Thursday, June 28, 2012

Girls (and Boys) Just Want to Have Fun

Girls Just Want To Have Fun!! 

Isn't that the best song ever!  Who among us just wants to have fun?  I do! Life can get too serious for me. I want to laugh, dance (darn you torn acl - I will get you soon.). I want to sing and be goofy and swear with really bad words until people chuckle. I want to be stupid and clever and silly. I want to play rolling around on the floor with my five year old friend Diego. I want to play Mario Brothers and go to silly movies and chortle loud and with gusto. I want to sing and play a blues guitar. 

Let's have some fun!  Life is too serious and our time is now!!  Whoop it up!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Metamorphosis of Courage

"No one can make you feel bad about yourself without your consent."
Eleanor Roosevelt

When a person is fired, it usually takes it's emotional toll on him or her.  Being fired is a complete rejection of who one is as an employee, as a social person and, as a complete human being. Some people never recover from the rejection and abandonment. They lack the inner strength, especially when there is unlawful discrimination, to rise above the insult and nourish and love themselves. Oftentimes, the self-doubt is greatest when the person has been abused, either verbally, physically and sexually in the past. I refer many people who come see me to counselors and psychiatrists, hoping these professionals know the cure. 

Yet, oftentimes I observe a completely different phenomena that obliterates my clients' self-loathing, self-doubt and fear. The cure I see emerges from my clients' willingness to stand up and fight. I have watched many a client blossom into self-confident, self-possessed fighters, merely by embracing litigation and sometimes trial. Without exception, when I have a client willing and brave enough to fight, they fight not only for themselves but for others, hoping that their struggles will prevent the next unsuspecting employee from experience the hell of discrimination or harassment. They are peaceful soldiers steeped in a war to better the human condition. 

What transforms these sometimes meek and frightened characters who report for battle into warriors for justice?  I suspect I know and I suspect the virtues my brave clients develop are those qualities attainable by all of us. 

Here is what I think happens:

1,   The mere act of confronting the company and standing for what is right empowers and liberates victims of discrimination. 

2. When one stands and fights for honor for themselves and for the dignity of themselves and others, it takes one out of oneself. No more does the client obsess about victimhood, but he or she becomes a fighter for justice. It is not only about the self, but about the greater good of society.

3. If the client is able to be open and absorb the harder life lessons, he or she learns that nothing anyone else says can really affect what one feels about who he or she is. In the book, "The Four Agreements," this principle is explained as, "Don't take anything personally."  Although a hard state to achieve, when one refuses to take anything personally, he or she is truly able to better himself and others. She has self-confidence and can blossom and grow. She knows that the speaker's words are reflections of who the harasser is, and not who the hearer is.

When you take on the company and win, and even sometimes even if you lose, it changes you. You know you are up to fighting for what's important. You know they can't bring you down. No one can control how you feel about yourself. You are empowered. 

Part of my satisfaction in representing these budding heroes, is watching their process. Oftentimes, when clients first come to me, they are wounded, scarred and scared. It is so gratifying to watch their evolution, their growth into the courageous people they truly are. If they can put up with nasty cross-examination, bitter innuendo, and down-right insults, they know they can deal with anything because they love themselves and know they deserve better. Watching my clients' metamorphoses is the pinnacle of my job as a trial lawyer.  You'd be surprised at how strong and confident most people can become when put to the test.  I believe we all have untapped inner strength and I so admire the ones willing to tap into it.  I have a wonderful job. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Balancing Career and Family - Just Go Wth Your Gut

In the last 29 years, I have represented a lot of women in discrimination cases.  Not one has mentioned to me that she is having a hard time balancing work/life issues.  By the time these women get to me, they are just trying to survive.  However, we professional women constantly bemoan the perceived career/family balancing issue, not realizing how fortunate we are to have both families and careers. 

Since I started the practice of law, women's roles have changed. For crying out loud, Title IX is 40 years old.  I am at the Missouri Association of Trial Lawyers convention and there are more women on the board than ever, in this still male-dominated field.  A friend of mine is now head of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers and I know women who have headed the trial bars in Ohio and Indiana.  I am sure there are many more. I am watching a dynamic woman talk about SUV rollover cases.  The plaintiffs' trial bar has been one of the last bastions of testosterone domination, and, after practicing in this area for 29 years, I can finally see a real influx of gutsy women taking risks and trying cases. 

Yet, after all this time, what is leading the New York Times most e-mailed articles page is an article talking about how hard it is for women to balance careers and families, reminiscent of the discussions prominent during my lawyer puppydom.  What is going on?  Men have had careers and families for years, but I suspect many of them may have neglected family in favor of career.  

I long ago thought about this issue, balancing a desire to be a trial lawyer and my need to be the best mother I could be, under the circumstances I chose.  When my son was born in 1978, I wanted to stay home and be a housewife, but my husband and I decided that we could not afford it. I was working as a claims representative at the Social Security Administration, a job that I had come to detest and I was just 26 years old. Around then, I also decided to see if I could get in law school, and, lo and behold, I did.  Even though we thought we could not afford my becoming a full-time mom, when I got into law school, I quit my job and did not earn money for the first year.  We survived.  Priorities. 

My son was a year old when I started law school.  Many fellow students questioned how I could be a mother and devote enough time to study.  Actually, it was easy.  My husband worked evenings and I had to pick my son up no later than 6:00 p.m.  What I did was arise at 5:30 a.m. To get to the law school to study all morning and I always left school by 5:00 p.m. sharp.  I studied all day on Sundays, when my husband was home from work.  What did I give up?  Mainly, I gave up going to parties and the local law school watering hole. It was not a hard decision to make, either to spend time partying and neglecting my son, or to spend precious time reading to, playing with and enjoying my darling baby.  As law school progressed, I took my boy to school with me and he made friends with my classmates.  One of the first time I remember my son grappling with gender issues was when he declared, "Boys do laundry and girls study." I was careful to dissuade him of his observation.  I replied,"oh, boys can also study."

At the time I graduated, I had decided I wanted to be a trial lawyer, and my son was four years old.   My family was important to me, so on my resume I included being a wife and mother.  In retrospect, I see how I misjudged the mindset of male trial lawyers at the time. Time after time, in interviews, the man questioning me said, "How do you expect to be a trial lawyer and a mother, too.". Having never been a trial lawyer before, I really had no response.  What I did was start my own firm and after a couple of years I joined a small firm where I could bring in my son and attend to both of my passions. 

In 1984, my husband and I made another life-changing decision, to have another baby.  And this time, in 1985, we were blessed with a little girl.  From the time she was a couple of weeks old, I brought her to my office while I worked. When she was in child-care, I decided to do what has become in vogue today, I expressed breast milk during the day for her consumption later. Back then, there was no special room to use and no motorized pumps. Dutifully, I went into the bathroom with my manual contraption and strengthened my hand muscles manually seeking to provide nourishment for my baby.  When my daughter was three or so years old, I brought her to work with me. She heard the lawyer in the next room on the phone.  "Who is that," she asked me.  "That's Mario. He's a lawyer," I replied. She looked at me incredulously, "A boy lawyer???"

Through the years I took my kids on business trips, to depositions, to court. I remember when, to my embarrassment, Tony Orlando's lawyer had to tell my daughter to be quiet in a deposition, and the other lawyer's remark was merited. Back then, I went with my gut and took my kids where I wanted to take them. I didn't care what the other side thought.  My job is not to placate opposing counsel.  I did what I thought was best. 

In 1995, Marie Gockel, my law school buddy, and I set up our own firm.  The day we moved in, all of us, our husbands, our kids and our employees were there, helping to assemble the furniture and arrange the offices.  That day, my daughter discovered the intercom on the phones. Throughout the day, her voice rang through the office, "Clean up in aisle 6, clean up on aisle 6." Everyone chuckled. My kids are grown now.  I think they survived me being a trial lawyer just fine. 

I read the articles in the New York Times bemoaning the difficulties in getting ahead and having a family. The author proudly states she left a high level job in Washington to be home with her teenage boys and work as a college dean.  She had been in her Washington job, away from her families during the week for two years and finally decided it was more important to be in the same city with her minor children.   Well, duh.  I don't think either a mother or a father can be an involved parent when living in a different city from one's children. Not a hard decision in my view. 

Most of this parenting/career stuff requires merely going with your gut.  If your employer wants you to act "like a man" and work 100 hours a week, quit. It's not worth it, for men or women.  The issue is simply understanding who you are, what you want, and not being bullied by others with screwed up priorities.  If a job requires all of your time, it is not worth the effort.  

Of course, when I was preparing for and in trial, my family would say, "Don't talk to mom, she's in 'trial mode.'" However, trial mode only happened a couple of times a year.  During trial, I had to tune out everything else.  You cannot be a good trial lawyer any other way, in my opinion.  I missed my son's first day of kindergarten because I was in trial.  But, if you add up the number of days I was in trial in any given year, it would probably be considerably less than a month. That is the family sacrifice I made to be a trial lawyer. However, most days I was there as both a mom and a trial lawyer, and it worked out. 

So, my advice to young women, and men, who want to balance careers and families, is go with your gut.  You don't have to work for monsters in order to feel professionally fulfilled.  You don't have to be the best housekeeper or work the most hours.  Just go with your gut. Trust yourself. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Personal Struggles At Odds With Morality

It's easy to be moral when nothing is at stake. Sure, we all think murder, rape, and theft, are immoral crimes, and they are.  It's easy to feel superior to those whom we believe act dishonorably. However, moral behavior can be hard. 

I read Maureen Dowd's editorial in the New York Times today where she discusses this issue. I agree that acting morally is more difficult in times of stress.  For instance, if a cashier gives you too much change and you are low on cash, do you let her know and pay back the excess?  Do you tell the IRS about the cash you receive for remodeling others homes, knowing you are having trouble paying the mortgage?  

And what about morality in group behavior?  Do you rat on your co-worker for taking money out of penny cash?  Do you stop your "friend" from making fun of a disabled person, a fat kid, an ugly woman?  Or do laugh and try to be one of the group?  It's harder to step up when you want to be accepted.   People who embarrass their friends and acquaintances by stopping or complaining about them are often ostracized. 

Their are few cases of serial killers, but many instances throughout history of genocide. In Nazi Germany, it was popular to hate Jews.  In Rwanda in the early 1990's mutilating, raping and killing enemies was in vogue in certain groups.  The Mi Lai Massacre was committed by a seemingly normal group of soldiers and undoubtedly there are many unreported atrocities during war.  People commit acts in groups that they would not fathom committing alone. 

Where does this lead us?  Are humans inherently immoral?  No, but it takes courage to buck the crowd, to rebel against authority, to act with dignity.  We must be ever vigilant.   We must honor the heroes who act humanely under pressure, the Whistleblowers with the courage to expose injustice, the children who let the cashier know that she gave them too much money back.  

Acting morally can be challenging during challenging times.  We need to honor the heroes among us who show others the right way to act.  It's really tempting to rationalize behavior when there is a motive.  It is not so easy to do the right thing.  That is one reason I feel so honored to represent Whistleblowers.  I wonder if I would have their courage under pressure.  Fortunately, I have not been tested. 


Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Real Heroes

The reason this blog is entitled "Uncommon Courage" is because i want to profile the courageous people I represent. I am amazed at all the fortitude required to insure that justice can be done. My clients now and in the past are some of the bravest people I have ever met.  I have also seen jurors and judges take courageous actions, acting in ways that challenge the status quo. 

I want to honor my noble clients.  I don't think most people realize how hard it is to fight for your rights against behemoth corporations represented by mega-law firms. It is hard to be interrogated in a deposition about one's sex life, past indiscretions, and secret feelings. I doubt I could withstand the scrutiny and questioning my client's take in stride.  And there are few clients who I represent who only care about their own case. Most clients want to makes sure the harassment, racism, ageism, etc. is not perpetrated against others.  And in this business, there are no guarantees, no assurances, no way to predict the outcome of a case. My clients must take a leap of faith.  And once you jump, you are not sure of your fate until you land, not knowing whether you will walk away satisfied, or crawl away battered and bruised. 

I received a note this week from a brave soul who fought and lost, after her sexual harassment of ten years litigation ended badly. She has exhausted her appeals, but she still fights. She's written a book and I predict she won't stop until she is truly heard.  I wish her well. 

I want to thank my clients, and those of my partners, for fighting against racism, manufacturers of dangerous products, bullies who want to infringe on Constitutional freedoms, sexual harassment and ageism. Here is to those brave souls with the courage to make this society better for us regular people. Here is to those brave souls who are outgunned, out- financed, and out-numbered who fight against the bullies in our society, anyway.  I am so proud and honored to work with so many noble people. I love underdogs and you have taught me do much.   Thank you. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

What are you feeling right now?

Can you identify what you are feeling right now?  Is it important to know yourself, what you're feeling, and why?  If you know yourself, can you better empathize with others?   What are you feeling right now?

Feeling Overwhelmed
A combination of the above?

I suggest we all examine what and how we are feeling. How else can we understand others?