Sometimes you win by losing

I am so happy to have back to back court appearances which were complete opposites.

On Friday, I represented a family member in a custody hearing.  I had been so nervous, because I really didn’t want to let a family member down.  But I got lucky, and there was no lawyer on the other side, so the arguments were fairly easy to make to an Attorney Referee.

Monday, I attended a hearing on another lawyer in the firm’s case.  Although I drafted the answer and met with the clients briefly to obtain their signatures on the affidavit and brief that I submitted, I hadn’t really considered it my case.  I hadn’t expected that I would be the one to argue it. But on Friday, the other attorney brought the file in to me and asked if I would feel comfortable covering the hearing since he had another hearing to attend.  I agreed, feeling confident because I had already done all the prepwork by writing the brief.  Long story short, despite several minutes of argument from myself and the other attorney and a lengthy opinion by the judge on the matter, the judge agreed with the opposing party.  And I can’t blame him.  As my former judge once told me and I have heard repeated since: if the law is on your side, argue the law; if the facts are on your side, argue the facts.  I think another attorney added: if neither is on your side, just argue.  So I was on the side of the facts in this matter, but the equities really seemed to come out on the side of my client.  And I felt good in my argument.  The judge commented afterward that he could see that the parties were passionate in their positions and that it was well briefed and argued by the parties, and he appeared to be looking meaningfully at me when he made those comments, so I choose to take them to heart.  It made me not want to give up.

One thing that I realized later though is that in neither of these scenarios did I attempt to settle the matter, although I thought about it.  In the first case, I asked the family member if she would be interested in trying to reach a deal with the ex and she responded emotionally by stating that she would have tried to work something out before he’d filed this, but now she wanted to fight.  And unfortunately, I didn’t have the confidence and/or the skills to try to talk her out of it.  In this matter, I came up with an idea that I thought would be a reasonable settlement and made a note to discuss it with the other attorney.  Unfortunately, I lost my nerve. I suspected that it if it was as easy as settling the matter, the other attorney, having far greater experience than I have, would have already attempted to do so.  Now I realize what I hadn’t at the time..the difference between settling and not is the difference not just of the money, but also of having a judgment on your record.  I’m not sure how that affects an individual, in what circumstance such a judgment would come up, but it’s there nonetheless.

I also realized the difference in client management.  With the family case, I was managing expectations ahead of time, letting the client know that I was hoping X would happen but that Y could happen and that would be okay, we’d just go to the next step.  But in this matter, I found myself just kind of repeating what the other attorney was telling me and what I had written in my brief. We would prevail, because it was the right thing to have happen. Surely the law wasn’t in the right here.  So when I realized in the end that the judge was not going to decide in my client’s favor, and I turned around to see them sitting in the gallery, I realized that I had to swallow my own disappointment and manage theirs.  The client immediately jumped on me and asked why I didn’t raise a certain point that had been very important to her.  Although it kind of embarrassed me to have her talk to me like that in front of other attorneys, I didn’t let it get to me. I took the couple into one of the conference rooms and explained to her that A) That judge had been extremely well versed in the facts and arguments before him (I didn’t tell her this, but he had a better understanding of a case that I had cited than I did), and B) the point that she was fixating on was not legally relevant.  I was as nice as I could be; I tried to be sympathetic and understanding while explaining what had happened and what would happen next.  I don’t think she’ll ever appreciate the nuances of what happened in that courtroom, and that’s okay. I just have to convince myself that I did the right thing. I did my best.

The hardest part of all though, was returning to the courtroom to sit and wait for the next case that I was appearing on to be called.  I had to sit there in front of everyone that had watched me lose while the court took a brief recess.  After the second hearing, the attorneys present on that matter talked to me in the hallway.  The slightly more experienced of the two commented about how factually interesting the arguments were, and I knew that I had done a good thing by getting up and arguing for what was right, even if I lost.  Not just for the sake of equity, but also because it showed the other attorneys who were in that room that I am articulate and dedicated. I followed the judge’s hypotheticals and corrected his understandings, I believe with grace. And I hope I gained some respect, for myself and my firm.

In the end, my loss taught me a lot more than the win did.  A win is a confidence booster, but a loss is a lesson.  I hope the two continue to balance themselves out, so that I never become cocky, but I never feel defeated.

It’s a good time to begin

I’ve now been a “real lawyer” for about six weeks now. I had anticipated writing more frequently than I have, but as I had suspected, I lacked either time, energy, or inspiration whenever I thought about writing again.

The past couple of days have been different for me though. I’ve been continuously thinking about the stress of this new work.  I’ve been thinking about where the line is between normal stress and the dreaded “A” word: anxiety.

I have reached a point with work that is requiring me to really think about time management.  I’ve had time to make mistakes.  I’m learning about the necessity of calculation as opposed to simply looking at the outcome and assuming that I will get what I expect.

I hope that it’s normal for any person to not know the answer to every question on Day 1.  I hope that it’s normal for any person to not do everything perfectly beginning on Day 1.   I hope that it’s normal to come in some days and struggle with what to do first.

I think it is, particularly because I have been exposed to a few podcasts lately that involve lawyers and former lawyers ruminating on how tough it is to be a lawyer: “Happier” by Gretchen Rubin; “The Lawyer Stress Solution” by Kara Loewentheil; and “The Resilient Lawyer: Integrative Lawyering” by Jeena Cho come to mind. And I consider myself very lucky to have found these resources.

Having learned about how to take control of the other aspects of my life and manage them to the best of my ability allows me to focus on the stress of work when I’m at work with minimal stress about outside concerns.  Having learned about the difference between thoughts and feelings gives me greater ability to differentiate between what is real and what is being manufactured by my brain.  And having greater ability to observe and control the things my brain is manufacturing allows me to work on tuning out the things I cannot control and allows me to focus on the things that I can control.

I’m by no means indicating that I’m doing splendidly at any of those things, but I think I’m probably better off than people who started this career (or who have been in the career for a long time) without these tools and this knowledge.  This information, I think, is what is keeping me from crossing the line from being stressed about work to being anxious about work.  I don’t regret taking the job, and I don’t regret any of the things that I’ve done in the job. I’m doing the best I can, using the resources available to me at work, and learning from my mistakes.  And I guess that’s all I can do. The rest just has to be filtered out, and handled in a healthy way.

Oh, and for those who want to know what I’ve been working on: writing collection letters and demand letters to settle claims; defending a deposition (that was grueling); learning how to properly bill my time; drafting complaints; and trying to network with people who might trust me to help them with the most important parts of their lives.

You can’t do it ’til you do it

Today I had my first court appearance. I’ve been at my new job for three and a half weeks now. I have handled a stunning array of cases. My fellow attorneys continue to trust me to get them the answers they seek.  They allow me to meet and talk to their clients. And today, one of them allowed me to attend court on one of their cases because they were scheduled to be somewhere simultaneously.

It wasn’t a huge deal; it was just an arraignment on a criminal matter.  But I prepared myself as well as I could before I went in. Unfortunately, the arraignment wasn’t held in person or in the courtroom or before the official that we expected it to be before, but my colleague got me to the right place before he had to head out. I wasn’t able to talk to the client beforehand, which I had been looking forward to doing.  Fortunately, or maybe not in this case, the Calhoun County Court has their process down to a science.  Someone had already met with the client and basically prepared a presentence investigation report on her in order to determine what her bond should be set at.  And unfortunately, likely due to her fairly extensive criminal history, my request for a personal recognizance bond was denied.  Again, perhaps fortunately, no one was there for me to have to look in the face while I explained the bad news of their situation.  But I felt bad when I left and she didn’t.

There were so many things that I had worried about ahead of time in addition to not really knowing what to expect when I walked into the courtroom.  I worried that people would judge what I was wearing. Then I realized that that would happen no matter what.  I’m the new kid in town, and people are going to size me up.  I worried that it was raining and that I would get drenched on my way in and end up walking into the courtroom looking like a drowned rat. But obviously that wouldn’t happen because I walked from my office to my connected parking garage and got into my car and drove to a nearby parking lot, used my umbrella and walked into the building without incident. Then I worried about what I would do with my umbrella once I had gotten there..how could I not have considered that? But I just kind of shook it off and wrapped it up and shoved it in my bag to be dealt with later.  I saw a lawyer that is good friends with my family and I felt uncomfortable that I couldn’t go talk to him right then. But I knew that he would understand, because he has been in my shoes before. I worried that I would say something wrong during the arraignment, or that I would miss some unknown next line of the magic spell that always seems to be spoken during court proceedings.  But then I remembered that the magistrate is a human being and knows that I’m a human being and that I can’t possibly know everything. He knows that he’s never seen me before and that it may be my first time at an arraignment. And that’s okay. So I kept breathing. I spoke up and asked the magistrate if I could add something else to my bond request, and he did not hesitate to allow me another moment to speak.

And before I even knew it, it was over. I went back to my office, and I kept waiting for some new feeling to come over me. Some sensation of becoming. But nothing happened. And I realized that what I had done was completely normal and what everyone had expected of me. It was no larger a feat than anything else that had come before it. I had not saved anyone’s life, and I had not accidentally set fire to myself or anyone else.

I did it, and it was over, and I moved on.  Onto the next adventure.

10 days in

I meant to write a post about the new job over the weekend, but an interesting change has come over me. I obviously can’t be sure of how long it will last, but I can observe it in the moment.  Writing had previously been a type of escape, or a way to deal with my anxiety.  As I was trying to make tough decisions I had to write to clearly see my own thoughts on the matter.

But I’m not anxious lately.  Even though I have moments of realizing that I’m in the real world now, and that sooner or later I’m going to have to stand up in a courtroom and ask questions of a witness on the stand and hope that I don’t ruin anyone’s life, those moments are fleeting.  I also think those moments are normal. I think that any lawyer who hasn’t worried about whether they’ll be able to do the thing they’re being paid to do is probably underprepared and not worth the dollars they were paid.

I just don’t feel like I have as much to say right now. I have been having full, normal conversations with other human beings, face to face for ten days. I have seen my parents and other family members more in the past few weeks than I had in a long time, not just for breakfasts to celebrate family accomplishments and camping trips and holidays but also because I have ridden to work with my mom/dad three times in the past ten days.  My coworkers have been the absolute nicest people I’ve ever met, too.

The big boss came into my office one day last week and gave me “constructive criticism” instead of just yelling at me like he could have done if I were at another firm. But he knew that I’ve never reviewed discovery from another party before and chose to use it as a teaching moment instead of scaring me off.

Other attorneys come into my office and ask how I’m doing, talk to me about work they need help on, and talk to me about how we can continue working to advance my skills and career.  The assistants are super helpful and can always answer my questions.

I have done research on domestic matters, car sales, conversion, and more. I have prepared demand letters and cease and desist letters. I have learned how to input my own time and run conflict of interest searches. I have a few cases coming into the firm that I will be doing most of the work on.

I know that in some places, I would probably be going to court and hearings already. I know that in some places, I probably wouldn’t talk to clients for my entire first year (I made that up; I don’t know that, but it’s possible).  But the bottom line is that for the first time in a long time, I truly feel like I am exactly where I need to be.  I can see a future ahead of me, and it’s one that I would be proud to have.

The first day of the rest of your life

Today was my first day at my new job.  I think I understand what my coworker meant when he told me that there’s never been a day that he dreaded going to work.  All day, I was completely blown away by how nice and supportive and helpful everyone was.

I learned that I have an assistant, and she was incredibly helpful.  I asked her whether there was a dry cleaning service that picked up and dropped off at the office and she said that she was not aware of anything like that.  When I came back from lunch, she had talked to the font of knowledge in the office and got the name of a company that may do pick up and drop off for other businesses in the building and they are going to come in tomorrow to drop off information for us.  That was super cool to experience.

I was given three assignments today. I completed one of them and started research on the other two.  I was really surprised at how knowledgeable I felt and how unafraid I was of doing the research required.  I think it kind of dawned on me that if lawyers who have been practicing for 40 years don’t know the answer to the question, it’s okay if I don’t either.  And if they believe I can find an answer, then I probably can.

All of the partners that were in today took me to lunch.  It was nice to connect with them on a more personal level, learning more about their histories with each other and others.

Also, I think my parking spot is amazing. It felt so good to pull right into the ramp and park, walk into my building and get to my office within 30 minutes of leaving home. And when I got into my car, I could pull right out without any trouble at all.  There was no traffic on the ride there or back.

And being able to walk over to Starbucks around 2:30 when I was about to pass out from the heat of my office was pretty nice too.  It woke me up a bit and gave me even more confidence.  I finally took off my jacket due to the extreme heat in my office and was really happy when my boss came in and didn’t comment on my tattoos showing.

I think the most important aspect of my day is that I was treated as an equal.  There was never a moment where anyone expressed hesitation about my presence in the office.  The first moment when my assistant told me that I was her boss, telling me that she wanted to learn what I want and don’t want from her, I felt very undeserving of her help. But as I listened to her make calls for the other associate, who she also works for, I realized how much better she will be able to make my life, and how great it will be to have someone who really knows what’s going on with my cases so that I have someone to talk to about things.

I am very grateful for this opportunity, and for the first time in a long time, I really feel like the future is bright.

Breaking up is hard to do

I had a couple of things that I had been thinking about writing about today, but I just received a parting gift and card from my coworkers at the job I am leaving.  I also just completed an exit survey for my supervisor. And I can’t help but think I’m doing the wrong thing. I’m sure it’s just buyer’s remorse, or a fear of change, but I want to explore it a bit.

I started this job eight months ago with the intention that I would stay at least in this city forever after.   However, I still found myself applying for jobs within a few weeks after starting. I think it was just a holdover from the full-court press I’d been doing at the time I accepted this position.  I had applied for so many jobs before leaving my last job that when I received this job offer, I had to ask for an extension on accepting the offer because I had three interviews scheduled over the following two days.

But looking at my documents, I can see a period of at least three months where I must have made a decision that I was just going to settle in here and just enjoy my life for awhile.  And then my coworker, who I knew was actively looking for other work, mentioned to me that there was a firm in Battle Creek that had posted a job. And when I looked at the position, it felt meant to be. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard of this firm; in fact, it wasn’t the first time I’d reached out to this firm looking for an opportunity.  So I applied, assuming that nothing would come of it as nothing had come of so many other applications.

But it didn’t. And I felt like I was cheating on my current job when I’d ask for time off to go interview with them.  But I felt that it would be the right thing to do, from the moment I first stepped into the office.

Then this thing happened that I cannot stand about humanity.  It happens when people die and when people leave jobs.  All of a sudden, people become free to express their appreciation for another person.  That or they realize that they appreciate someone that they hadn’t really made a judgment about previously because they took them for granted.

For the first time since I’ve had this job, people really started talking to me. Maybe they just hadn’t known what to talk to me about before, and now all of a sudden they know something about me. It makes things very complicated, because I definitely had the feeling that people here were kind of stand-offish. But maybe it was me all along.

There are certainly things that I would improve or wish had been done differently here, but I think that’s true of any job.  Nothing and no one is perfect.  In the end, I have to remind myself that two years as a law clerk is enough. And I can still see these people in the future; I will come to file paperwork and represent clients in hearings. And now people will really be able to ask me questions about myself and we can engage on an even deeper level than we had before.

At least I’m leaving on a high note!

Interview experience

A colleague who has been on her own job-hunt recently has asked me a few questions about my interview experiences and I figured that maybe there are others who are curious about law firm interviews as well.

For starters, I have interviewed with many law firms since I started law school.  During my first year, I interviewed with a huge firm for one of those illustrious summer clerkships that are known to drive the careers of high-powered attorneys.  I didn’t get that job, and I didn’t get a lot more jobs along the way.

I know that part of the reason for this is a cyclical combination of not being sure of what I want to do in my career and not feeling confident about the jobs that I was applying for.  For most of my life I have struggled with the idea that I did not know what I wanted to do with it; why would that change once I started pursuing a legal career?

People often underestimate how many fields of practice there are for lawyers.  The sexy legal TV shows often show criminal defense attorneys and/or prosecutors.  Once in awhile you might find a weird corporate counsel (I’m thinking of Scrubs) in a TV show, or see government lawyers on the news.  There are also the commercials for Keller & Keller or the Bernstein law firm, but I’m not sure how many people really even know what they do.  I’m sure I don’t even know all of the different practice areas: criminal defense and prosecution; civil litigation which can include property disputes, medical malpractice (either representing injured people or the medical personnel accused of malpractice), slip and fall representation for plaintiffs, no-fault injury (either representing injured people or insurance companies), corporate and business law (which can include creation of businesses, disputes between people involved in businesses, businesses that are sued in the aforementioned slip-and-fall incidents, and much more), employment law (either representing employees attempting to sue employers or employers who are being sued or ensuring that they are complying with laws so that they are not sued), taxation (ensuring that individuals and businesses are complying with tax laws or helping them resolve noncompliance), and so many more that I’m just plain tired of listing everyone; and family law; probate law; patent law, etc.  When I started to realize all of the different ways an attorney can practice law, I think my eyes kind of glazed over (just like yours probably did when you looked at that list).

So I just kept focusing on each class as it came with the belief that something would stand out as I went.  When I went to that first interview with a law firm, I remember them asking me what I wanted to do with my career.  I remember telling them that I wanted to become an expert on some field of law but that I wasn’t sure what that was.  And I think in some way I still have that goal.  I had originally pursued a joint degree in Taxation with the intention of getting my LLM, but then some things changed at the school and I realized that I had neither the time nor the money to pursue that without having a really good idea of why.  I just knew that I was good at math which is almost unheard of for lawyers; lawyers constantly joke about not being good at math and that being the reason many of them became lawyers.  I’ll never be able to make that joke.

But anyway, I’ve interviewed for jobs that ranged from working in tiny, small-town firms doing general practice to working for the Attorney General’s office on the Flint water crisis case (there are days when I wish I had accepted that job instead of taking my current clerkship, only because it would be an unforgettable experience) to a medical malpractice firm to jobs that turned out not to be the job I applied for.

One of the first things that I learned was that you have to prepare for interviews with law firms.  You absolutely have to know what the firm practices.  It’s a good idea to read everything on the firm’s website and check to see whether there has been any news about the firm.  This is for your own benefit as well as for the interview.  If they make a comment about something during the interview or ask you a question, you need to understand what they’re saying or asking and be able to intelligently respond.

It is also a good idea to reach out to your network to see who might know anyone at any firm.  This can be accomplished by looking at LinkedIn, to see who might have worked where in the past or just asking friends and mentors whether they know anything about the firm.  A human can give you a perspective that carefully manicured information on the internet cannot.  For example, one of my professors once gave me a heads-up about the attorneys at a firm he had formerly been a partner in, telling me who was staying and who was going as retirements happened, and also informing me of personal topics that I could touch upon with my interviewer to try to make a connection.  Unfortunately, those things did not help me get the job, but in hindsight I don’t think it was a job I wanted anyway.

Part of looking into the firm is to help you perform the lawyer’s primary task of analysis.  However, instead of analyzing the law, you are analyzing how you would fit into the firm.  What are they looking for from you and how can you provide it? What are you looking for from them, and can they provide it?  Is this a place that you would LIKE to work, or is this a place that you’re intending to use as a stepping stone to get somewhere else in your career?

This is particularly important to consider when you don’t have a ton of experience as a lawyer.  For those of us who start our careers as clerks, there are (I think) two main ways to get a job: you either meet an attorney who offers you a job (or at least an interview) based on your performance for the judge or a position becomes available in the courthouse that you can move into, or you play up the experience you’ve gained as a clerk to show that you are ready to begin practice.  Unfortunately for me, no good job opportunities arose for me while I was a clerk either in the courthouse or in the nearby practices.  This is one of the downsides of clerking in a small town; opportunities are limited.  (But don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great upsides too).  So, I had to send out approximately 1 million cover letters that said things like, “I have seen many hearings of X type, read memos and researched X type of law, and have a good understanding of the current trends in X type of law” or something to that effect.  During interviews I have turned these concepts into offers of experience with my specific judge/county/local attorneys, knowing what good lawyering and bad lawyering look like, and being ready to talk to clients about their cases.

The other thing that I found interesting during my most recent set of interviews is that the attorneys were not particularly curious about my substantive knowledge of the law and were more interested in my personality and how it would fit with their practice.  I was asked questions about how I handle stress, whether I like the town that the practice was based in, whether I would be comfortable making a losing argument, and how I would feel about contacting clients about paying their bills.  None of those questions were answered by anything I learned in law school, and were minimally answered by my experience as a law clerk.  Specifically, about making a losing argument, I talked about how I have seen attorneys make arguments that I knew were losers as they were coming out of the attorney’s mouth, but I knew that they had to stand up and put on the show for their client because that was what the client had asked them to do and what they were paying them to do.  Sometimes it isn’t ideal, but I know that sometimes you just have to give it what you’ve got, because sometimes the opposing counsel isn’t prepared to counter your argument and you just might win.

The last thing I want to say is the same thing you’ve probably heard a million times but that I don’t think I fully understood until I started to make my decision about which job I wanted.  You really do have to know yourself and what you want.  Sometimes it seems like you really just want experience and that you’d take anything that was presented to you.  But when you have more than one option presented, you can really learn something about yourself.  For example, one of the jobs that I was offered was going to require me to essentially be in an office by myself all the time.  As a person who has a fair amount of social anxiety, I am now really grateful that I didn’t take that job, because I would have ended up alienating myself from the office in the other city and it had never even occurred to me that that would happen.  But now that I’ve stepped back, I’m so glad I didn’t accept that job, because I would have become very unhappy in the long run.  If you are an outgoing person, it might actually be better for you to work in a satellite office, because your energy and desire for human contact may be what ties the offices together instead of allowing the satellite to drift out of orbit.  It may allow you to use downtime to go out and meet new people who could become future clients instead of just sitting back and hiding at your computer.  But without knowing who you are and how your energy melds with that of the office and the job responsibilities, you can’t know if something is the right fit for you.

As I said above, there are a lot of jobs that I haven’t gotten, so I’m obviously no expert.  But I have learned some things from my failures, and I hope they can help you in your job search.

Insurance

This probably isn’t the sexiest topic for a blog post, but I think it’s important for people to consider when changing jobs.  My biggest consideration on the topic of benefits was simply whether the employer provided health insurance.  I had never considered how much I might have to pay for those benefits; I’ve been working for the government for the two years since law school and over a year before I went to law school.  I’ve never worked for a small employer that provided insurance to me.

So, to begin with, I learned that my insurance benefits end at my current job on my last day of employment, not the last day of the month. Something I consider odd, and I may dig deeper to find out why my monthly premium isn’t providing me with a month of insurance when I get a chance.  I also don’t have information on COBRA at this time.

Then I learned that there is a 90-day waiting period before insurance benefits will be provided at my new job.  So I had to do some digging into the Affordable Care Act in order to determine whether I needed to pay for my own coverage in the meantime in order to avoid being penalized.

Some people have made comments that they didn’t think I would be penalized if I’m in a gap between employer-provided insurance.  This is not correct.  During this time period, I am not eligible for employer-provided insurance, so it is my responsibility to go to the Marketplace to purchase coverage.  Otherwise, according to healthcare.gov, the fee is the higher of 2.5% of my household income (this equals $1,250 for a household income of $50,000) up to the total yearly premium for the national average price of a Bronze plan sold through the Marketplace, or $695 per adult up to a maximum of $2,085.   If I am covered for part of the year, I just pay 1/12 of the fee for each month in which we don’t have coverage.   So if I don’t have coverage for July, August, and September, if my household income is $50,000, it looks like I’ll have a penalty of $312.50.  Not to mention the cost of paying out-of-pocket for all medical expenses we may incur during that time period.  https://www.healthcare.gov/fees/fee-for-not-being-covered/

Unless I have a gap of two consecutive months or less.  That’s a “short gap” exemption.  The long and short of this exemption is that if I have coverage for even one day in the month of June, I can not have insurance during July and August and as long as I have coverage during September, I will not incur any penalty.  Unfortunately, this exemption will not apply to me because my insurance will not begin at my new employer until October 1.  https://www.healthcare.gov/exemptions-tool/#/results/2016/details/short-gap

So then I look for other exemptions.  https://www.healthcare.gov/exemptions-tool/#/  In utilizing the exemptions tool, there are questions for whether I have declared bankruptcy or been evicted in the past three years.   Nope.  It asks if I have any tax dependents who have been denied Medicaid or whether I’m not enrolled in coverage because I’m appealing a Marketplace decision.  Nope.  Do I have medical expenses that I couldn’t pay that resulted in substantial debt in the past 3 years? No.  Have I experienced unexpected increases in necessary expenses due to caring for an ill, disabled, or aging family member; received a shut-off notice from a utility company; was I homeless; experienced domestic violence; death of a close family member; fire, flood, or other natural or human-caused disaster?  Still no.  Also not a tribal member, or a member of a recognized health care sharing ministry..I don’t even know what that is, or a member of a recognized religious sect with religious objections to insurance.  I also was not incarcerated.  So then I input some information regarding my income for the year.  Unfortunately, this part is really hard for me because my husband owns his own business; his income is not a set amount each month or each year, and there is the possibility that his business will produce losses which will decrease our taxable income.

Fortunately, insurance coverage is considered unaffordable if it is more than 8.16% of my household annual income.  The cheapest plan that I can find on the Marketplace for my husband and I is $475.98 without a subsidy.  This plan has a $13,400 deductible for the two of us, an amount so high that it would be impossible for us to afford to receive medical care while also attempting to pay the premiums each month.  Particularly because deductibles are not pro-rated to account for how many months you actually have in which to meet the deductible before it starts again in January 2018.

So luckily, it appears that we will not be penalized if we choose to not have coverage for the months before I am eligible for coverage through my employer.

The next issue that arises is that I consider the coverage provided by my new employer unaffordable when considering the premium for double coverage (myself and my husband).  And it’s not the employer’s fault; they provide a benefit based on the person that works there. The premium for one person is much more affordable than that offered for two. Strangely enough, the premium for two people is more than twice the cost of two individual plans.  So then I’m back to looking at the Marketplace. And because my husband actually has medical needs, we can’t take a plan that has a ridiculous deductible. We also can’t choose any plan offered by Priority Health because they do not cover one of his medications which would cost us something like $200 each time he needs to fill it.  Not to mention the medical costs associated with him not having it.

So, it appears that we will be purchasing insurance from the Marketplace at a premium rate of around $500 per month.  My employer will still provide the insurance benefit if I don’t use their plan, and we will have coverage that approaches affordable and functional.

Now I just have to figure out how to find another $500 in our budget…  I did ask my future employer whether there would be any way that I could pay for the new coverage pre-tax, but they haven’t gotten back to me on that.  Welcome to the unsexy world of being an adult.

How I made my decision

I think in my post “Decision-making time,” I did not actually articulate which decision I made. I like to keep my readers in suspense, I suppose. I ended up picking Job B.  And I am happy that I did.  When the partner that you sent your acceptance letter to responds by saying that this is the best news he’s heard all month, and it’s the last day of the month, you know you did the right thing.

And as you know, it was not an easy decision. The other firm asked me to explain what made my other offer more attractive.  In a medium-length email, I explained some of the things that I articulated in my previous post. But there is a set of information which has just become incorporated into my being and cannot be explained.

Probably about a year and a half ago, I was introduced to the world of podcasts. My collection of subscribed podcasts has grown and grown, and a few months ago, it occurred to me that I could probably listen to something more personally beneficial than just true crime stories and tales of injustice around the world.  I searched for something along the lines of personal development and was introduced to Optimal Living Daily.

For anyone who doesn’t know, there are several podcasts under the Optimal Living Daily umbrella.  Each of them are narrations of blog posts from various authors.  One is the basic Optimal Living Daily podcast which discusses general topics of personal development.  One is Optimal Health Daily which discusses exercise and diet and fitness in general.  One is Optimal Finance Daily which discusses saving and investing and finances in general.  There is also one based on Start-Ups and Business, but I don’t listen to that one since I don’t run my own business.  Most recently, they added one regarding relationships as well which I really enjoy.

Recently, the OLD family hit some major milestones and some books were given out. I was lucky enough to win a book in a raffle and opted for “Everything That Remains” by the Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.  Through a combination of the podcasts and reading this book, I have recalled/learned some things that are/aren’t important to me.

Something that is not important to me: Stuff.  When I moved to Oregon, I put everything I wanted in the back of my car and my brother and I drove across the country. When I moved back to Michigan, I put everything I wanted in the back of my car and my dad and I drove across the country. I lived in my aunt’s house when I returned and I barely touched it.  Then I moved into a camper in my parents’ driveway. Then I moved into an apartment with my boyfriend. I don’t really remember taking anything with me. He and I bought a house, and I walked away from that without a second thought. The point of all of this is that the THINGS that surrounded me were not important. They never have been. I don’t recall really asking my parents for a lot when I was a kid. I remember spending a lot of time sitting around and reading books or playing at the park with my brother. When I started working, I spent my money on experiences with my friends and drove an $800 car until it died three or four years later. I had hand-me down furniture and for a few years when I lived in Oregon I didn’t even have a bed. I have never paid much attention to my wardrobe. I wear clothes out of necessity, not because I like them. I wear the same items, for the most part, over and over again because they are comfortable, and don’t really think much about shopping and have never concerned myself with fashion.  People who have commented on the fashion of others in my presence have always confused me. I hate having to organize stuff in my house and constantly clear off the counters and find places to put things that aren’t necessary for life.

Something that is important to me: People. One of the reasons I like to have money is because I like to share it with people. I am always thinking of thoughtful gifts that I wish I had money to buy.  I want to contribute to causes and ease the suffering of others.  One of the sources of my social anxiety has been not finding people whose love for others matches my own. I enjoy discussing ideas and books and the experiences that I could be having with others. But instead, I just sit at home and read my books and comment about them online.  I also really love food, and part of what I love about it is cooking for others or taking them to restaurants to share things that I think taste good.

So yes, money is important to me, but not simply for the having of it.  When I thought about having to work really hard to have more money, it did not appeal to me, because I would be stressed out all the time. I worried about having to take cases that made me feel icky inside just so I could meet my billing goals. I thought about having to stand up in court and articulate positions that made my moral compass spin out of control. There are plenty of people/lawyers out there who would be able to do that, but I really don’t think I’m one of them.

And thankfully, Justin Malik from OLD and the Minimalists helped me realize that THAT’S OKAY.  I can make do with less. I can find other avenues of satisfaction than jumping into the rat race and getting a move on.  If I had really wanted the “success” of a profit-driven life, I would have already been on that path. I would have gone to law school right out of undergrad. I would have researched and done everything I could to have aced the interview for the summer associate position at the huge lawfirm after my first year. I would be holed up in a law firm somewhere right now, only coming up for air in the darkness like some kind of vampire. And I would have the money that I wanted. But obviously that wasn’t what I wanted, because that wasn’t what I did. Instead, I picked opportunities that allowed me to help people.  I chose opportunities that allowed me to live and work where I wanted to, instead of where I was told to go.

It probably helps that I come from a family who has also not particularly valued things.  I mean, my grandparents lived with us when I was a kid. My parents always drove used cars and my dad fixed them to keep them going. We didn’t shop name brands and who knows where our clothes even came from. Food was nothing fancy but it was made at home.  I knew people who had money (at least more than we had) and never saw anything that interested me about what they had going on.  Dreams were not a part of life; we just did what we had to do and what we wanted to do. I think about my grandparents a lot when I think about my future. Would they have been happier as millionaires? I don’t think so. They were happy to have each other and be able to walk on the beach or go for a bike ride, or do an obstacle course race on golf carts at the campground where they stayed in Florida during the winters.  They could have had more, but they had enough.

So as much as I worry about whether the money will be enough, I know that it will. I know that my happiness will be the measure of my success.  And I’m already happy with my decision. I know that these lawyers will ensure that I have a successful career in the true sense of the word: that I will stick with it and do good in the world and that I won’t get burnt out by twisting my morals until I can’t recognize them anymore. I made my decision by looking into my heart, and being happy with what I saw.

You don’t owe them anything

This is an interesting concept that I’ve bumped up against a few times in the past week or so.  In making my decision, I have been encouraged to do various things in order to make the best of my situation because I “don’t owe them anything.” Whether that means accepting Job A just so I didn’t lose that opportunity if Job B didn’t come through, discussing the pros and cons of the current setup at my current job, or putting in my two weeks and getting out of my current job as quickly as possible.

It’s interesting to me because I really feel like I owe others a lot. I owe everyone in the world the opportunity to interact with my best self. I owe everyone good experiences with me and the ability to have fond memories of me.

What some people, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, don’t always realize is how important your reputation is in the legal field.  There are lawyers who show up and act like they own the place, and it might get them somewhere, but it’s not going to get them any favors.  Now that I’ve been on the inside of a judge’s chambers, close to her assistant, and in the seat of the law clerk, I know how important a good reputation is.  If a judicial aide doesn’t like you, the chances of you getting an adjournment are governed only by the other party’s willingness to stipulate. And if you’ve pissed off opposing counsel, you are going to need to come up with another plan to attend whatever function you’re double-booked for.  If you are late filing your response and you have treated the clerks with respect, they may be willing to walk it right over to the judge’s chambers to ensure that it gets there in time for him to read it before your hearing.  But if you’ve walked in and thrown papers at them and not recognized their humanity, your response is probably just going to get added to the pile along with everyone else’s.

And I have always known which side of these scenarios I wanted to be on.  I strive to have good relationships with everyone, because you never know when that’s going to come out in your favor.  Those relationships have gotten me the two legal jobs that I’ve had so far.  I volunteered in the Legal Assistance Center in the county where I first worked, so when I applied to be a law clerk, the judge already knew who I was. According to the judge’s assistant, that was probably what caused her to pick me over another candidate that she was debating over. If I had gone into that volunteer experience with the idea that it was all about me and that I didn’t owe them anything, I probably wouldn’t have been perceived with the respect that I deserved.

Later, after I had been a law clerk for over a year, I applied for another clerkship at the urging of a colleague.  Little did I know that the hiring judge was friends with one of the local attorneys who I saw on an almost daily basis.  My belief that I owed that attorney respect and positivity earned me a good recommendation when my name came up. Similarly, my constant hard work and good attitude toward my boss earned me a good recommendation from her when they were informally chatting about the possibility of me moving to a different county.

Similarly, when I think about leaving this job to pursue the world of legal practice, I want people to have positive associations with me.  I will be a brand new lawyer who probably doesn’t even realize how much she doesn’t know. I am going to need the help of everyone willing to give it to me. The last thing I need is to have a case against an attorney from the firm where I turned down the offer and to have them out for my blood.  I also don’t need to walk into the courthouse where I currently work and have clerks unhappy to see me because I left them high and dry when they needed me.

In the beginning of my career, sometimes I feel like all I have is my personality.  I don’t even really have a reputation except with the people who have met me before.  My knowledge is minimal; sure, I passed law school and the bar exam, but I haven’t used a lot of that information since.  Not to mention that practice will be MUCH more complicated than the fact patterns we’re given in school or the facts as they’re laid out in the cases that have gone before.

So I do not agree with the idea that I don’t owe “them” anything. I owe everything to everyone. The minute I stop feeling that way, the minute I become far less successful. I don’t think I’d have gotten two job offers last week if I believed that I was entitled to anything. These firms chose me because I have something to offer, not something to take. And I intend to give it.