Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving - I am thankful for my brave clients.

I love Thanksgiving, and it's not all about the food - especially since I do most of the cooking.  I enjoy Thanksgiving because of the enrichment my family and friends provide to my life.  But, for this article, I want to thank and be grateful for my clients and how they have enriched my life.

There's Ruth Bates, who taught me what true courage and perseverance was.  She felt within her what was right or just and followed her gut.  She acted with dignity and courage in the face of media barrages and intrusions.  Ruth handled herself with dignity, while the opponent could have taken lessons in decorum and self-esteem from her.  Plus, I had the joy of getting to know her and her wonderful family and how they came together in Ruth's hour of need.  There is not enough that I can say about Ruth Bates.  Who says you can't fight city hall.

There's Terri Wallace, who after 7 years, finally made justice happen. Through two appeals and one jury trial, Terri persevered and prevailed.  She did not set a 7 year goal, but when she saw that 7 years is what it would take to receive justice, she didn't balk or lay down.  Heroes come from humble beginnings.

To the Campbell family, who hopefully will get some closure after the brutal killing of their father.  I particularly respect Debbie, who made her peace personally with the officer who killed her husband.  That took great courage and taught me a valuable lesson in forgiveness.  The girls are doing so well now.

To my former brave clients, who have given me strength through the years (this is not a comprehensive list) -
Of course, Serita Wright, one of the bravest women I know; Nancy Watson, who started it all for me, James Brock, who displayed incredible courage; Marlene Hickerson and Shirley Stroud, who showed what it meant to believe in moral values; Vera Sims, who refused to allow herself be treated like a piece of meat, and to the many others through the years who have helped so many, and particularly who have kept my hope for society's future alive.  To the brave and true nurses.

And there are the clients whose cases are pending - Christie Helm, who had the courage to tell the truth about a judge, and others I shouldn't name until we are finished with the case.

I went to the Holocaust museum and bought myself a tee-shirt with a quote from Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: Indeed it's the only thing that has."

I am deeply indebted to all of these brave people who are willing to bare their souls in the name of justice, in the quest to eliminate discrimination and dishonesty in America's workplace.  And as the saying now goes, "How the workplace goes, so goes the U.S., and someday the world."

Thanks again to all of my clients.  You probably don't realize what difference you have made in my life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Even Though I Blasted Men In My Earlier Post, They Have Redeeming Qualities

A couple of posts ago, I compared qualities of male and female lawyers.  Some think I blasted men.  This is my disclaimer, if not an apology.  I believe what is said in the previous post is generally true and I admit to generalizing.  But that is not why I am writing.  Overall, men are good to have around.  I like men.  Dare I say, I love some men (like my husband, brothers and son and nephews, ya da ya da).  It's just that male lawyers can learn a lot from female lawyers (and I must admit female lawyers can learn to be a little braver from their male counterparts).  The end.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thank God for the Nurses

I love nurses.  I have loved nurses for many years.  This past week, I went to the party of some of my former nurse clients.  They were celebrating the day of their unceremonious firing and subsequent successful lawsuit.  It was wonderful seeing them after several years.  I love those nurses.  Nurses are special.

When my grandfather died, my grandmother decided to pursue her life long dream, to be a nurse.  She enrolled in nursing school at the age of 63.  She had retired from her job as a factory worker sewing on sleeves on women's coats and had planned to travel the world with my grandfather.  Their first trip after Oma, my grandmother, retired was to Israel.  Israel was the destination in the late 1960s of all European Jews who had emigrated from Europe around the time of World War II.  My grandmother had taken her family (including my mother) and fled Nazi Germany in 1938.  She first worked as a housekeeper after she arrived in Kansas City, and worked her way up to the Betty Rose coat factory, where she joined the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union and took the bus every day to the factory to sew on coat sleeves until she retired around 1967.  Oma and Uncle Sam (my step-grandfather) had planned for many years to go to Israel.  Uncle Sam bought a beautiful smoky topaz ring for Oma while in Israel.  I am wearing it on my finger as I type this blog.

My grandparents' retirement plans were not to be.  Upon returning from Israel, Uncle Sam went to his doctor because he was feeling weak and tired.  He had lung cancer.  By November 1968, he was dead.  And my grandmother decided to go to nursing school.  While Oma never really recovered from my grandfather's death, the one redeeming thing in her life was that she was a nurse.  Through all of the years in the factory, she had always wanted to be a nurse and, by the end of her life, she made her dream come true.  In so many ways, my grandmother was my hero.  In her unassuming way, she was the risk taker in the family.

This leads me to what I want to write about and that is the profession of nursing.  Through the last few years as a trial lawyer, I have represented many nurses.  I have kept nurses on many juries.  I have the greatest respect for the profession of nursing.  People who decide to go into the nursing profession by and large do so because they care about helping people.  Nurses are smart, work hard, are sometimes unappreciated and don't get the respect that doctors receive.  When you go to a hospital, you spend much more time with nurses than with doctors.  Nurses take care of you.  Nurses are the mothers and fathers of the health care profession.

I have represented nurses who were sexually harassed in horrible ways by the doctors they worked for and I have represented nurses who spoke out against dangerous medical conditions in health care facilities and were fired.  In a whistleblower case against a not-for-profit case, it was the nurses on the jury who spoke out against the illegal conduct of the employer.  Qualities necessary to make a good nurse include the willingness and ability to question authority and the drive to seek perfection.  Some may call this latter trait obsessive compulsive disorder, but as far as I am concerned, give me an OCD nurse any day of the week.

My daughter has been struggling with migraines and who is it that gives her the care she needs to function?  The doctors help, but the CARE is provided for by the nurses.  Nurses don't seek recognition or glamour, they just do their job with intelligence and caring in 12 hour shifts.

Here's to the nurses!  Especially the ones who speak up so that we are all safer.  Thank goodness the nurses who were my clients had the courage they have to make this world a better place.  Thank God for nurses.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Women Trial Lawyers - As Good or Better Than Men

I have been a civil trial lawyer for 26 years and there are not many more women trying plaintiffs' case than there were 26 years ago.  Why is this?  I have a friend, a highly skilled and accomplished female trial lawyer who was beat out for a prestigious position to a man even though she was better qualified.  Why?  Gerry Spence opined in my presence that it would be hard for women to be trial lawyers because we are not natural fighters or warriors. I told him that he was wrong because we women fight all the time - we fight for our children, we fight for ourselves, we fight for justice.  It's just that we aren't as loud.  I don't think we need to be.

 Is it true that women are ill-equipped to fight in the rough and tumble world of trial work? I say NO!!!!  Resoundingly NO!!!!!  What I am going to write about are my own opinions and observations only.  I believe that women have the capacity to far outshine their male trial lawyer counterparts.  But, women have not excelled in traditionally recognized ways.  I think there are a couple of reasons for that.

First of all, women, by and large, have much smaller egos than their male counterparts.  For instance, I second chaired a case with my partner and we won.  We belong to a local lawyers group that meets monthly. Although our all female firm tries many cases with results as good as the male firms, I cannot remember one time when a meeting was devoted to stories about one of our cases. There is another woman in the organization and I know that the same thing has happened to her.  However, with the male trial lawyers, not only do they have meetings devoted to them when they win, I remember attending a meeting where one of the male lawyers spent the whole time talking about what great strategies he had and things he had done in trial in a case that he LOST.  The long and short of it is that male trial lawyers brag more than women trial lawyers.  I will explain how this lack of ego and bragging in women can make them better trial lawyers than the men.

Second, women are less likely to take risks that men are.  I mean less likely to risk going to trial, to risk acting as first chair, to risk making a mistake in front of others,to risk losing money, and to risk asking for money from a jury.  Women need to take more risks.  

Third, because there are fewer women trying plaintiffs' civil cases, we look to males as models for what a trial lawyer is.  Yes, they fight.  Yes, they talk a lot.  Yes, they brag.  Out of those three traits, the only male trait that is really effective is that they fight.  The other two traits are detrimental to representing clients.  However, since we have male role models, people, espouse that you have to act like a "man" to be a successful trial lawyer.  That is poppycock.  I will tell you why,

Men are more ego-centric and are more likely to make the trial about themselves.  "I won this trial."  "The jury gave ME..."  While female lawyers are more willing to focus on the client.  Women are more likely to be nurturers.  Nurturers protect and nourish their clients.  And by "protect," I mean fight for their client.  Women don't have to be the focus, and sometimes men, who want to be the focus step all over their female counterparts to get attention.  Mind you, these are stereotypes and generalizationsw and not all male trial lawyers are like this.  In fact, I have tried several cases with men, most notably with Rafe Foreman, who did not demonstrate the male egoic traits I have ascribed to male trial lawyers.  When a trial lawyer makes the case really about himself, he has lost sight of his job.

These are the typical female traits which allow women the potential to be superior trial lawyers:

1.   Ability to LISTEN instead of talking all the time.  In my opinion, many trials have been lost because the lawyer failed to listen and was hell-bent on being the star of the show.  Women are better listeners. Better listeners are better story-tellers.

2.   Women have more EMPATHY.  Empathy, or the ability to place oneself in the shoes of another and understand them is a critical trait for people, not just trial lawyers.  Kindness, caring and understanding all come from empathy.

3.   LACK OF OVER-ACTIVE EGO allows women to be in the moment, be real and spontaneous.  All traits helpful in life as well as in trial.

4.   Because of women's EMPATHY, LACK OF EGO, AND LISTENING ABILITIES, women are more trustworthy.  Sincerity, honesty and trustworthiness (along with preparedness, etc.) are the keys to persuasion.  Women have the innate ability, that some women suppress, to be sincere and trustworthy and focus on their clients.  Those are building blocks for great trial lawyers.

The only beneficial trait I see less in women than men is the desire to take risks.  Women are simply going to have to jump off the cliff and try cases.  Once this happens, I predict that society's view of effective trial lawyers will change and women will be venerated.  Women are as smart as men.  Women prepare as hard as men.  Women are oftentimes more believed than men,.  The lawyer who is believed and has the jury's trust is the one the jury will want to win.

So, I think women lawyers need to try cases, but not just copy the styles of men.  Women need to be confident enough to be themselves and not to adopt the annoying egoistic qualities of some of the male trial lawyers.  I hope that we are starting a movement where women take their rightful role as trial lawyers.  Women are well suited for the job.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Health Care Bill in the House

This past week, I met my sister in D.C. to visit my son.  My sister and I had planned to get away, to a spa or some other girlie thing, but Joyce suggested visiting Aaron and I was happy.  For a former political science major, seeing my American History/politics-obsessed son, this trip was fun with little time for relaxation. Aaron was in charge in showing us his town, and we were busy, busy, busy.

The last day, Saturday, we started out getting breakfast close to the National Archives and viewed President Obama's motorcade with the President on his way to the House of Representatives to lobby for votes for the health care bill.  We went to the Archives, and then to the National Portrait Gallery, and then went to a movie, before the coup de gras.

Aaron's friend works for a Congressman, and he got gallery tickets for us to watch the debate on health care.  By the time we got to the office building, it was 7:00 p.m.  After a quick private tour of an empty Senate side of the Capitol, we went to the House chamber.  Wow.  When we got there, they were debating the abortion amendment, then the Republican bill and then the voting began.  The tension mounted during the  next four hour.  It reminded me of a basketball game.  A Democratic would get up and advocate, and then a Republican counterpart would counter.  They'd shoot, perhaps score, and then the other team got the ball.

After the abortion amendment passed and the Republican substitute for the health care bill failed, the Republicans threw in an unexpected monkey wrench.  They slipped in a new amendment requiring tort reform.   I sat through the Republicans arguments about how trial lawyers are worse than the devil and should be shot on sight.  Perhaps this is somewhat hyperbolic, but not much.  After articulate and convincing arguments against the amendment by Democrats, especially by a Plaintiff's lawyer from Iowa, while Republicans were heckling, "He's a trial lawyer, a trial lawyer!!! (as if he were an axe murderer), " the amendment failed.

Then the vote on the bill was called.  I had heard that the vote would be close and it was unknown how it would come out.  All 435 members of the House were there.  They voted electronically, and the votes were shown on a score board not unlike the kind used in basketball.  The numbers rolled constantly.  We knew the magic number was 218, over a 50% majority.  The votes slowed, with the Yeas at 213 and the Nays only one or two votes behind.  Slowly the numbers increased, 214, 215, 216 . . . it was like the last few seconds of a sports match.  Then, 217, and seconds went by seeming like minutes.  Finally - 218!!!!!!!!!  The Gallery, or most of us in the Gallery, erupted, cheering and clapping, echoing the cheering and applause on the Democratic side of the floor.  The acting speaker admonished the crowd in the Gallery, us, to be silent.  Still the 15 minute voting time had not officially expired.  When the time clock read 10, the Democratic Representatives began to chant, "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!"  Again, the chamber erupted in cheering and applause.  As Speaker Pelosi walked to the podium to announce the vote, chills went through my spine.  What a rush!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Novel Writing

My niece, Arrianna, has inspired me to write a novel - National Novel Writing Month (nanowritno.org).  We will see how this goes.