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“Don’t go to Law School”—And Why It Wasn’t True For Me.

I just read a rant by a law school graduate turned best selling writer:  it gives multiple reasons why you should not go to law school” with “testimonials like this;” “As I write this, it is 85 degrees, sunny, with a slight, cooling breeze coming from the West. The only reason I know this is that I took twenty minutes to run to get a sandwich to eat at my desk. I am sitting in a basement office which houses three of us, putting off research on state law fair debt collection vs. the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the definition of a creditor to write this post. If that paragraph alone doesn’t deter someone from law school, then I don’t know what will.”

It also discussed the crushing debt, which is also a topic generally in this economic mess that is today’s business climate. “I’ve mentioned this multiple times above, because it is so crucially important to making the right decision about law school. Debt is the elephant in the room that law schools never tell you about, but ends up dominating your life.Law school is three years long. If you go to an average law school and don’t get any tuition help or scholarships, you are going to spend ~$150,000 all-in, at least.” (Above rant.)

And I wonder—how the hell did I do it? I had the GI Bill—I don’t recall how far that went. I worked, despite the 2 year program and being told that was impossible—I spent the first year in the Active Reserve of the United States Air Force. (I think that paid about $300 a month.) My school screwed up one of my three student loans… and never billed me. (An odd quirk of fate I mentioned previously.) But I was still paying for my undergrad degree, so I have o idea how that played out, net debt wise. And I was forced to pay of the remaining loans when I bought my condo in 1991—which was thanks to inheriting money from my mother.

But can I REALLY be that lucky? (Possible, given the many times I have been spared things others suffered…) or is this just the new reality—far different from the kinder gentler one of 1981? (Or… both?)  But as you know (if you have been following) I got a job right out of law school. And that job paid about three times what I had made before law school. I paid back my students loans. I don’t recall any stress about them–ever. But then I sold my mobile home as I drove way. I found things other did not. I had miracles. Synchonistic events have dominated my life,  AM I different???

My experience surely was, if this rant is accurate. Why? I know life in general was far more affordable in the 70s and 80s.  (I bought one mobile home in Florida with a minimum wage job, and my husband and I bought another in Mississippi in the mid 70s—brand new from the factory, on military pay. And I had savings when I drove west to Los Angeles.)

Money was never an issue in my life until I got fired from my consulting job in 1997 and developed PTSD. That was part an economic quirk—and a change in Workers’ Comp law—and partly a refusal to sell my soul. Stu Baron at WCCC was doing dishonest things as his response to the economic hiccup and I called him out… and kissed my job goodbye. but I went to law school to become something I was not before–and it worked. (See previous post “From Wet Behind the Ears..” https://ecarrollstraus.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/from-wet-behind-the-ears-to-hits-the-ground-running/

And life has been very strange ever since. How much is me? And how much is the very bizarre times we live in now? I truly do not know.

 

Priest vs. Bus Driver… Ethics and Power

April 1, 2012 3 comments

OK so when I left off with my saga–and my loyal followers of small numbers– I had just changed several lives by sorting out a no insurance personal injury case in way that was–dare I say it? Healing.

I have a vivid memory of another case where I did something very creative—and it had a less happy ending. No healing… a settlement that left me feeling I had done something bad. Dishonest. But, perhaps… required ethically. (You can be the judge.)

The case was another of the dog cases only this quirky trio would have taken. We had a Workers Comp case of an LA County bus driver, and they drag on forever. At some point during this case (which I was not handling) the driver (also Hispanic but I have forgotten his name) came to and said he was being sued. The girls—the partners—took the case with a lien on his Worker’s Comp settlement. Then they gave it to me.

It was the case of  the Priest vs. the Bus driver. Priest has sued, alleging a loan made and not repaid—involving the purchase of a house, or some land. Something like $20,000, which was a year’s salary back then.

Our guy admits he borrowed the money. There is no note. I get the case before and answer has been filed—and I remember there is this little thing called the Statute of Frauds. Now the response to a pleading which is insufficient is a thing called a demurrer. It makes the plaintiff’s pleading stand or fall as it is. It gets almost always gets them a “do-over” if the demurrer is sustained (and ups their attorney’s fees.) I always through demurrers were a BAD idea—why educate your opponent if s/he is a dummy? But according to Bernie Witkin, then still alive and one of the leading authorities in California law,  the Statute of Frauds, if  not asserted in a demurrer, could be waived. And this was one risk I could not take—this was a land deal and there was no writing. That might be fatal to the priest’s case… So I demurred (instead of filing and Answer to the complaint. The matter was set for a hearing. I am a new attorney so hearings are a pretty big deal for me, still.) Drum roll, please! The day arrives.

I think opposing course had a broken leg—but that’s fuzzy. But what is clear as a bell is all parties appearing by telephone for the one and only time in my legal career. I remember it was really hard to know when the judge was about to talk, with no visual. And I remember we won. Given that there was nothing in writing, it was not clear the complaint could be amended to state a case. The other attorney, whom I never did meet, seemed a tad lame.

Meanwhile, I am thinking “what the heck is a priest doing with this kind of money?” I ask my client “does the Bishop know about this?” Well, my client brings this to the attention of the Bishop (at my suggestion) and I hear back that the Bishop has said that in no uncertain terms this case is NOT going to court. Oops!

Now. this is a very unusual circumstance. I have enormous power—I can dictate terms to this guy who had already looked like a TOTAL jerk in the demurrer… hemmed and hawed and clearly had NO clue. So (to the best of my recollection) I settle with him, verbally, on the amount my guy says he owes. Not a dime more. On my own—no consult with the boss. I am stern—Mr. Lost-the-demurrer asks “what about interest?” I say, “take it or leave it.” No matter what he asks, I just say “take it or leave it. I am a TOTAL bitch. He caves.

Then I tell Sandy about this great thing I did.  Except… she is not pleased! Rather, she sternly admonished me—“You didn’t get the best deal for your client.” No praise for my VERY CLEVER resolution… no praise for settling a case with not even an answer filed. I was chided! Scolded! Ashamed, and required to do it all over.

You see, I had these eedjits by the gonads. Ergo, I could take advantage of this and settle for LESS than my guy owed. So I did. I called Mr. Notsosmart back the next day, and I had to say: “You remember that deal we had yesterday? Well, it’s gone.” I do not recall what he said or what the amount finally was—I just remember how wrong it felt. How dishonorable.

Was I ethically obligated by the duty of zealous advocacy to take advantage of a situation that will never again happen to me—or, maybe ANYONE–and cut a “better” deal than my client asked for? God only knows. I don’t.

But that’s what I did. And that I will never ever forget.

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Oh Sh*t—Now What Do I Do?

I thought of giving this segment of the saga a cutesy name—but I couldn’t. Trust me—when you are a lawyer overnight, and we all are… this is pretty much how you SHOULD feel.

You see, unlike doctors (who get out through a really long and painful—serious sleep deprivation included, no extra charge—residency) lawyers don’t. You get your Bar Exam results, you get sworn in and presto change-o—you are a lawyer. You are licensed and you are free to do whatever work you can ethically do… see Ethics Rule 1.1. (Yes, yes,  I know—it is a popular belief that lawyers have no ethics.  But in 1983 advertising was still prohibited–and some of us lawyers did follow the MANY ethical rules. Still do. Yes, I know—hard to believe—thank you, Larry Parker. But true.

So I was sworn in December 12, 1983. I guess it must have been December 13 when I showed up at work  newly minted—but I remember  very well what my first act was that day. (Well I had forgotten until I started to write this, but it came back pretty quick.) I got to the office in Glassell Park, probably just before 9:00—I tend to be early—and the two secretaries were there, but none of the partners. The secretaries were quite upset, because they had found a nest of mice. It was my job to deal with this emergency. Lucky for me, I am not in the least afraid of mice.

I captured them—they were teensy and really very cute—in a waste basket. But then, what on earth was I to do with them? I think I couldn’t bring myself to drown them… and so I think–I KNOW– I dithered for some time, until Sandy showed up and (bless her forever) told me to take them across the street and “tell them to go play.” I will be forever grateful. I am, to this day. I am sure Sandy forgot it the next day. Not me. Nosiree.

And thus I began the practice of law. I don’t recall precisely when I signed my first pleading. (Magically, I had this power!! My signature carried the weight of all the causes of action this person had–I was speaking to the court on his be behalf! This is far more earth shaking than it may sound.)  I do remember what it was… as it ended up being a fateful turn of events. It was a personal injury case (our office did all sorts of law, but Sandy did mostly PI. Her husband was a physician which came in very handy.) One Massey Enciso was suing the County Hospital of Los Angeles.

Of course, suing a county, or any public agency, is not so simple, so there had been plenty of work done before that day. (All government agencies make it very hard to sue them. The steps in the dance will be relevant later.) I did not do much, if any, of these prerequisites to getting permission to file. I never met Mr. Enciso and I did not make any of the decisions that led to the complaint we filed–the partners just let me sign the darn thing because I could. It’s a pretty big deal. I am thinking it may have been December 1983. I am not sure. But let me assure you, I am very sure I learned what not to do from that case!

The details of the gentleman’s problems are fairly gruesome. (One thing about law—it is NOT boring—not when you are actually doing personal injury work it isn’t.) He had an injury to a very personal part of his anatomy. (We had three such cases for a while, and the joke around the office was that at Grayson Maxwell & Sugarman, “PI” did not mean “personal injury, it meant “penis injury”…)

If anyone knows what a decubitus ulcer is… he had one. Yes, there. (Do NOT look at the link if you have a weak stomach.) He had it there because he was paraplegic and had been having his OTHER decubitus ulcers debrided. (Cleaned.) As I said, a tad gruesome. If I told you the main reason that part of him had that pressure sore, it would be too gross. Just take the fact that he was a paraplegic and had certain issues (and a “common law wife—which is not possible legally but…) and put two and two together. Or write to me if curiosity is really killing you. But he had it– and it was most unfortunate for his ability to make use the device which caused it. If you follow. Hey– this was my initiation into law—what can I say?
So, bottom line, the hospital had indeed screwed up. Hospitals are supposed to help people like paraplegics, who get these nasty problems, not GIVE them to them. Even if they are essentially destitute.  (As many paraplegics are, for some strange reason.) Slam dunk, right? Well, that’s what all three partners thought. Wrong. After I left the firm, in 1985, I had the thrill of being served at work with a malpractice lawsuit. I can’t tell you what a treat that was. Served AT MY OFFICE (where I was now defense counsel for Hartford Insurance.) Ouch.

Why was that served on me—who had done zilch? (And when the partners really had not done any “bad thing” –id est, commit malpractice?) Well… I’ll get to that. I am pretty sure I hold the distinction of being the first person in my law school class to be served with malpractice suit. I was shocked–and saw it as a “live by the sword die by the sword” sort of moment. (Just so you know–the story has a sort of happy ending—for me, not for Mr. Enciso.) And when I went to aply to the Arizona Stare Bar guess what I had to report! Yep. that lawsuit.  They don’t go away.

Next time I will explain how THAT joyous experience–the one thing lawyers all dread—came to be. “You have been sued.” (And served at work.)   And I will also explain the  true meaning of the word Shadenfreude

Surprise—You’ve Been Promoted!

March 6, 2012 2 comments

As some of you will recall, I went to work for Grayson Maxwell & Sugarman before I knew whether or not I had passed the terrifying Bar Exam. I wish I could say I remember those first months well-but I don’t. I remember I had to get a “professional” wardrobe—after all, my last job was in the USAF and I had green fatigues on every day! So I did. That I recall.

I seem to remember doing some really boring things like updating practice guides. The law changes every time a new case comes down—and sometimes when a legislature changes things. So the handy-dandy guides which tell lawyers what the law is and how the heck to do various things (trust me, we can’t read the statutes either—they are gibberish) change about twice a year.  These are in large ring binders and only some pages have to be replaced and if you mess up and replace the wrong page the books are FUBAR forever. BORING. This is my WORST thing on the planet Earth… Mindless tedium with stress. Thank God now I never need to do this any more.
But at least I got familiar with the darned things—they are very very useful. In any case, I suppose the partners must have given me SOME real work to do…for reasons which will soon become clear. Because what I do remember is the day I got my Bar results. Now this was back when there were two ways to find out—wait for the mail or go down to downtown LA and look at the posted results at the State Bar offices.

Those of us with jobs (and a low desire to suffer crowds of stressed out humans) waited for the mail. So one fine day in late November I was at work when I got a call from Jeff. Remember him? He was my boyfriend at the time and my class mate and fellow results awaiter. (He had sworn, when we were taking the test in 2 different locations, that he blew one of the essays completely…) Seems he had gotten the mail….. The results were in the mail… And HE HAD PASSED!

So I knew for sure MY mail had MY results—we lived not that far apart. And I knew if he had passed I didn’t I would die. So my bosses took pity on me, and let me go home right after that call.

My job was in Glendale (Glassell Park, really) and home was Sierra Madre. It was probably a half hour drive at non rush hour—which (to the best of my recollection) this was. So at, maybe,  3:30 I got home and parked at the top of the long sloping driveway. The mail box was at the bottom. We had been told a fairy tale that if you got a thick envelope it meant you had failed (I guess because they return your essays.) In any case, I went down the hill and opened the mailbox and there was a thick seeming envelope from the State Bar. ALL I REALLY remember is the looking at the contents of the envelope–on the ground–as I tried to see what,exactly, was in there. Then I remember seeing the words “The Committee of Bar Examiners is pleased…”

I read no farther. I think I called Jeff and then work. I felt oddly numb. Relieved the ordeal was over—but not elated as I had expected.

What else I don’t remember is if the partners waited… or if they fired the other associate immediately. Seems they had planned to ditch her if I passed. Bingo—I had a full caseload. I’d been promoted!!! I was an attorney. A real attorney. Clueless me. Oddly depressed me. Clients lives were in my inexperienced hands. Oy vey. (I wonder if the ditched associate still hates me?)

Stay tuned…

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Legal Rebel—Should I Yell?

Ah, law school. Today I read and listed to several blogs and podcast about law and law school. It was all negative, and probably all true—for the traditional law school–which bullet I fortunately dodged. (As I have mentioned before.) I think I have been a “legal rebel” from the git go—which seems to be more fate than logic. NOW the ABA (American Bar Association) is coming on board. see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOTtgzuGscY&feature=player_embedded

So now to my next magic trick—finding my first job on the last day of the Bar Exam.

So there I was, Day Three of the ordeal. On Day One I had had another mini-melt down but  called a fellow test taker—not Jeff– and then got over myself and went out to jog–my all-purpose magic pill for everything. I knew yesterday was over so… I got ready for the next day. (Which was, I think, all essays– including one on Evidence and Torts which I swear I nailed.)

By Day Three –the so called “Multistate” portion which is multiple choice–all that work I had done memorizing VERBATIM the Black Letter Law was paying off. (Oddly, one still sticks in my mind: “Burglary is the breaking and entering into the dwelling of another with the intent to commit a felony therein.”  Believe it or not… every word of that is key.  EVERY WORD—except maybe “is”.)

So, feeling amazingly good going in to the homestretch I decided to ask a total stranger to have lunch nearby—and off we went. The only place nearby was fairly upscale,  but we explained to the waitress we were on a tight time line and we ordered.

Soon at the table next to us sat down… 4 women. I overheard the word “deposition” and realized they were all attorneys. I jumped up (God knows how I was dressed for the bloody Bar Exam) and introduced myself. Sandy Sugarman gave me her card, and I guess we finished our food and paid and went back to finish up the test—4 more hours and then DONE. (It now occurs to me to wonder what my lunch mate thought of this…) I remember that on the last day I finished before  time was called and left early. I never saw my fateful lunch mate again.

So after the final day Jeff and I went off on a camping trip. We went up the California Coast to Hearst Castle and just hung out, both of us well aware there would be no time for such things all too soon. I forget how many days we took but it was a great break from the intense work we had done for 2 plus years.
Eventually we got came back to Pasadena and got down to the business of looking for a job—even though results from the Bar Exam were not due until November. (This would have been July 1983.(  Somehow even in the absence of Facebook—or even email—we all kept in touch and supported each other in this search. To the best of my recollection Steve Tully was the first of my buds to find a position—he was Jeff’s best friend. I think it was with Farmer’s Insurance, but I could be wrong. It’s been a few years.

At some point I think I called Grayson, Maxwell and Sugarman. (You don’t exactly have a resume at this point… but hey—maybe I did, I don’t really remember.) Long story short, I interviewed and was hired—I think I September of that year. Sandy Sugarman, Myrna Grayson and Barbara Maxwell, an associate whose name I do not recall… and me. Sandy said at some point that they “liked my chutzpah.” (For any of you who don’t know—this is usually a compliment when used by Jews–and Sandy, Myrna and I were all three Jews. Barbara was the token goy. Actually, they were all long time friends and had matching Jags.)

Every singe job I have had since that day has come from someone I knew. Every single one.

Fate?

More about this adventure soon…I had a surprise in store!

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Delayed Gratification

February 26, 2012 2 comments

I was struck today by some of the ever stranger political murmurings (I am temped to say yammerings) which are everywhere of late. A pundit in  the Wall Street Journal opined that fiscal austerity is like the 1970s study begun (and ongoing) about how, when, why and to what end children can resist temptation. You might wonder what a study of 4 year-olds has to do with a global economic crisis, but in any case it set me to wondering about the premise of the study—some kids are better at this than others, and it serves them well.

Here is a link to a thorough article about the scientist, Mischel, and his work:http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/18/090518fa_fact_lehrer?currentPage=2

He says, at one point “…When Odysseus had himself tied to the ship’s mast, he was using some of the skills of metacognition: knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist the Sirens’ song, he made it impossible to give in…”  (This begs the question HOW DID HE KNOW??? I guess previous myths told him. Children don’t seem to have the benefit of this—but some resist temptation anyway.)

But I was curious if this applied to me, as I feel quite certain I’d have resisted any tempting marshmallows, at a young age. In fact I don’t think marshmallows would have tempted me,  but that could be amnesia… who knows? I do know I had –have–a lot of self discipline in my life. Was this luck? Genes?  Or my environment? (There is no definitive answer from the study to date.)

I think my other did me one huge favor, although her motives were entirely selfish. She made my study music. She wanted me to go to Julliard (where she did NOT go)—but she had me start studying piano at age 5. Talk about a habit that taught delayed gratification.  I dutifully sat and practiced my hour a day. EVERY DAY.

Later, when I added oboe and my sister added cello, she (my sister, not my mother)  rebelled—surreptitiously—by not practicing, but pretending she did. (I did not bust her. I think her teacher did in the end, but this is very fuzzy.)  I kept on practicing. I am not sure why. In high school I went through a depression and recall (somewhat vaguely) that I  sat and looked at my books when I was supposed to be studying. I didn’t read them—but I sat there! No TV… just… sitting and staring. I wish I could remember why I was depressed. I don’t. I just know it was probably my junior year—but I had skipped 8th grade, so I’d have been –what? 13? 14?  (I assume this was the junior year, as this was Berkeley Prep—but I went to Brandon High for my senior year.) But I digress–except to illustrate that I still delayed TV. Yay me.

I really think my sister would probably have gobbled up that marshmallow, if memory serves at all. She used to covet my Easter candy… which I kept in a jar for AGES. (I may have done this just to torture her-but I did not have that “gotta have it now” thing going on.) She invariably got so worked up on her birthday–which was Christmas Eve–that she was given one Christmas present early, so she’d calm down and go to bed. (I was in no way in agony over the fact that I had to wait to open what was under the tree—and we had to wait to open the wrapped gifts until our parents got up!) No, I don’t think she have waited to eat the marshmallow.

The study suggests these traits (ability to delay eating candy—or being “gratified”) are inborn, possibly genetic– but also malleable. I think my ability to delay “gratification” has many facets—but today, reading about the 1970s study and the ongoing investigation, I realized (or remembered) a few things. Like, my sister got into trouble in school for stealing—I didn’t. I kept studying music—my sister didn’t. I went to graduate school—she didn’t. She spent a lot of time overweight—I didn’t. On the other hand, she managed to marry and have 4 kids and stay for 30 years… I didn’t.

In any case, I had  used that ability, however I gained it and strengthened it to get through two years of intense study and the Bar Exam. Then I ended up using my chutzpah to get my first job. (Stay tuned. This chunk of my story took me all day for some reason. Whew!)

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Trauma and Personal Growth

February 23, 2012 1 comment

This will be a bit of a detour, but I am reading a very life changing book called “The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defenses of the Personal Spirit”. It is a compilation of what many many transpersonal psychologists—Freud, Jung and many few have heard of—have explored about why it is so hard to heal trauma. The fact tat it has stumped so many experts tells us something.

Trauma is tough stuff. What does this have to do with law school? It will have a LOT to do with my career, as my own trauma was a large part of what drove me to become a lawyers and them to work with divorce… and now to change the system as much as I possibly can, (The legal system TRAUMATIZES people. But Almost NO ONE has a clue about trauma.)

So, knowing that we are clueless about the effects if trauma, it may seem clear that not only is it the traumatized people who end up duking it out in court… but  the end result is carnage. And yet it is still the norm. I will speak more about the sad fact that trauma recreates itself and this utterly baffles the untraumatized who think it should be easy to just stop. For the abused women to “just leave”… and so on.

So, I got through law school with one third of my tuition unpaid, and graduated!  My first time wearing a cap and gown. My mother and sister came out… but I don’t remember much except what was in a photo. And recently my sister shared with me her memory of us having a row at the airport. (Of course I was at fault.)  This massive amnesia I have is one of the legacies of trauma. But I knew I had accomplished something very few people had. I had gradated from law school in tow years—on my own steam with no help from my family at all. (My family were not, it seems, impressed. I think my mother was proud, but my sister still seems to think I am a complete idiot. To this day.)

The next step was… the California State Bar Exam. The California State Bar Exam is famously one of the two most difficult in the country. The SCALE passage rate was well above the passage rate for accredited schools, but we all knew failure was a statistical possibility. This is not a happy thought. We had just spent two years and many thousands of dollars molding lour brains and forging almost all fun… and we might not pass the damn test.

After graduation and some degree of satisfaction and celebration comes… BAR REVIEW! My boyfriend (as we neared completion we actually did have a minimalist social life) took BARBRI—I took Josephson. (I think my choice was also guided—Josephson, no longer doing Bar Review, made us laugh. BARBRI was dead serious.) So after a mini-meltdown (Jeff sensibly smacked me –verbally– and I got over that!) I buckled down and focused UTTERLY on the process of learning the rules of the game called “the Bar Exam.” (I just checked-the current price of this several month long marathon is $3,975.00!!!)

I carpooled to the live classes way down in LA—another good choice IMHO, opting for live over video—and took notes. AND I READ THEM!! I did every damn thing they said to do—and more. (Except that I was not able to read as slowly as they recommended. My reading speed and comprehension were just not on the charts.) I read the materials I took and reviewed notes, I made flash cards of the “black letter law”. (Stuff you ONLY need to know for the Bar Exam!!!)

And I wrote extra essays. I busted my butt. I studied. I jogged.I went to class, Rinse, repeat.  And then… it was the day before the Big Day. I was signed up to take the test in Glendale as I planned to type my test. (This was before computers.) As BADLY as I type, I KNEW my speed would far exceed what I could hand write and it would be far more easily readable. And it was. (And the test center was close to me and there were far fewer people. Both major blessings.) And the GUESS WHAT I DID?? I took the day off. I KNEW I had done the work and one more day was not going to change what I knew, I knew I might never have a day where I had such freedom ever again… so I played. Yep–played. all day.

Then I got up at whatever time and drove to Glendale with two typewriters– a manual and an electric as they have had power outages– and began the final ordeal.

I had one of my “Carroll’s world” events—one which led to my first law job– on day three of  The Test… where I will begin tomorrow.