Saturday, August 31, 2013

Being Honorable

I am going to take a little departure from talking about cases.  I have and have had many courageous clients.  It's the nature of my business that someone who wants to bring a discrimination case must have a modicum of courage.  These are not the types of cases for the faint of heart.  Today, though, I have been thinking about honor.  It is the courageous, honorable clients whom are the ones I love.

What is it that makes a person honorable?  An honorable person is one who is deserving of respect.  And who deserves respect?  Most of us, including me, have acted in dishonorable ways.  Dishonorable acts include lying, cheating, stealing, betraying, manipulating.  It's easy to be negative.  What does it take to be a truly honorable person, worthy of the respect of others:

1.   Speaking the truth even when it is unpopular, while avoiding needless unkind words;
2.   Being loyal even when it is tempting to be disloyal;
3.   Having empathy, especially with one's opponents and people with whom one has little in common;
4.   Giving with no expectation of receiving anything in return except the joy of giving:
5.   Standing up for what one believes in even when it is unpopular to do so;
6.   Truly being able to forgive others for just about anything.

I know this is a simple list, but it seems fairly comprehensive to me.  When someone needlessly hurts someone else or strives for personal power or personal wealth above all else, it is always a reflection of some underlying conflict in that person.  Unfortunately, people who are hurt by others oftentimes go out and hurt even more people.  Angry people hurt others, while oftentimes not meaning to do so.

So, how does this relate to the practice of law?  The practice of law is a microcosm of the act of living.  We have developed a set of rules with which to operate so that we don't destroy each other.  Law is eminently logical and practical.  People aren't.  It is possible to fiercely promote what one believes in or to defend one's person and principles without annihilating the opponent.  The fiercest advocate can be the gentlest person.  It is not easy to be honorable, but honorable people do not expect perfection.  They are ready to forgive transgressions. Living honorably is the key to being peaceful and content. Not ironically, the best advocate is the one that acts with honor.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lawyer - Know Thyself (In six easy steps)

"The unexamined life is not worth living," Socrates.

The other day I used this blog to vent about difficult lawyers and posted the venting on facebook.  One of my friends wrote a reply that I found was dead on.  Beth Kushner, a fine lawyer in Milwaukee said, . . . These are people who use a law license to act out their personal issues."

Wow.  What a perceptive statement. Lawyers who are filled with unresolved anger, resentment, and pain can do a disservice to their clients.  Instead of thinking about the interests of their clients, they are fighting against perceived bullies (who may have taunted them years ago) or are looking for self-validation or admiration, or, dare I say it, love.  They are unhappy people and fierce and aggressive lawyers.  Depositions may end with the statement, "Let's take it outside," or my favorite member measuring statement, "How many jury trials have you had?  I bet you have never even tried one case to a jury."  Lawyers trying to remedy some ancient slight are angry, and sometimes mean and bullying.  Lawyers travel in packs, like dogs, and the rest of the pack may snicker when a witness or opposing counsel is humiliated.

In my opinion, bullying is not effective lawyering. We are not supposed to try to remedy childhood slights through representing others in lawsuits.  This is not a testosterone laced event.  We represent CLIENTS.  We must be able to empathize, get in the skin of, our clients.  Even better if we empathize with everyone involved.

We can not empathize, nor have compassion, for others without dealing with our own vulnerabilities.  Lawyerng is not competing in an Mr. Universe competition.  To represent your clients in the best way, we must have compassion which stems from self-knowledge.  We are not bulls in China shops.

This is the hardest task of all.  To be the best lawyer for the best reasons, lawyers need to know themselves and be self-actualized.  There are many ways to get there.  Counseling is a primary way that comes to mind. Participating in psychodramas is another.  Until we understand what makes us tick, we can't understand what motivates our clients and all parties.  Certainly, to understand bad conduct of opposing parties is not the same as condoning it.

Here are my 6 ways to get be a self-actualized lawyer.  (People really dig these lists, don't they?)

1.   Address your demons!!  Demons keep coming back and keep going after them and understand them.   They can be your friends.   Counseling, psychodrama, group therapy, mediation, whatever floats your boat.

2.   Take responsibility for your bad acts and bad characteristics and try to do better.  Take responsibility, don't make excuses.  Forgive and let go of grudges.

3.  Imagine yourself in your client's shoes.  Understand where/he or she is coming from.  Do this with all parties.
4.  Trust others unless someone has betrayed you. Be trustworthy and trusting.

5.  Exercise regularly and perhaps learn to meditate.

6.   Care about other people.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but the more compassionate you are, the better advocate you can be.  You will be happier and the jury will like you better.  And you won't end up a bitter, nasty, repugnant old man or woman.  You can be an advocate and be compassionate to the other side.  I promise.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

OT: Great Health Insurance for Older or Younger People - 3 easy steps

We all know Obamacare's individual mandate will take effect within a year or two and all Americans will need to have insuraou learn nce or pay a penalty. We don't know what the exchanges will be like, how much they will cost, what they will cover.  My family and I (really just I - I got my family on this) have been receiving excellent health insurance, with no copay and a very small deductible, plus great prescription benefits for around $200 per month, regardless of pre-existing conditions.  The pool of insureds with these policies is generally young, keeping the premiums down.

Now, I am 60 years old and my husband is 62 years old.  We both have lived awhile so we necessarily have some pre-existing conditions.  We got this great insurance, and not through a big employer.  How did we do this?  Here's how:

1.  Apply online as a non-degree seeking undergraduate at the University of Missouri - Columbia, or the one in Kansas City.  In Columbia, they have internet courses which you can take up to 9 months to complete.

2.  It takes about a day to be approved.   Sign up online for a class.  This semester - Intro to Film.  (Last year I took "The History of Rock and Roll," and "How It Works" - an introductory physics class that was very interesting.  Enroll.

3.  After you are a student and before 9/15 or so for the fall semester, go to the aetna student health website and sign up!  In a day or two, you will get your cards.

The Benefits -----  You learn interesting new things through your older years, perhaps helping to stave off Alzheimer's disease, AND  YOU GET KICK-ASS health insurance!

This works!!!!!  Expand your mind while you protect your health.  My family does, and so should yours!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Why Do Lawyers Suck?

Lawyers are some of the most disagreeable people you will meet.  Law schools attract egomaniacs, narcissists, greedy people, and even snakes.  There is something that being at war constantly does to a soul.  Of course, we are not real soldiers.  We fight not with guns or drones, or missiles.  We carry no physical armor or swords.  We fight with our wits and our tongues.  We play mind games.  We have no mercy.

Sure, there must be some decent opponents out there.  Most times I think most opponents are honorable, but not today.   We fight over dates, discovery extensions, semantics.  We can be bullies.  We manipulate.  All to gain some rather undefined benefit, that, in the end either makes no difference, or sometimes even hurts our cases.

In negotiations, there is no cutting to the chase.  That's too direct to be part of the game.  If it suits our purpose, we will go after the plaintiff's daughter who can't admit she was sexually abused and make that a central feature of a case where it is irrelevant.  Kindness and mercy are not in our vocabulary.

if one of the lawyers has serious illness in the family, we either bend over backwards to accommodate, especially if we lose nothing strategy-wise OR we pretend that nothing deserves special consideration and we ignore the opponent's pain for our advantage.

Some of us only care about money, not our clients.  We are always posturing, posturing, posturing, and then we pound our chests.

Doesn't this game of one-ups-manship grow old for others.  Law is supposed to be an honored profession. We are the keepers of justice and civilization.  What has gone wrong.  Is our selfishness and bullying antithetical to maintaining justice in a modern society?  Of course.  Maybe I just had a bad day.  I hope so.  No wonder lay people hate us.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Coming of Age During the Civil Rights Movement - Learning to Love to Fight

I never marched in protest of the Vietnam War nor did I participate in the Civil Rights Movement in any real way when it was ongoing.  I wasn't a hippie, either.  Maybe I was just a little bit too young.  I was 15 when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and the impact of  Dr. King and his work did not enter my mind back then.  I would like to say I was too busy worrying about teenage things, but back then, I was worrying about home issue that were atypical of most teens.  In my free time, I just wanted to act like a teenager.

When Dr. King was killed, my high school was dismissed.  Not fully aware of the importance of the day and the tragedy of the events, I wanted to hop on a city bus and go to downtown Kansas City to go clothes shopping, thinking that this day was not that unlike any other.  When I got home, I discovered that in the inner city, which stood between our house at 58th and Brookside and downtown, there were riots.  I had heard of rioting in other cities, but was shocked that Kansas City was included among the cities with racial violence.

Later that year, 1968, Robert Kennedy was killed and I thought what was wrong with people.  I still tried to be a teenager, even though I dealt with other "domestic" issues.  National or international affairs seemed too remote and I did not feel a connection to the civil rights struggles.  The Vietnam War was gaining in unpopularity and I was against it, but it had no direct impact on me.  I was not going to have to register for the draft because I was a girl.

The impact of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War didn't hit me until 1971, when the domestic strife was resolved, I was 18 and going to college.  I do not know why I felt so affected after so much apathy.  I attribute my indifference at the time to youth.  In college, the struggles of the 60's and early 70's seemed very important.

In college, the Vietnam war was so important.  Every day on the evening news, there were films of atrocities and  daily body counts of thousands upon thousands.  I could not understand why we were fighting and boys my age were being killed in large numbers.  When McGovern ran for President, I naively thought he had a chance to end the war.  I was 19 and the voting age had just gone from 21 to 18, so I could vote!  Somehow, I was elected as a Democratic delegate for McGovern to the Missouri state convention.  We lost the convention, then the Presidential election, but then Watergate happened.

I like to say I became a discrimination lawyer because of the Civil Rights Movement or The Vietnam War, because those were rallying points for our generation.  Plus, I came from German and Polish immigrant Jews who had fled Hitler, so I had a natural affiliation to downtrodden in this country.  But the truth is, had it not been for Watergate, I do not know if I would ever have been politically awakened to injustice in this country.
Many, if not most, of you reading this blog are too young to remember the events of Watergate.  The hearings were constant in the news during 1974 until Nixon's resignation in August.  My then boyfriend, now husband, would stay glued to the television in his apartment off the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia. I was 21, more mature than my 15 year old self, majoring in political science because of the lessons learned in my brief stint as a McGovern delegate.  I was to be married during college, in August of 1974, and Nixon's resignation the week before our wedding seemed like an odd but satisfying wedding present.

Those events in the early 1970's, begun when I was too young to care, created an idealism in me that has been impossible to shake.  I know young people now make fun of hippies and naive protesters.  That time, though, was unlike any other time in my life.  People questioned authority, questioned war, questioned bigotry, unlike anything I have seen since.  And, it did make a difference.  Growing up as a white girl in Kansas City in the 1960's I heard many of my elders toss around the "n" word like it was a natural adjective. Jews were called kikes, Hispanics were called greasers or worse.  My brother, with his black kinky curly hair, was mistaken for an Arab.  In college, a group of boys yelled at him, "Go back to Iraq, you camel-jockey!"

Of course, there is still racism and needless deaths in hard to justify wars.  But the Civil Rights Act of 1964 started getting teeth in 1991, when jury trials were allowed.  Plaintiffs have won a lot of civil rights victories since the laws were passed.  We have a Black president, something I doubted I would ever see in my lifetime.  We may have a female president before I die.  It is socially unacceptable for whites to use the "n" word, men can't chase their secretaries around their desks to cop a feel, and it is illegal to pay women or minorities less than white men.

Life for Blacks and women is better than it was 50 years ago in this country.  The fight is not won, though.  I guess I feel fortunate to have lived through the times I have.  Without the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and Watergate, I do not know what occupation I would have chosen.  It feels good to have a purpose. It may be that I am a dinosaur trying to fix ancient wrongs, but I have found that I like to fight. I do not want to fight for the status quo.  I don't know what this says about me as a human, but I like to fight and I have something for which to fight.  Maybe I am the "Dexter" of lawyers, I like to fight and I have a "code" so that my fighting is socially acceptable.  It's good to be old enough to remember the protests.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."


African proverb (quoted by NAACP head), "Care more than others think is wise, Risk more than others think is safe, Dream more than others think is practical and Expect more than others think is possible." (Except I really like the first two, the third is okay, but the fourth is sort of against my beliefs. I REALLY like the first two, though.)

  “Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” 

“I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality” 

5. “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

[Olmstead v. U.S. (1928)]” 
6   .

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” 
“You cannot stand for civil rights + not support gay marriage. You cannot stand for human rights + not support gay marriage. It's that simple.
Everywhere, the voice of the oppressed must echo + ring out or else it will be crushed by the tyranny of wickedness.” 

It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union... Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.
~ Susan B. Anthony.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What To Do If Your Company Discriminates?

This post is something I have often thought about.  I have wondered why employers who unlawfully discriminate just don't fix it.  If someone in your organization has unlawfully harassed or discriminated against an employee :

1.   Sincerely apologize.

2.   Admit the wrongdoing (I know this is counter-intuitive, but it works.)

3.  Offer the job, promotion, etc. that is at issue, if appropriate.

4.  Sincerely and effectively discipline the wrongdoer(s) up to termination.

5.   Make it clear that the behavior won't be tolerated.

6.  Treat the complainer with respect.

7.  Have sincere and significant training.

8.   Do not tolerate a workplace where the training is scoffed.

9.  If an EEOC charge is filed, again apologize in front of the EEOC and tell the EEOC that the problem has been corrected and you regret the issue occurring.

10.  If damages are claimed, again admit responsibility and settle early on before legal bills are high. If you apologize, you will probably avoid high damages, punitive damages, and the problems is taken care of quickly.  Deal effectively with wrongdoers.  

This advice may sound counter-intuitive to employers, but I assure that this will save money, time and make for a better workplace.  Fighting because of hurt feelings and ego makes things worse.   Of course, if the employee is making the discrimination up (make sure your personal feelings don't obscure your ability to rationally assess this), then fight.   Most of the time, though, if you act objectively early on, you can avoid a long drawn out fight tht drains you and your employees.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

You Might Be A Whistleblower If . . .

You Might Be A Whistleblower If . . .

1.  You feel compelled to report to management or others what you believe is illegal, immoral or just plain wrong;  

2.  You think being a "team player" is not  as important as telling the truth;

3.  It is hard for you to lie, even if lying is in your best interest; 

4.  Oftentimes you feel like you don't fit in;

5.  Sometimes you wonder why you have such a hard time fitting in;

6.  You don't care that much about promotions, awards, or pleasing your supervisor;

7.  You worry about getting fired for coming forward, but you come forward anyway;

8.  Sometimes your loved ones wish you would try harder to get along at work;

9.  You were never part of the "in" crowd in school, work, or socially;

10.  You don't understand why others don't come forward. 

It is hard to be a whistleblower, since most whistleblowers get fired.  True whistleblowers are a rare breed. They show courage when most people are afraid to rock the boat. Here's to the boat rocker!  Our society is better because of your courage. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Shades of Gray - Not 50

This weekend I watched myself get indignant - a lot. There was the employer who maliciously opposed my client's unemployment claim even though he knows she did not engage in misconduct. There was the boss in another case who, months and years after the facts reprimanded a younger worker for conduct that happened long ago to cover up her discrimination of my client.  There was our computer network at working blowing up, etc.  Then I watched a documentary about the Holocaust.  I was not having a good time. Concentrating on injustice and unfairness does not make me feel warm and fuzzy.  Plus, I seemed to think a lot about the meaning of life, or lack thereof and confronting my own feelings of religion, or lack thereof. Also, mortality keeps creeping up in my 60 year old brain.  I almost forgot my last photography class with my brother, which I really enjoy. It seems when I focus on the negative, every thing is black. Conversely, when I think about puppies and weddings and traveling, it's all lightness.  However, as we all know, life is not black and white.  Life is different shades of gray.

My son tells me I am too empathizing, but e doesn't mean it as a compliment. I think what he is really saying is that I don't have good emotional boundaries. I take on the fights of my clients, but I don't put the problems on the shelf when I get home. And my obsession with the Holocaust and genocide doesn't elp. I read books about troubled times and troubled places, and it makes me troubled. I read about poverty and corruption in India and Pakistan, voter fraud in Iran, unimaginable treachery and despotism in North Korea, pillaging and rape in Nanking, nuclear holocaust in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, genocide in Rwanda, and lots and lots about the Holocaust. No wonder I get cranky.

So I am going to lighten up this week, and not concentrate on the dark nature of humans.  Lets look at the light.  What do I, and most others, have to be thankful for?  Here are some things on my list:

1.  I live in the U.S. where we don't practice genocide, at least not on our soil (ad I assume and hope not on any other soil).

2.  Ihave   a loving  family and support group and great partners and friends.  This is especially true with my birthday boy husband as we approach 39 years of marriage.

3.  I have a great, sweet, affectionate dog.

4.  I have a job I love most of the time.

5.  I can see the beautiful things in this amazing world, listen to amazing music and I can read and understand books.  I can cry when I hear beautiful music or read tales of redemption. I can go on an amazing road trip to beautiful places and take pictures with my new great camera in the company of my old great brother.

6.  We do not have death squads in this country and there is a chance to better oneself.

7.  I can feel, emotions, senses, the whole gamut.

8.  I live in a place where redemption is possible.

9.  Some movies I see are really good.

10.  I can watch Louis CK and read jokes and I can make jokes and I can laugh n

11.  I am not dead yet.

I hope everyone reading this blog will reflect on the good things in life. Focusing on the bad can make you crazy.