Books and Their Covers

This is a quick post to record a thought I had today: When did we start labeling politicians as "D" or "R" in the media? 

It strikes me that the party designation carries a lot of baggage with each representative politician, regardless of their actual conduct, speech, or voting records.  It's a shortcut for the public, but taking shortcuts in this area may be a really bad idea.  One of these days I want to find out how that practice started, why it started, and whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

Of course, we use labels to short-circuit experiential judgment constantly, and the legal profession is one of the worst offenders.  Journal membership, clerkship experience, GPA, LSAT score, specialty bar membership... It all affords us an "easy" way to identify ourselves and sort each other into groups.  But knowing the resume-padding nature of many of these things, how do you boost their effectiveness? How do you convey their reliability?


The Grind

West face of the United States Supreme Court b...Image via Wikipedia
Tonight I'm in Washington, DC, preparing to go to bed on the eve of what is likely to be my only occasion to witness the arguments in delivery of the United States Supreme Court. 

Despite my luck, I'm having a difficult time bring truly excited about this trip if comes dur as betty bad time for me, as fast as scheduling goes. And in many ways it feels like just another work obligation. At least, it this until I thought about three experience in depth.

I've been invited by a justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, which is both an honor and a privilege. Most Americans never see the Capitol City, let alone the microcosm of legal scholarship that is SCOTUS.  Those that do must wait in a long and frigid line to receive tickets for arguments; even then, many can only glimpse two minutes of the illustrious deliberations. My tickets are sure, my seats are good, and my time is whole.

Mortar and pestle from China, side view. Photo...                            Image via WikipediaPondering my initial reaction to the led me to a minor epiphany:  The inconvenience of grand experiences to a lawyer just hoping to get through the year undermines the effectiveness off that attorney's counsel as well as the stature of the profession as a whole. How many arguments do we let s
lip because they are too daring to fit within our narrow routine? How many opportunities do we ignore because the legwork involved is too intimidating to pursue?

As an attorney I hope to meet every new opportunity with the same excitement that brought me to law school in the first place. I may struggle to simply the tasks that any given week presents--but I hope to at least recognize and set out on the adventures presented by the law and the facts in any given case.
I hope to treat each new set of circumstances as an opportunity,
not a burden.

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Of Omelettes & Eggshells

Let's talk about professionalism.  My law school puts a premium on it, and I truly believe that we turn out a better class of attorney.  That's why I'm here.  But no matter how genuinely the word is meant, professionalism can turn into a hollow shell that doesn't mean much to the students.  It takes a lot of reflection to construct a solid foundation of professionalism suitable for supporting your reputation as a lawyer.  Here's a small part of what professionalism means to me, viewed through the lens of a recent experience.

Abstract Life Lineby Jeff Bauche._.·´¯) via FlickrA touchstone of professionalism is its separation from the personal.  The problem there is that as lawyers, we bring our work home with us and we live at work.  If you don't have friends who work with you, you probably don't    have friends.  And growing a crop of lawyers who have no friends and operate in an all-work, no-play universe is a terrible idea

To my mind, good fences make good neighbors--and the adage applies to the work/life line.  I learned a couple of hard lessons at the beginning of the semester, when I had to work with two very good friends of mine in a professional setting.  It's important for you to know that I have nothing but love for the two of them, and nothing but respect for their professional skills. I've worked with them both before and probably will again.  But this endeavor just didn't go too well.  I'm only going to discuss the lessons I learned about myself here. I'm not looking to criticize or call anyone out.

1st:  My definition of the professional/personal boundary is not everyone's definition of the professional/personal boundary.  
When I was at the professional table, I wanted to focus on the legal subject matter and the applicable facts.  I wanted the attorneys to work like hands on a Oija board, invisible--enabling rather than creating the solutions.  Perhaps that perspective was always unrealistic; I'm not experienced enough yet to know whether it's possible to work so unobtrusively.  What did become clear was that my vision didn't match that of all the other attorneys involved.  The other viewpoint was that as attorneys, we should push our clients in one way or the other.  And my unwillingness to push could have been interpreted as an unprincipled, stubborn stand meant to bully their client.  Obviously, it wasn't productive for anyone.  

2d:  Legitimacy in the professional setting comes from my own professional skill in expressing that legitimacy, not from the personal relationship I may or may not have with the person across the table.
I'm struggling to explain this paragraph without relating the comment from the other attorney that I took so personally.  Suffice it to say, at several points I made assertions which were true.  The other side may have felt they were untrue, or may have simply felt I wasn't trying hard enough to make the true statements on our side match the true statements on theirs.  When I felt judged as an attorney based on facts I simply relayed as a messenger, I took it very personally.  To me, it felt like a person who knew me well was telling me that they did not believe I had the requisite skill to be good at my chosen field...or worse, that I was purposely being dishonest and manipulative.  To the other side, it must have seemed like I was preaching about not taking thing personally and then expecting credit for my personal life.  I was very upset. Which leads to my next point...

3rd:  Being tired, stressed, hungry, and hurt will affect my performance.  It is extremely important to have a plan to compensate for my emotional state.
This project was two weeks long, and it went sour early.  Although the second week was salvaged and the "personal" problems I was having really did subside, I know that my performance suffered because of how upset I was about my interactions with the other attorneys.  I'd like to say that I've formulated a plan to deal with those emotions, but I haven't.  I'll be working on that for a while, I expect.

Work In Progress                         Image via WikipediaThis may be the first real ". . . and how I'm getting it back" post to make it to publication on lawschoolruins.  Writing down my less successful moments and recognizing that it was at least partly my own fault helps me realize that I can improve.  And that realization is nice, when faced with the very 
upsetting suggestion that you might not be good at what you spent the last three years training to do. You might not be good...but you can get better.

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Perspective Study

Snowflake. Small microscope kept outdoors. Sna...Image via Wikipedia
A close friend of mine is also a third-year law student, in a school that is much too far away.  But he recently started devoting some time to keeping in touch with his loved ones via letter-like emails.  I say letter-like because these emails are not quick, one-off, largely superficial communiques.  (In other words, nothing like the kinds of messages I send in my desperate attempt to keep in touch with the many people I have been lucky enough to know).  Instead, his emails are substantial, deep, and theme-ridden.  And beautiful.  They're a pleasure to read and two paragraphs from the last one I received struck me particularly hard:

a snow train blockade in Southern Minnesota, USA                                    Image via Wikipedia
Seems my life is covered in snow. Meteorologically speaking. This is the second time in as many weeks that we have had over seven inches of snow on the ground. I'm getting pretty sick of digging my life out of this goop. Guess it could be a metaphor for my life too. Snow is supposed to be pretty. Makes everything look better. But at the end of the day, its just heavy. And everywhere.

Take law school for instance. I'll be graduating with a J.D. in less than 4 months. I'll be a lawyer in 6 months. That used to mean something. More and more though, it just feels like an anchor around my neck. Everyone always tells me to count my blessings.
I have insane amounts of education. Good health, etc. etc. etc. But right now it just feels like snow.  Like something that's supposed to be pretty, but ends up just bogging everything down.
He's right, of course.  We are blessed with the curse of excessive potential.  I've come to learn more and more that the source of my discontent (which, in turn, is the source of my unfortunate personality modifications) is a disconnect between my expectations and my reality.  Recently I've realized that I react poorly to changed expectations, especially when the change comes from circumstances beyond my control.  I turn the blame inward, stress out about it for hours or days, and emerge at a whole new level of controlling/anxious/manipulative/depressed.

when expectations are reversedImage by psyberartist via Flickr
"Expectations Reversed"
Before I sound like someone you'd play a tiny fiddle for, let me explain that I know this "curse" is a blessing.  I might struggle for a few years, but I do have the tools succeed, eventually.  I have been railing against my own expectations because I feel entitled to have all the things that I want, but the reality is that I already have more than many people in this world ever will.  I don't belittle the work I've done; I deserve what I've managed to obtain for myself, both personally and professionally.  But while I may be entitled to earn my greatest hopes, I'm not entitled to have them handed to me.  At this moment, it's my job to make the choice that is right for us now, not the choice that I expected to be right when I started law school three years ago, or when I decided to go two years before that.

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Catching Up

New Year fireworks in Frankfurt am Main, GermanyImage via Wikipedia
New Year's Eve is my favorite holiday.  I love the spark of anticipation before midnight and the fresh feel of the new year just after the bell.  I love watching the world celebrate, hour by hour, as we move into the future together.  I love to put thought into my resolutions, reflecting on what I've learned about myself over the past year and what I'd like to change.  I feel like I got a bit of a head start on this year's resolutions by starting this blog.  One of the things I learned and disliked about myself last year was the swell of uncertainty rising to drown the best parts of my personality.  This blog helps me stand against the swell.

(145/365) Expanding my horizonsImage by Leeni! via Flickr

I have more typical New Year's Resolutions, as well.  Last year I gave up land-bound meat and became a pescetarian for 12 months.  I'm back to an omnivorous diet this year, because it's easier on my home life (Mr. B finds it easier to cook meat dishes, and it's incredibly helpful when he takes over that responsibility).  But I am resolved to eat less meat than I did before last year's experiment.  I'm also resolved to jog at least two times each week with my dog, Buckingham.  

Buck is a new addition, and has been great for our mental health.  He's also a big motivation point, because in general I hate exercise and would never choose to do it for myself--but I love that puppy and his boundless energy, so I will do it for him.  I've succeeded two out of the four weeks of the year, and I am giving myself a pass on the two weeks I failed because they were exceedingly busy due to school.  (No more of that excuse though!)

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 05:  Angie Seigley (R) is ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeI've officially decided on my bar exam state- I'm putting the application in the mail tomorrow.  It's been a nerve-racking experience but at least it's finished now.  There's a sort of resignation to it.  I still never thought I'd be here without a plan, but at least now I'm taking steps to form one.  And this paragraph sounds more depressing than it is.  I am confident that my chosen state is the right choice for us, at least for now.  I'm just (characteristically) having a difficult time adjusting my expectations from three years ago to reality today. 

This post has been a long time coming and is almost a month overdue, but now we are all caught up. The next one will be back to normal!

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Paralysis and Positive Thinking

Getting Things Done: The InboxTrinity via Flickr

I have so much to do that I'm hyperventilating just trying to write down a list.  Instead of just plowing through my work, I'm watching episodes of Arrested Development that I've seen a hundred times, browsing fashion blogs, and laughing uproariously at Hyperbole and a Half.  (Ed. note: H&1/2 is a fantastic way to spend one's time.  If I had more of it, this would not be a problem.)  I feel emotionally paralyzed, unable to start my work even though I know I have the time, energy, and intellectual capacity to get it done. 

So I thought, If I can't summon the vigor to start any legal work, at least I can work on my blog!

But this isn't just an extension of the Dark Days post from earlier (uh-oh: two therapeutic posts in a row!), it's a follow-up with a little perspective.  So far, this blog has been mostly about complaining (albeit euphemistically called "confronting my weaknesses").  Today I'm going to talk about some success.

Wedding ring       via WikipediaMy best breakthrough is my relationship w/ the hubby.  The positive changes are due in large part to his efforts.  We'd been bickering a lot, about a whole bunch of different things, and he has taken the lead in diffusing those situations over the past couple of weeks.  I'd also like to congratulate myself on following that lead (I'm not usually great at avoiding conflict, even unnecessary conflict).  I've made a point to close my happy little mouth and/or retreat to a quiet room with a book rather than snip about something 
that truly won't matter to me in an hour.  I've also made a point to tell him how much I appreciate the changes he's made, because without those changes I wouldn't have had the opportunity to change my own behaviors.  Fighting less has made it so much easier to appreciate all the little things, too. It's been great.

On the financial front, I also cut down on the stress-shopping.  I went Black Friday shopping, and enjoyed it because I went with someone awesome!  I bought a couple of things for myself, but by and large I stuck to the gift list and I was proud of myself for that.  I got a lot of the Christmas presents out of the way and I'm really pleased with the outcome.  Hubby and I also paid off a credit card account in full this month, which is exciting.

Professionally, I branched out a little bit and contacted some firms in smaller markets.  I also followed 
My Sword Glows Blue in the Presence of Rules L...          WilWheaton via Flickrup, and I even have an informational interview!  It very well might come to nothing, but it's the first semi-positive feedback I've gotten in a while and I'm happy to have it.  Also on the professional front, I stuck up for a colleague when I thought they needed sticking up for, and that made me proud.  In another professional situation, I owned up to a mistake, took a deep breath and figured out how to dig myself out of the issue.  

Personally, I've finished a solid post on this blog!  I can't underestimate the effect this project is having.  It facilitates my introspection and gives me a creative, productive, but non-stressful outlet for times when I'm feeling overwhelmed.  I need to remember to do this more when I am incapable of doing my other work; I have a long list of potential posts just waiting to be written, so I know that I could fill my "nonproductive" time with this and develop myself even if I'm not developing in other external areas. 

Listing all of these positive occurrences lifts me out of my paralysis.  I am still feeling stressed and overwhelmed, but I know that focusing on what my efforts have gotten me recently helps me to put more effort in.  On that note, I'll be going now so I don't waste this mood! 

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Dark Days Disrupt the Balance

Dance of the Darkness Monsters (#2)Big Fat Rat via Flickr

The dark days can really get you down.  I like rain and I don't mind when the sun goes away for a while: what I'm talking about here is metaphysical darkness.  It feels oppressive, as heavy as it is invisible.  The world looks the same as it did yesterday but your mind can't seem to grasp the bright parts. All you can think about are all the things that are going wrong.

After many, many freakouts in the last three years, I've learned that my sense of balance is extremely delicate. I'm spinning a lot of plates on a lot of sticks, and as long as everything keeps moving I'm fine. Really fine.  Fine to the point that nobody, not even my husband, not even myself, can tell how close to meltdown I am.  Then, suddenly and (sometimes) through no fault of my own, one of the plates screeches to a halt. Everything crashes down.  Suddenly I'm buried in   rubble, screaming and terrified and completely unable to get out.

Sounds like fun, huh?

My primary social group is feeling this way this week. It's been building in various aspects of our respective existences, and I don't know that everyone else is handling it as poorly as I am.  I hope they're not- but I fear they are. And I fear we aren't the only ones in the building. I feel like our entire community is designing for a nervous breakdown.  The negativity spreads and infects (but that's another post). 

Alice in Wonderland: White Rabbit - Who Killed...Brandon Christopher Warren via FlickrSo for now I'm just trying to breathe. If the rubble was real I'd hope for rescue, but the metaphysical stuff is all me.  I have to concentrate, move slowly, and keep the panic under control long enough to dig myself out. A few more weeks and the semester will be over.  A few more months and law school will be.  A year and I'll be in a job, making a paycheck, licenses to practice.  

When I look at it this way, Time might not be my enemy after all. Nobody can stop Time from marching by, and if it marches long enough all of this will be behind me.

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