it, the second this hit my mind the Plaintiff's attorney said "Okay Mr. [so and so] I think I only have a couple more hours to go so hang in there".

Over the course of my career I have pretty much come to terms with the fact I am the only attorney I know with this "tag team parenting schedule". When depositions go long, I look around at other women attorneys and they are calm as can be...sure some of them have to text the nanny that they will be late, but none of them seem to hear each minute of the clock ticking as loud as I do in my brain.

4:15 - Plaintiff's attorney still going strong. I text my husband..."Going late. Not sure I'll be done at 5:00 p.m., you'll have to pick up the kids". 4:35 p.m. - "I am still going. I guess you'll have to bring the kids here".

So there I was 5:00 p.m., sprinting out of my office to the elevators and heading down to grab the kids. The kids love being at my office, so I knew I could probably keep them entertained while the deposition finished.

And this is why I have a new found respect for the inventor of the mute button on the speaker phone. While other attorneys sat in their stuffy suits in a conference room listening about gutters and downspouts, behind the mute button several hundred miles away I was desperately trying to listen while J colored with highlighters, H decorated my file cabinets with post it notes, and L shook the rattle toy I keep at my office for him.

The deposition went on for nearly an hour. My kids did great. Sure there were times that L would fuss and I would have to stand up and dance around my office while the witness talked about windows and doors. But overall my kids were amazing (minus two unexpected bathroom breaks) and I was able to finish the deposition.

Now I'm not saying it was a piece of fact L learned to say SHH!! because I had to keep saying that to my three assistants that hour. But for 3 young kids to sit in a law office for an hour entertained only by office supplies and have no melt downs or tantrums is a miracle in and of itself!

But then of course at the end, the Plaintiff's attorney had to ask about an issue important to my case. And of course (because why would this be easy) the witness didn't really answer the question. Great, now I have to somehow ask a follow up question.  I looked at J and H..."Okay guys, Mommy has to talk on the phone for just a let's see if you can 'blow your bubbles' and see who can keep their bubbles the longest (puff their cheeks full of air)". I picked up L, I knew if I kept swaying him around he'd be quiet...

"Okay, here we go...3, 2, 1 Go!"

J and H blew their cheeks full of air, I hit my mute button protective barrier peeled away, and quickly asked  my question. As soon as I asked the question, I raised my protective shield again just in case the kids laughed or L squealed. The witness answered and thankfully clarified the issue to my satisfaction.

"Okay guys one more time, blow your bubbles REAL BIG..."

"No more questions". I said and POOF, back behind my mute button I went. The deposition finished and I gave each of my kids a high five for being perfect bubble blowers.

So thank you inventor of the mute button, you are my new favorite inventor. I wonder when you came up with your button if you ever imagined how much you would help a working Mom in a bind. Because of the mute button I was able to do my job, even when my Mommy world bombarded it for an hour.

Thinking back on it, I have to laugh because I am sure I was quite a sight finishing up that deposition that afternoon: making airplane sounds for L, challenging H to see how many pink post it notes he could find in my drawer, and running J to the bathroom, all while listening to the deposition to make sure my issues were not discussed. I don't think any of the attorneys in the case knew that three little attorneys had "entered their appearance" that day.

So, I guess you never know what's going on out there behind the mute button!


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