The movie, Field of Dreams, is a story about an Iowan corn farmer, Ray, who hears voices coming from his cornfield. He interprets the resounding phrase, “if you build it, he will come”, as a message to transform part of his farm into a baseball diamond. Ray ultimately acts on his intuition and plows his field under to construct a diamond, and, sure enough, Shoeless Joe Jackson and company show up to play ball.
In a past life–before I started working in Annapolis, before I passed the bar exam, before I even entered law school, I had a fairly prolific “career” acting in plays and musicals at various schools and community theaters. And if there’s one regret I have right now, it’s that the career choices I’ve made have forced me (for the time being, at least) to stop acting. Fortunately, though, as I wait to progress enough from a professional standpoint to be able to get back into acting in my spare time, I have some great theatrical memories that I can look back on and enjoy.
One of the most interesting of which was when I acted in a staged radio drama version of Twelve Angry Men at the University of Baltimore in the middle of my second year of law school there.
While it was a fun and novel experience learning the technical aspects of working with the stage microphones, watching the foley artists make all the sound effects, and sharing the space with eleven other actors, that’s not why it was particularly interesting to me. No, what intrigued me as a law student during the production of the show was the dawning realization that, not only are some of the tactics of the protagonist in flagrant violation of the law, but as has been argued by various students of the law over the years, the defendant he helps acquit is almost certainly guilty of murder.
Since they have been expounded upon throughout the Internet in greater detail and much better than I could hope to communicate in this space, I won’t go into all the specifics here. Suffice it to say, though, that these critiques center around Juror #8 performing his own independent investigation of the crime and around him nitpicking every little detail in witness testimony to find the most minute piece of reasonable doubt while ignoring the enormity of the odds against all of those coincidences happening to an innocent man.
I felt conflicted pondering these details as a second-year law student. I had learned enough about criminal law and juries to think that something seemed off about the actions that Juror #8 takes during the play. However, I also knew that there was plenty more about the law that I still had to learn, so I wasn’t comfortable making a call one way or the other on the propriety of those actions quite yet.
So, while everyone else was concerned with remembering not to pop their P’s into the microphones, there was always a part of me that was thinking, “I know this play is supposed to be one of the great testaments to the American legal system, but I can’t kick the feeling that I’m helping somebody get away with murder.” And it was only because of my legal training that I even considered that possibility in the first place. I had nothing to draw from when I played a gang member in West Side Story or a composer in Amadeus, but Twelve Angry Men was different.
This play dealt directly with my choice of profession, and Juror #8 kept pleading with me to get angry. For the sake of the craft, I put on a good show of it, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: when the curtain fell at the end, the lawyer in me was actually quite disappointed.
Sometimes you just have to put yourself in timeout. I was drowning in work, my wedding was approaching in December, I was renovating my house, and I had all of these other commitments (MSBA, book club, this blog). I had friends who needed help painting their new house and siblings who were looking for babysitters. I was trying to do it all and it was taking a toll. I had this looming feeling of guilt mixed with failure, like I was doing a lot, but none of it particularly well.
I was tired of committing and then having to back out at the last minute. I felt horrible when I didn’t get my blog written, even though I had every intention of doing it.
I knew I had to put a few things on hold. If nothing else, I owed it to those around me to let them know ahead of time that I was not going to be able to keep my commitment.
I let the Daily Record know that I needed a slight break but that I’d be interested in resuming blogging in January. I talked to the Chair of the YLS at the MSBA and explained that I wouldn’t be able to make any meetings or events until January. I limited my time to focusing on work and the wedding.
We’re often over-achievers, we young lawyers. As if our billable hours requirement aren’t enough to keep us busy, we often feel this overwhelming urge to take on more and more–and feel like we’re failing if it all just becomes too much.
I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I became too burned out to truly experience and enjoy my wedding and honeymoon. I couldn’t let my work suffer. Everything else, while important, had to wait. It was the best choice I could have made.
I got back into the office today from my honeymoon. I felt recharged and refreshed. I RSVP’d for the YLS section meeting tonight and offered to bring something to book club tomorrow night. I’m writing this blog!
No one was mad at me; no one kicked me out of the club. In fact, I was met with support and enthusiasm.
Take it from this young lawyer: it’s okay to wave the white flag from time-to-time. It’s okay to say it’s too much. It’s okay to hit pause.
The goal of most associates who work in law firms is to eventually become considered so essential to their organization that members of the firm extend the great privilege of becoming a partner in the firm. Associates work diligently towards this objective and, more often than not, romanticize the prestige, failing to realize the benefits of just being an associate.
While the offer of partnership is a major honor in the legal profession, significant responsibility accompanies the title. It’s probably like when we were young and couldn’t wait to grow up, reasoning that life as an adult means you can do whatever you want without your parents’ approval. Sure, while being an adult generally removes most parental control, adulthood also brings forth much more responsibility like getting a job, and having to pay bills and rent. In such situations, I think it is at times preferable not to know the entire reality and indulge in the adage that ignorance can be bliss.
Childhood is littered with examples of a certain naiveté, where experiences and impressions are untarnished by life experience and knowledge. One example from my own childhood was on one of my regular adventures to New York City. My family has a commercial mushroom farm in upstate New York and we would sell our products at the retail farmers’ market at Union Square in Manhattan. We would often load up the truck and leave Catskill, NY around 3 a.m. in order to get to the market just before 6 a.m.
On one trip with my dad, when I was around eight or so, we were just getting into the city via the Lincoln Tunnel and were stopped at a series of red lights. This was in the mid-1990s when New York City was still “up and coming” in a lot of areas. Because it was so early in the morning, there were usually several scantily clad women walking around the stopped vehicles, trying to find one more customer to wrap up their “night shift.” Through my young eyes, I couldn’t understand why the women were wearing these kinds of clothes in the morning and in the middle of the city. So, as any eight-year-old would do, I asked my dad what was up. He just simply explained that these women are wearing their bathing suits and looking for a ride to the beach. Now, I understand that his explanation wasn’t the whole truth, but I prefer his explanation to what I now understand the situation to be.
The end of the year is usually stressful for attorneys of all levels, where both personal and professional calendars quickly fill with holiday events and deadlines alike. The general responsibilities of an associate are to complete your designated tasks, translate those tasks into itemized hours and submit your timesheet in on time. Partners, on the other hand, saturate their calendars with management meetings to wrap up the preceding year, predict and authorize the budget for the upcoming year, decide bonuses, strategize as to how to collect outstanding account receiveables from clients, among many other housekeeping tasks in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities.
It is natural to look ahead and plan the future. This is especially true for most attorneys who tend to be generally goal-oriented individuals. Of course it would be a tremendous success to become partner at a firm down the road, but until then, just enjoy your time riding in the passenger’s seat.
As I draft my last blog entry for 2013, while I sit at my desk at work for the last time this year, my mind wanders back to the year that was and also the year that will be. In 2013, Maryland saw the first female Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals appointed, after the retirement of a judge that spent nearly four decades sitting on each level of Maryland’s court system. 2013 marked the year that same-sex marriages in Maryland became legal, the implementation of stricter gun control laws and the repeal of the death penalty.
For me, the past year included the traditional highs and lows for any attorney, including both victories and losses in the courtroom, long hours at the office (and at home because of the ability to remotely login), and the never-ending struggle to balance my work life with my personal life.
As cliché as it may be, I also find this time of year to be a good time to set some goals for the upcoming year. In years past, I would break down my resolutions into different categories, ranging from personal to professional to financial and to health. These goals are not necessarily resolutions, as some stay the same from year to year. These goals also range in difficulty and variety, which include running a couple of marathons, donating blood a set number of times, performing a specific number of pro bono and public service hours and a variety of home improvement projects.
While many will scoff at the idea of setting goals (or resolutions) each year, I find that it helps me to focus my efforts. My professional goals include building my client base; mentoring; developing my legal acumen through CLEs and actual experience and providing at least 50 hours of pro bono services. I intend to blog every other week for Generation J.D., as well as my other construction-law related blog.
So as we close the book on 2013, I also wanted to thank The Daily Record and all of you that read the Generation J.D. blog for another year. Here’s to a safe and happy 2014. And for those of you that put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), let us know what is on your list for 2014.
Act 2 of 2 (A Barrister’s Carol Act 1 of 2)
The following evening, Gill is still at his desk reviewing a survey and comparing the related title documents. He convinced himself that Roger’s appearance the night before was a dream- a product of being overworked. He continues to work into the night.
[The ghost of first year associate appears. This ghost is young and gentle, with a certain naiveté and perpetually confused expression. Gill, shocked, knocks his triple shot espresso over on the survey.]
Gill: Are you the spirit whose coming was foretold to me? Who are you?
Ghost 1: I am the ghost of first year associate. [The Spirit takes Gill by the hand and the two pass through the firm’s walls and onto the streets of downtown Baltimore. They float to Gill’s first job at a firm several blocks away]
Gill: My old firm! [The Ghost continues to bring Gil to his old office] My old desk! [In walks a young Gil, obviously flustered.]
Young Gill: Wow, I am so embarrassed. I can’t believe I made so many mistakes drafting that stock pledge agreement. How did I not catch these? I am going to get fired.
[Email from partner comes in: Next time, documents go on my ledge, not on my desk. Your typos are poor form. Review the attached IDOT and draft an assignment. Due tomorrow.]
Young Gill: IDOT? What is that? We never learned about those in property law.
Gill to Ghost 1: Look at me. So young, so naïve and so SLOPPY! Didn’t I know how to proofread?
[Young Gill gets text message from serious girlfriend asking when he will be home. Young Gill gets upset at the inquiry: What time am I coming home? I’m not! I am trying to build a career. She doesn’t get it. I need to bill these hours. Money is the key to all things.]
Gill to Young Gill: You idiot! Answer her!
Ghost 1: We must now return. It is almost morning.
[Day two, Gill is continuing to work into the night. The ghost of associate life present enters his office. This ghost is much sterner, heavier and with graying hair.]
Gill: Who are you?
Ghost 2: I am the ghost of associate life present. Let’s go.
[He takes Gill and they go through the firm’s walls to a bar in Baltimore. Gill quickly realizes that it is the holiday party for the young lawyers section of the MSBA. He recognizes some of his former classmates enjoying themselves and catching up over drinks. Everyone is happy to be there.]
Classmate 1: Do you know whatever happened to Gill? I never see him around. I heard he switched firms a few years ago and is at a really good one now.
Classmate 2: Yea, I really don’t know. He was a pretty nice guy in school. We had a study group together. One of our paralegals used to work at his firm. She said he was awful to her- very rude.
[Ghost 2 takes Gill to a neighborhood just outside the city. Gill doesn’t recognize the home. They look in the window and he immediately realizes that it’s Ann’s house. She is caring for her three young children, one is crying]
Ann to child: I am so sorry that I missed your Christmas play. I am sure that you were a wonderful Tiny Tim. I didn’t think I would have to work late that night, but my boss made me stay.
[Gill observes Ann’s interactions with her kids and feels a sense of remorse for his recent treatment of her. Ghost 2 and Gill leave]
[Day three, Gill is finishing a memo on successor liability and loses track of time. The ghost of future partner comes into his office. This ghost is silent and dressed in a black robe that covers his face.]
Gill: Are you the Spirit of the future?
[The Spirit says nothing and takes Gill by the arm. Together they leave his office and go to a corner office of the firm. There, Old Gill is working. He is in poor health. The walls of his office are bare aside from his framed degrees.]
Gill: Wow, I make partner! This is great news! Where are pictures of my family? Where are drawings by my kids that should be on my desk? I get married, right?
[Old Gill opens his outlook calendar. It is empty aside from closing deadlines. Gill observes that he has no planned social events and he notices that Ann no longer works for him. Old Gill gets his coat and hat, shuts down his computer and leaves for the night. Gill and Ghost 3 follow him home to his big empty house. Ghost 3 then takes Gill to a cemetery, where Gill views his own neglected and unattended grave.]
Gill awakens the next day, the day before Christmas, with a renewed sense of gratitude and compassion. He stops at Starbucks to buy a coffee for Ann. Later that day, he brings toys to donate to the young lawyer’s toy drive, and, that night, he attends the firm’s holiday party and socializes with everyone, including staff. Gill now embodies the spirit of Christmas.