Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Coworker And Reflections On Lawyering

Everyone should have at least one coworker like The Coworker. He says the oddest, most hilariously uncomfortable, and off-the-wall things. Whenever he speaks, I want to both laugh really hard and sink into my seat under the heavy blanket of embarrassment that he SHOULD but is incapable of feeling. Yesterday, he told his legal assistant to clean the sparkles off her desk because that is where he snorts cocaine after work.

Today we exchanged secret Santa gifts. Our boss was The Coworker's secret Santa and gave him a nice pair of slippers. When he opened them he said, "Wow, someone really knows what I like...before bed." The entire office was howling.

This guy is the same guy who offered to marry me and have my babies after I completed a project for him. Writers for The Office couldn't invent a character like him if they tried. Although he would make a perfect accompaniment to Michael Scott.

He's one of the two people in the office that gives me assignments to complete. I often worry that I'm not getting enough exposure by only working closely with two attorneys. I am still just a temporary employee and my guaranteed six months of work is nearing its end. But these two attorneys keep me pretty busy and they are very happy with my work. I decided that it's much easier to convince two people that I am intelligent than it is to convince an entire office. So, I'll just mark that down as a good thing and hope that due to their seniority, they will be able to convince the management to keep me.

The other day, one attorney spent an hour and a half going over a new assignment with me. At the end he said, "Oh never mind, I'll just do it myself. It's too complicated." I'll admit, it WAS complicated. It was an issue involving a tax lien in a bankruptcy proceeding. And what I knew about bankruptcy could be inscribed by pen onto a single acorn. But I was really bummed that I had just invested 1.5 hours listening to a lecture for no good reason and I was kind of looking forward to the challenge. Then, at the very last minute, the attorney changed his mind. Looking very skeptical, he said, "Go ahead and give it a try. After you get a start, I'll help you complete it."

Aside from my litigation assignments, every project I have been given has absolutely terrified me. I have ZERO background knowledge in any of this government stuff. The big projects I have been given so far have involved, taxing districts, federal HIPAA laws, amending ordinances, and advising law enforcement. In car collision litigation, it's a big deal when you make a mistake. Not only do you let your client down, but you can really impact your client's financial situation. However, this is nothing compared to giving advise to a local government. When the government screws up, it's kind of a big deal.

The projects I have been assigned have been equal parts intense and unfamiliar. These assignments cause my mind to seize with fear every time I am left alone to sit at a computer researching obscure areas of law and drafting opinion letters for a client. But the deathly fear is directly proportional to the satisfaction that arises each time the "complex and confusing" become "organized and understood" in my brain. Being a lawyer is essentially just organizing information and concepts into an easy to understand and helpful (for your client) way. And applying the information and concepts to an actual real-life problem that a client is facing and offering helpful suggestions on what to do next is a lawyer's equivalent to winning the Powerball.

So today, I was excitedly nervous as I handed in my assignment, fully completed, to the attorney. I had just been on a self-confidence roller coaster. One moment, I would decide that he was right and the project was way above my level. The next, I would uncover a clue hidden within a federal statute and feel happy little thrills pulsing through my body. I like to call this phenomenon the Legal Researcher's High (and Low). I held my breath for a moment when I handed in my assignment. I was dying to know if I had met or fallen short of the expectations set out for me. The attorney carefully reviewed my memo, expressed a sign of shock, and told me it was excellent. He then instructed me to send it to the client as-is. I walked away calmly, stepped into my office and did a silent yet jubilant fist pump.

Success! As an attorney, you have to take your successes when you can. It is a given that you will mess up sometime. Every time that you don't, needs to be celebrated.

So, as much as I look at each new assignment with utter terror, I am also thrilled beyond measure to have another new area of law to investigate and massage and examine. Law is such a fascinating and expansive subject. You can research every day of your life and still confront new issues and problems. In that regard, being a lawyer is extremely satisfying. Being a lawyer is also as intellectual as academia, except it is extremely practical. It's too bad being a lawyer comes with a host of unpleasant things, like student loans, job insecurity, billable hours, egomaniac personalities, and socially inept colleagues. Aside from all THAT, it is a wonderful, rewarding, and challenging career.

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