Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Being a "yes" lawyer

In my law firm work, I always focused on how I could say "yes" to clients. Not, of course, in cases where they would be violating law or doing something morally questionable. But normally, they would be trying to accomplish something, and my role was to push barriers out of the way to help them accomplish it.

In my current job, as in-house counsel for my agency, I find myself saying "no" a lot more. Part of this is because I work for the government and we're restricted by a thicket of laws, regulations, standards, and policies. So, no, we can't do things in secret, and no, we can't buy things without going through a procurement process, and no, we can't agree to various contractual provisions that are standard in the private sector. I find all the "no" a little painful, but I do it when it's necessary.

My lawyering lesson of the day is that it often saves everyone a lot of headaches to say "no" up front instead of trying to find creative solutions to help the client do what they want. In this case, we had asked a vendor to do X for us, and the vendor asked us to sign a legal document first. Rather than trying to mark up the document, negotiate with the vendor, or go down the road of getting approvals and twisting things around until we had some solution everyone could live with, I advised the client to not do X. They were fine with that, and happy to get a quick and easy response.

This scenario happens regularly. Sometimes there is no alternative, and we need to go through a long process to get us to the desired goal. But more often than not, clients are happy to have some certainty and to be able to focus their efforts on finding an alternative.

Monday, February 16, 2015

2015 books, part 1

Here are the books I've read so far this year:

  1. The Circle by Dave Eggers - Unsubtle but topical story about a Facebook-Google hybrid that wants to record every moment of everyone's life and data mine all our experiences.
  2. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin - I wrote about this in a previous post; I found this book insightful, especially the observation that being unhappy is a burden on others, so purposely acting happy is a gift to others.
  3. Son by Lois Lowry - Fourth book in the Giver series, occurring in parallel with The Giver, about the birthmother of the baby in The Giver and her search for her son.
  4. The Giver by Lois Lowry (re-read)
  5. Wild by Cheryl Strayed - I don't understand how they made a movie about this book, since most of it is about how she's alone and in a great deal of pain.
  6. Archie: The Married Life book 3 - I'm kind of obsessed with these books, which involve a dark Archie future with sci-fi twists.
  7. Archie: The Married Life book 4 
  8. The Partner Track by Helen Wan - Loved this book about an Asian-American associate up for partner at a big firm.
  9. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Mari Kondo - a little wacky, but I liked it. She talks about being grateful to all of your material things, thanking them for their service at the end of each day and before you pass them on. 
  1. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett - Short novella about the Queen of England's encounter with a bookmobile, recommended by a blog commenter for my book club. A lot of interesting stuff about the nature of reading and being a reader.
  2. Candyfreak by Steve Almond - Loved this book about the author's passion for candy and his visits to family-run candy companies, which are increasingly vanishing as they are put out of business by Mars, Hershey, and Nestle. But could have done without the parts about how he needed candy to fill a hole in his life left by emotionally distant parents.
  3. Attachments: A Novel by Rainbow Rowell - Cute, fluffy rom-com of a book.
  4. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng - Hated this book about an interracial family where the parents are horrible people and make their kids miserable, driving one to commit suicide.
  5. Supreme Ambitions by David Lat - I think this would appeal to a pretty narrow audience of lawyers and law students; the writing features lots of technical discussions of federal jurisdiction, with a very weak romantic subplot where one clerk compliments another's legal writing skills and then they kiss. I enjoyed reading it, probably because I also like reading legal journal articles. There were a few things I found amusing -- the subplot involving a dishy federal judiciary blog called "Beneath Their Robes" (however did he come up with that one?), the name of one character, "Harvetta Chambers," and all the remarks about how HLS women are frumpy.
With Bill:
  1. Ribsy by Beverly Cleary
  2. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
  3. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
  4. The Penderwicks at Mouette Point
  5. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
  6. In progress: The Borrowers Afield by Mary Norton

Saturday, February 07, 2015


Today my dentist asked, "When are you going to let me put veneers on your teeth?" He's brought it up a few times before. I thought the subject was closed after my last visit when I said I was not interested in cosmetic procedures.

Since he was more insistent this time, I started asking him questions about whether this was medically necessary and whether veneers would require more maintenance than my natural teeth. Affronted, he gave me a long speech about how this was his job and I should trust him, and if he went to an accountant, a lawyer, or a doctor he would just listen to what they said and take their advice. He wouldn't question what they recommended, because he's not an expert in their field. I was tempted to give him a long speech back about how, as a lawyer, I welcome questions from my clients because I want them to understand what I'm advising them to do and why, and I find it valuable when they raise objections because it helps me learn about what's important to them, which in turn helps me advise them better. I also immediately thought of the many negative experiences I've had with doctors when I felt too cowed to question their advice, and it turned out to be terrible advice.

But I didn't feel like prolonging the argument, so I didn't say any of that. I just repeated that I didn't want them. He didn't like it, and he promised we would talk about it again. It crossed my mind that maybe I should look for a different dentist, but I've been with this one for years and he's right in my neighborhood.

As long as I'm blogging, other things that have happened recently:

  • Forty inches of snow and four snow days in a week
  • I made cinnamon kranz cake (basically a giant swirly cake version of a cinnamon roll) with the rest of my brioche dough and it was amazing and not at all healthy
  • I read and loved Candyfreak by Steve Almond -- at least the parts about the joys of candy and the inner workings of the few family-run candy companies left in this country that haven't yet been run out by Hershey, Mars, and Nestle; not so much the stuff about how he needs candy to fill the hole in his life left by his emotionally distant parents
  • We successfully took the kids to a Japanese restaurant and everyone agreed we should start exploring food from different countries
  • I hosted our neighborhood book club. I was the only one who liked the book, which I picked, in contrast to last time when I was the only one who didn't like the book; luckily I'm in another book club where the books and discussion suit me better.
  • Did I mention forty inches of snow in a week? And supposedly another foot coming? Bostonians tend to be very proud of their city, but I have heard quite a few people during the last week lamenting, "Why do we live here? Why does ANYBODY choose to live here??" 

Monday, February 02, 2015

MILP roundup #372

The weekly Mothers In the Legal Profession Roundup is hosted on a rotating basis at the ButterflyfishGraceBJJ, Law, and LivingMommy and the Sin CityMagic CookieThe Reluctant Grownup, and Perspectives of a Hard Boiled Egg blogs. Leave a comment if you'd like your blog to be added to the Roundup.

This edition of the Roundup covers the month of January 2015.

Queen of Hats: Reading Pride and Prejudice to a gifted kid
Dr. Mama, Esq.: On loving yourself
Magic Cookie: Always be selling pursuing your dream job
Alice in Wonderland: Reverse weaning
Full of the Dickens: Maternity leave cut short
Mommy and Sin City: Back at work
Reluctant Grownup: 2014 year in review and resolutions for 2015
BJJ, Law, and Living: Police academy graduation
Lag Liv: Feeling content and appreciating toddlerhood
Fumbling for Truth: Life update and a new Etsy shop
Cowgirl in the City: 101 in 1001 update
Perspectives of a Hard Boiled Egg: How to spot a mother of boys
Daisy, JD: Gracie at almost 2

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Career advice

A few months ago, I attended a panel where one of the speakers really impressed me. When I went to speak with her afterwards, she graciously offered to meet me for coffee and a career talk. Here are some of the things we talked about:

- Luck = Opportunity + preparation. Yes, you need to be in the right place at the right time -- but you need to put yourself in that place, and you need to be in a position where you can take advantage of the opportunity.

- Raising your profile is important. People need to know who you are and what you do. That's part of the preparation. Some ways of doing this are speaking, joining your local bar association, and joining boards of organizations.

- Start preparing years in advance for your next move. Even if you aren't planning a change -- especially when you aren't planning a change -- keep looking for opportunities to prepare.

- Put yourself in a position to get the dream job now, even if you don't want it yet. If you position yourself to get it now, then imagine how much easier it will be 5-10 years down the road.

- Don't sell yourself short. Don't assume that you need years more experience before you can get the dream job. You probably have more to offer than you think.

- The most important thing a lawyer can bring to the table is objectivity. The worst lawyers are the ones who identify so strongly with their clients that they lose sight of reality.

- Having worked for the government can be a selling point when returning to the private sector, because private companies all have compliance hurdles to deal with and it's valuable to have someone who understands how government works.

- The best combination of experience is having worked in a law firm, in government, and in-house at a company, because you learn a different set of skills in each setting.

A lot of the conversation focused on the "dream job" thing because she came in asking me about that. I kept saying that I didn't plan that far in advance, had no plans to leave my job in the near future, and had several possibilities in mind for my next step but didn't necessarily have one "dream job" or even a plan. Still, I liked her advice to always be thinking about and actively pursuing the dream job.

The two things she specifically told me were to work on my elevator pitch and to develop some swagger, or as she put it, to "see some boy when I look in the mirror." She kept reiterating that women often lack confidence, think they're less qualified than they actually are, and may be hesitant to take on challenges that they feel they are not fully qualified for. I don't think that's me. It's true that I tend to be pretty low-key and don't target the most important person in the room with a firm handshake and a recitation of my resume. And I agree with her advice to work on my elevator pitch, so that if I do need to impress someone in a short period of time, I'm able to do that. But I have confidence in myself, that if I have a goal, I will be able to achieve it (within reason); and I'm also confident that if someone spends a little time talking to me, they will get the sense that I'm smart, capable, and someone they want to work with. Still, I know I come across as sweet and nice, so I should think about her advice to have more swagger.

I struggled a little during this conversation with the whole idea of climbing the ladder and being ambitious. I sort of felt the same way I feel when I hear discussions about how nobody can "have it all." Personally, I feel like I have it all: a satisfying home life and career, time and capacity to breathe and take care of myself. It's true that I left the big law firm, that I don't make anywhere near my old salary, that I work 8-hour days, that nobody looks impressed anymore when I tell them where I work. But I'm in my chosen field, getting great experience and learning a ton. So when someone shakes their head at me and says I'm selling myself short, I wonder if their priorities are just different than mine. Anyway, I appreciate the sentiment: identify what you want, figure out how to get there, and start today.

Monday, January 26, 2015

President's week

Working backwards...

Sunday night: Brown event at this incredible house, teetering up on the edge of a hill, filled with art everywhere. Preceded by a nonprofit meeting. I left chili in the crockpot for JW and the kids.

Sunday afternoon: Bought Ted a clock so he would stop climbing into our bed at 5 a.m.

Sunday before lunch: Bill was in a spelling bee! His team came in second. They were good, but they were up against a powerhouse team of girls.

Sunday morning: Made doughnuts!! I MADE doughnuts. But I should have made glaze too, instead of dusting with a little powdered sugar, because Bill shrugged and said they needed more sugar. I wanted to shake him and say, "I MADE DOUGHNUTS!!" I made the dough. I cut out the donut shapes. I deep-fried them! At home! And I needed everyone to be way more impressed than they were. Anyway. I gave some of the brioche dough to Ted, who stamped robot and rocket shapes on it and sprinkled a thick layer of pearl sugar on top. And I made the rest into a cinnamon swirl loaf which was also quickly eaten. I froze half the dough for next weekend.

Saturday night: Made brioche dough using recipe from the Flour cookbook by Joanne Chang. It contained an obscene amount of butter and nearly killed my stand mixer.

Saturday day: Read "The Partner Track" by Helen Wan and loved it. Asian-American female senior associate up for partner at a big NY law firm, wrestling with all that entails.

Saturday morning: Slept in! It was lovely. JW got up with Ted at 5 a.m. and I returned the favor the next day.

Fri-Wed: Normal weekday stuff, I guess... can't remember.

Tuesday: Bill had the day off from school and came to work with me. I was mean and said that since he was at work, he had better work. I gave him some goof-off time, but also came up with various things for him to do, including a math worksheet, a crossword puzzle, and Internet research. One of the things I told him to research was Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech. I asked whether he thought the dream had come true. He said, "Well, you have brown skin and Daddy has white skin, and you're married, so yes!" I was dumbfounded for a moment, trying to figure out how to explain to him that we're not black. In the past, when discussing MLK Day and civil rights issues, it's been easy to explain to the kids that people who have brown skin, "like Mommy," were treated unfairly. But Bill has learned about slavery and a little about the civil rights movement. Now I think he's ready to link those things together and understand that different groups of "brown people" have had vastly different experiences in this country. This time I let it go, since he wasn't in the mood for more learning.

Monday: Every year I buy tickets for the SteveSongs benefit concert, and every year I can't go. (A couple of years of work emergencies; last year Bill had a phobia about any type of live performance and got himself so worked up that he threw up just as we entered the parking lot.) But this year, we finally all made it! With an assist from JW -- I almost gave up when I realized I forgot to book a Zipcar and the nearest available one was about a mile away, but he insisted we go and went with me to pick up the car on his way to work. Bill was his usual eye-rolling self but admitted he liked it by the end. Ted was excited but way overstimulated by the end, and we ended up leaving a little early. Still, it was a great first concert for him.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ear infection

When I last checked in, I was bemoaning my lack of sleep thanks to Ted's breathing issues. That night, he wandered into our room at 1 a.m., complaining that his ear was hurting. Waking up at night and complaining about a non-band-aid-able injury are both uncharacteristic of him. After trying various permutations of Ted in our bed, both of us in his bed, Ted on the couch and me on the floor, I finally accepted that we were having one of those sick kid all-nighters that involves periods of crying and comforting, tossing and turning, dozing for a few minutes, and doing it all again. Around 4 a.m. I turned on the Cars movie and we snuggled on the couch under a blanket until morning.

Ted was a trouper all day, doing a zillion art projects at home and cooperating as we picked up the Zipcar and headed to the doctor's office. He didn't lose it until we got to the pharmacy around 5 p.m. Poor kid, he couldn't nap at home and every time we got in the car, he immediately fell asleep and had to be woken up ten minutes later when we arrived at our destination. I couldn't ply him with snacks, but he did perk up when he saw a minion balloon. He asks for a balloon whenever we visit the store, and this time I finally said yes. His mood changed instantly. He skipped around the store, chanting, "Balloon! Balloon!" He was so delighted that everybody who saw him was delighted too. I saw a lot of people's faces go from grumpy and tired to smiling at the sight of a 3-year old in love with his balloon. The whole way home and all that evening, he sang songs about his balloon.

The next morning, after his first two doses of antibiotics and a full night's sleep (hallelujah!), Ted announced that he felt "great!" The balloon, however, met with a sad end. I was upstairs when I heard a loud wail. Ted came up a moment later and sobbed that his balloon had popped. I wondered how a mylar balloon could pop. Ted swore that next time he got a balloon, he would take care of it and would not slash it with his sword.

After the ear infection excitement (the first time, by the way, either child has had an ear infection -- and about two days after JW heedlessly said, in front of the Universe and the gods and everybody, "You two never get ear infections!") the rest of the weekend was uneventful. Saturday we went to the library and got the next Penderwicks book, then had dinner at a friend's house and stayed out too late. Sunday I was exhausted and spent most of the morning on the couch, under a blanket, reading my book club book from cover to cover. Which was kind of awesome. JW and Ted took down the Christmas tree and lights. I made meatballs. The boys watched football. We played the Busytown game. Sometimes by the end of one of these winter weekend days we're all a little stir-crazy, but this time I was grateful that we got to stay home and spend the day in our pajamas.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Pre-K registration

Tonight has been a night of many activities:
3.5 hours of listening to people talk about intellectual property law, with some bonus babysitter drama through texts during the trade secrets part;
1.5 hours of date night with JW;
1.5 hours of assembling information and filling out forms for Ted's pre-K application.

We needed a babysitter because we learned a few days ago that our public elementary school was holding its pre-K information night at the same time I had my IP CLE. JW returned with a panicked look in his eyes, brandishing the thick registration packet and telling me about the multitudes of other pre-K parent hopefuls who had showed up and would be applying for one of the 18 slots. Preference is given to older kids who just missed the kindergarten cutoff, which is not Ted. At this session they informed us that registration starts TOMORROW and we would have to line up at 8:30 and it could take up to 2 hours. So while JW drove the babysitter home, I started tracking down bills and photocopying medical records and looking up emergency phone numbers.

Date night was a welcome break in the middle of the obligations. As usual, date night was tacked on to our various other activities -- I don't remember the last time we went out purely for fun, without the excuse of a parent-teacher conference or town council meeting. We had a delicious dinner at Il Casale (arancini, calamari, gnocchi with little mushrooms, pumpkin ravioli, profiteroles) and I talked JW down from the pre-K ledge. We browsed around Craft Beer Cellar on the way home. Did you know sour beer is the new trend? And the less new trend is beers that have been aged in casks used for other things, like bourbon or wine.

This week has been a little rough. Ted has been coughing, which for a normal kid isn't a big deal, but for an asthmatic kid means we've been setting our alarms for every 4 hours around the clock to continue his breathing treatments. So much for my Busy Brides exercise routine. (That one looked fun, and they don't have an Overtired Moms one.)

I'm looking forward to the weekend. Temperatures in the double digits would be nice too. Also, I would like a pony.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Gardner Museum

Saturday we all slept in and started the day with a family snuggle in the big bed, a rare occurrence. We had an elaborate breakfast of oatmeal buttermilk pancakes, bacon, and fresh pineapple. Then we picked up museum passes from the library and headed to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I love the indoor courtyard, which turns the building into a giant greenhouse. We trailed the kids while they speedwalked around the mansion, then took turns browsing while the kids sat on a bench and drew. (Ted wrote his name and scribbled; Bill drew his rendition of a painting with an ornately dressed king holding a scepter, but he substituted a robot for the king.) Later when we asked what their favorite parts of the museum were, Ted said, "When we drew with pencils." Bill picked the sculpting studio, where he made a snowman out of clay. (Ted made a mess. I carved a goblet out of soap, and was pretty proud of it.) After lunch at Tasty Burger, we headed home for naptime. I downloaded Toy Story and we watched it before dinner. About fifteen minutes in, I said, "I don't remember this part. Isn't there a yard sale?" JW told me I was thinking of Toy Story 2. I watched a little longer, and realized that I was seeing Toy Story for the first time. All these years I thought I had seen it.

Sunday was quieter. It was slushy outside. Bill was invited to an arcade with some friends. I shoveled the driveway and went grocery shopping, then to a nonprofit meeting. JW noticed Ted coughing and asked if I thought we should give him extra breathing treatments, and I, because I am a dumbass, said, "Nah, he seems fine to me." After several years of parenting an asthmatic kid, you'd think I would have learned by now that the answer to that question is always yes. That night, after listening to Ted cough himself to sleep, I ended up setting my alarm for 3 a.m. to give Ted his treatment, in between his 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. treatments. I felt so guilty.

Monday, we were back to our routine for the first time in many weeks. Which is a little sad and a little bit of a relief.

Monday, January 05, 2015

What I'm reading

I am in the middle of four books right now:

"The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin, which I grabbed because it was available at the library; I thought it would be too fluffy and it is a little, but it's actually making me ponder big questions. What role does happiness play in a meaningful life? I'm happy now; if I knew I had a week left to live, would that be good enough? One question she poses is whether happiness and ambition are incompatible, because if you're always striving for more, doesn't that mean you're not content with what you have? I think happiness and ambition can be compatible, and that working toward more doesn't mean you can't be happy until you've achieved your goal.

She also says that she initially felt silly embarking on this project when her life was already pretty perfect, even though she didn't appreciate it as much as she wanted to. But, she says, when life is going smoothly, what better time is there to get everything in order? That way, when crisis hits, you can deal with it knowing that you've tackled the other nagging tasks and changes you needed to make. I mentioned in my 2014 reflection post that this was a year of remarkable and welcome stability for us, so this resonated with me. I should take advantage of this time.

"Mindfulness in Plain English" by Thich Nhat Hanh. I have been reading this very slowly for over a year now, like a few pages a week, and going back and re-reading some parts. It's a good companion to "The Happiness Project." No fluff at all here. This week I'm on the loving-kindness chapter. You are supposed to wish peace, happiness, freedom from difficulties, and the courage, determination, and strength to overcome problems, to yourself, your loved ones, strangers, your enemies, and all living things. He points out that if you have enemies, wishing them ill makes you feel worse; but if your enemies are happy and at peace, then they will no longer be your enemies, so it benefits both of you to love them and wish them well.

"The Nine" by Jeffrey Toobin. A look at the Rehnquist and Roberts courts. Perfect pre-bedtime reading because it's interesting but very put-downable. I mean, I already know what happens next.

And "The Painted Word" by Phil Cousineau, a gift from a friend. This book is all about the origins of words and phrases, which is right up my alley, but I wish it were a little less literary and more technical. Still, it's a fun book, and it makes me smile to think of what my friend said when she gave it to me: "I saw this and knew it would be perfect for you -- and I can't imagine anyone else I  would buy this for."