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Ready for Fall

Ready for Fall

Don’t hate me for it you guys, but I’m totally ready for fall.  Sweaters, pumpkin spice lattes, new boxes of pens.  I love everything about fall.  At the beginning of summer I had just come off back-to-back trials and nonstop other work and was exhausted.  I was ready to travel. I was ready for fun. I needed to get the heck out of dodge.  Then I spent pretty much eight weeks outta dodge.  It was incredibly fun and incredibly relaxing, and boy did I need fun and relaxing.

But now I’m ready to be back in the swing of normal life.  Normal weekends with normal things like doing laundry and getting some exercise in and catching up on the various “to-do’s” that have gathered up.  Quality time on the couch with my husband, watching silly sci-fi TV.

The combination of a blog post by Emily Levenson and the buzz of back-to-school in the air has invigorated me with newfound excitement for my work.  While I did a long run through beautiful North Park on Saturday, I thought about Emily’s question at the end of her post: What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?  My initial thought was running the marathons in 2005, but then that faded away beneath the bad thoughts about how everyone runs marathons and that’s not special and other such not-nice things that I really should not be bogging myself down with.

But then I thought more about my work.  I obviously knew it, but hadn’t thought about it so much in this context before– I’ve had a hand in briefing/presenting cases to the PA Superior Court, PA Supreme Court, 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (yes 4th, not 3rd, but probably 3rd too in the relative future) and US Supreme Court.  I’m only going in to my 7th year.  This is both tremendous luck and tremendous hard work.  And I think that both the coolest thing that has ever happened to me is that I’ve had these opportunities, and that the coolest thing I’ve ever done is that I’ve worked hard enough and proven myself enough for senior people to trust me and have me involved in these amazing projects, and that I’ve had the hand in the interpretation of this country’s laws.  Those warm fuzzy thoughts powered me through the last 2 miles of my run.

I said I’m “only” going in to my 7th year, but it’s also “omg I’m going in to my 7th year.”  It’s business time, folks.  The forgiveness of a learning curve is long gone.  I’m at that point where (I hope) I’ve shown the people I work with that I know how to practice law, and know how to do so efficiently and knowledgeably.  Now it’s really up to me to show the rest of the world how well I can do these things.  And those memories encourage me that even when I’m uncertain or stressed or nervous, I do know how to practice law. The next few years are make it or break it time. I intend to make it.

I’m ready for fall. I’m ready for back-to-school. Now pass the pumpkin spice latte.

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So You Want to Take a Vacation?

So You Want to Take a Vacation?

Lawyerist posted some thoughts on vacationing tips for the solo practitioner.  The post was helpful, but even with client and court commitments, when you run your own shop, it’s a lot easier to get permission to put up the “Out of Office” for a few days.

As a lawyer taking a vacation takes skill and practice. You can’t just go.  There are court deadlines, partner expectations, assignments you’ve backburnered for way too long and someone’s bound to sneak up and demand why wasn’t that done two months ago already? I can only speak from the time demands of a litigator. I don’t know what the transactional folks face, but I do know that it sometimes involves surprise projects that go til the wee hours of the morning.  The newer you are to practice, the less control you have over your time. And when you don’t have control over your time, you can forget vacationing.

My vacation technique is the product of meticulous planning and soul-crushing anxiety. I remember the very earliest years in practice where I just wanted to sleep in the office overnight and not go home on the weekends, not because I wanted to work work work, but because all the new lawyer stresses were so cripplingly bad that my only relief from the 3am panic attacks over missed (imaginary) deadlines or this or that thing I screwed up was by physically being in the office.  I got serious practice in out of office planning when I was pregnant with Baby Beez in 2010, and if I wanted maternity leave I had to create it myself, which resulted in 2 weeks off and 4 weeks working from home. (Be ye not so stupid, if you ever even consider having children, get yourself a job in an office large enough to be covered by FMLA).

My techniques are in no way perfect, but they manage to get me a few days somewhat-off each year to spend with my family:

1.    Mark your vacation in your calendar MONTHS in advance.  You can pick the destination later, but carve that time out as early as possible. And be vocal about it when things are going to be scheduled during that period.  It’s easier to ask for an alternate date for something during the scheduling process than to ask for a date to be moved later on.

2.     Let your superiors know when you will not be available. This should be in a form similar to “I’m going to be out of town the week XYZ is due, but I will get it done before I leave.”  Sometimes it’s flat out not possible, but if in any way you can swing it, set your deadlines for BEFORE you leave.  This will mean that the week or two before vacay will SUCK, but it’s better to work your backside off and then take a break than to return to the office from a vacation and then go through a whole fire drill of scrambling to get things done.  Plus, you come across as more responsible (for good reason) if you get your work done before leaving.

3.     Have your secretary scan and email your mail to you every. single. day.  Read the mail she has scanned and emailed to you every. single. day.  If you are able to resolve the tasks you DO know about before you leave for vacation, all you’ll have to do during vacation is damage control for any surprises that come in. Surprises usually come in through the mail. Make sure that mail gets to you.

4.      Check your email at least once or twice a day. The inconvenience of an hour or so of emailing each day is far easier to bear than sorting through the overwhelming pile of communications if you let them build up when you’re gone. If I feel like I’m generally keeping up with things, I can resolve most of the anxiety of the possibility of returning to a total cluster in my office at vacation’s end.

5.      Get a back up.  This one’s not easy, but it’s such a stress relief if you can swing it.  This year has been my first year that I have actually had someone junior than me who I can ask to generally keep an eye on things for me (and look up a couple research issues that unexpectedly popped up). Sure, your secretary will keep an eye on things, but also having another associate available to keep an eye on things (and maybe even present motions, shuttle boxes, etc. that there’s no way you can reschedule) is so unbelievably helpful. And remember to repay that favor.

6.      Give up the bitterness.  In most previous years, in the days leading up to vacation, I got so frustrated with the mountain of work to resolve before leaving that taking vacation seemed to cause more stress than it resolved, and I very seriously considered just calling it off.  This year I tried a different attitude. I accepted that the last few days before vacation would be mad mad mad, but if I worked hard then, I could do less work during vacation.  And I accepted that I’ve picked a profession where a week entirely free of work doesn’t exist. I would have to do some work during vacation. It’s an inevitability. And the more anger I harbored over that, the less satisfied I would be by my vacation.  I breathed deep and accepted that vacation would involve some work. That’s how it is. And I felt a lot better over it.

What are your techniques for carving out some vacation time?

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Sunday AM Musings and We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy by Yael Kohen (2012)

Sunday AM Musings and We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy by Yael Kohen (2012)

In the last several weeks, I’ve been having a rough time at work.  It’s not caused by anyone or anything in particular. It’s just been extremely busy for several months and I hit exhaustion. I spent plenty of time at work fighting to focus because I was so darn burned out, and it certainly didn’t help matters that I had a ton of things I needed to focus on.  I woke up this morning feeling so much better.  Maybe it was a couple days in the mountains, maybe it was the cumulative effect of spending a lot of the last two weeks not physically in the office, maybe it was because I took Baby Beez to the pool yesterday and we had so much fun, and then I crashed on the couch at 8pm so now I’m feeling extra well rested.  Ironically, now that I’m feeling ready to go back into the office and take names and kick butts, I actually leave for family vacation in about two weeks.   I do need this energy for that lead up time, because I’ve got a lot of big things on my plate that need to be resolved before we set sail, and I’m going to need a lot of focus to get that done.

I really enjoyed this BlogHer post titled “Please Don’t Declare Yourself an Expert on Your Blog.” It argues that “expertise” has been diluted because anyone can declare themselves an expert on the internet, and that there is value in being a student, learning from others thoughts and posts and experiences, instead of dictating what to do.  This perspective rang true with me.  I’m not shy about sharing my experiences or thoughts, but I am careful with disclaimers that what works so well for me may not work for everyone (this is particularly true with parenting issues).  I’ve found that the blogs I enjoy most take a “sharing” approach– here’s what we did and had a lovely time, or here’s what I think, what has been your experience?  There have been blogs that I find extremely off-putting, because the blogger puts herself on a pedestal and declares herself an expert.  I recall a series of posts by one blogger about “How to Have a Perfect Marriage,” and the only thing it inspired me to was some serious face-punching.  It’s a fine balance– no one will acknowledge your expertise unless you claim it, but if you trumpet it too loudly and insist on making every post a “how to” on how you do everything perfectly, well then that’s a recipe for reader hate.

On to the book!

This was my month to pick a book for book club.  I take this honor entirely too seriously, and have been racking my brain about WHAT TO PICK FOR THIS SACRED MONTH OF MY SELECTION!  I read a ton of magazines (seriously, like 10 subscriptions), and read with my phone in hand, so that I can immediately add recommendations from the “books” section into my Goodreads.  I’ve got almost 50 selections on my “To Read” list.  Picking a book to share and discuss with my friends is an opportunity I do not take lightly.

We’ve read a lot of fiction lately, so I opted to mix it up with a little nonfiction, and picked We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy, by Yael Kohen.  The book is structured in documentary style, constructed in snippets of recollections from various key members of the comedy industry– comedians, managers, writers, club owners, etc.

we killedThe book progresses from the emergence of women on the comedic stage in the 1950s all the way through the 2000s, and explores key evolution points in style, trailblazers in content, and the challenges women faced along the way.  I learned about the comedic style of women I’ve heard of, but have not been familiar with.  Thanks to the book, I also learned the vocabulary to identify what kind of comedy I like and don’t like (I’m a huge fan of improv and sketch comedy, not such a fan of observational and most stand-up).  Before this book, I just lumped it all together as comedy, and could not articulate why I thought one comic’s approach was funny but another’s was not.

We Killed is not a book of comedy, it’s a book about comedy, so if you’re looking for lots of laughs, this isn’t quite the right place. But it certainly is fascinating, and gave me a much deeper appreciation for the work of comedy.  I admit, that I’ve fallen into the false assumption that comics just “are” funny, and they get up on stage and show off their stuff.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Comedy takes hard work and practice.  Jokes are written, re-written and re-written.  Delivery is fine-tuned and sometimes overhauled completely, and women have had a unique position in the comedy world, facing frequent hurdles and sometimes even the unfortunate misconception that women just aren’t funny.  This book was awesome and taught me so much, and is an ideal read for anyone with even an inkling of interest in the art of comedy.

To supplement my book club meeting, I put together a YouTube playlist featuring many of the women in the book. Enjoy!

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I’ve Been Waiting for this Day Since I was 18 Years Old

Although I’ve fallen off The Office bandwagon the last couple years, I finally caught up and watched the series finale today.  Stanley receives his retirement cake and proclaims “I’ve been waiting for this day since I was 18 years old!!”

That is my life.

I look at the partners, the seasoned lawyers, the gray hairs, and I wonder “how did you make it there?”  How do they make it through year after year of the 4am panicked wake-ups, and the sunny Saturday afternoons spent hunched over the computer, and emergency after confused emergency? How do they make it through without totally losing their minds?

Where does the inspiration come from? How do you stay eager and energized where the reward for all that hard work is an annual week out of town, where there’s no hope of entirely avoiding work, because your job involves deadlines and expectations that are outside of your control, and there’s always an enormous chance that your trip away will have to be called off anyway, for some unexpected work demand.

I’m finishing up year six. This is around the time where people make it or break it. They peel off from the practice or they get driven out or they take some other direction entirely.  Some days I feel proud.  I feel like I’m really starting to get the hang of things, from the legal skills to the business building and all those things in between.  Other days I drag through my exhaustion, unsure how to convince myself that the endless cycles of flight-or-flight are worth it.  The practice does get easier over time.  I sleep most nights now, which is something I could not say a couple years ago.  I am better at estimating the time for completing a particular task.  I can better manage my time and workload. I don’t know how to do every assignment that ends up on my desk, but I’ve more skilled at figuring out how to do the things I don’t know how to do. I tell myself that next year will feel better than this year, and the year after that will feel even better.  That self talk has little meaning, when I’m exhausted right now.

I’m tightly wound, always.  The past two weeks I’ve been wound even more tightly.  A spring, about to pop.  I haven’t run in months, but twice this weekend I went to the gym and ran for nearly a half-hour.  I ran this morning, and if the gym didn’t close early today, I would want to go back tonight and run again.  The stress winds tight in my chest and pulses through me in a low, unshakeable agitation.  The treadmill burns the agitation off.  The quiet is temporary. And by the time the red has receded from my cheeks, I’m wound tightly again, ready for another run.

There’s no dissatisfaction with what I’m doing.  I’m not a creative stifled in a corporate job. I don’t find my work meaningless or soul-sucking.  It’s fascinating most days– learning secrets, examining theories from different angles, piecing together concepts into larger themes, challenging myself to learn entirely new subject areas in short periods of time.  But all of that comes with the overwhelming pressure of the practice.  It’s hard to see that carrot dangling ahead, and sometimes I doubt it is there at all.

Where do you find your motivation?

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Wednesday Words: Things on My Mind Today

Wednesday Words: Things on My Mind Today

1. I am convinced that all the highly successful people are early risers. I’m not talking early risers like 6am, I’m talking 4am out the door and to the gym. My alarm goes off at 6am, and I grumble and moan and am miserable, and do everything I can to avoid getting up, and then Mr. Beez elbows me and eventually Baby Beez starts whining, and I end up rolling out of bed tired and whiny somewhere between 6:15 and 7. This is a far cry from 4am. Or 5am. Heck I can’t even make it up at 6am with a smile. I am physically capable of waking up earlier, but then I hate the world, and that’s not very productive. So unless I want to banish myself to a future of stagnation, I need to learn to get up early in the darn morning and be freaking happy about it. Either that, or I need to find a list of people who are highly successful and like to sleep in. I think the latter option sounds like more fun.

2. Now that most of the heavy lifting on my pro bono representation is complete, I’ve started loading up on additional work-related but not precisely work projects. I like writing, and while I like writing briefs and pleadings and so on and so forth, I also love the opportunity to pick my own topics and write about what interests me (see: blogging). My newest projects in the hopper are an article for the Pittsburgh Business Times blog on the FTC’s new guidance on advertising/sponsorships in social media, drafting a class proposal for a new class to be added to the curriculum at Pitt Law, and another article for the Legal Intelligencer. This time for the Intelligencer, my article will focus on women who have had children at different stages in their career (whether “early” or “late” in their career). I’m still not sure whether to draw that time distinction in terms of particular years or in terms of associate/partner. The article will focus on the benefits and drawbacks they have faced in terms of their timing decisions with having children. I’ve got a few people in mind to interview, but if you know of anyone who would be a good interview subject, please pass her name on to me!

3. I am feeling much better than I was yesterday, thankyouverymuch.

4. So manicurists soak all their tools in antibacteirial stuff, but I’ve been all fixated on figuring this out: the topcoats, basecoats and polish aren’t in any way disinfected. So aren’t those giant germ farms? Or is there something in particular about the base/top coats and polishes that does not lend to the breeding of germs? Should I be bringing my own topcoat, base coat and polish to the salon? If I bring all that stuff with me, should I even bother getting a manicure? Why don’t I do it myself? This is weighing on my mind. First world problems.