Sunday, November 20, 2016

Career Days

I wrote the first part of this back in April. I don't know why I never published it, I assume other things were going on, but I stumbled back across it just as I was about to write about my experience volunteering at Elementary School Career Day. So we'll start there first.

~ ~ ~ Take Your Kids to Work Day, April 2016 ~ ~ ~

Yesterday was Take Your Kids to Work Day. Cora was not invited (next year I'm sure, she just needs to decide she wants to follow directions [blogger's note: she has!]), but the big kids were all about it. This was year 4 of our TYKTWD shenanigans and just look how young and squishy they looked in year 1!

I've written about this before, but I have very strong memories of my dad bringing my sister and I to his office back when he worked for Shell Oil in Houston and it was Take Your Daughters To Work Day. I'm sure for many it was an excuse to skip school and an annoyance to parents who didn't get any work done, but as a 13-ish year old girl who was really good at school but had never seen any women go to work in a professional office environment, it made an immensely powerful impact. We lived about 45 minutes away from Houston, so my dad got up early in the morning to drive to the park and ride and take a bus into downtown. We went into the city maybe a handful of times over those 10 years and I didn't have any memories of his office. So being at Shell, which had an entire giant sky scraper downtown and seeing all these professional people bustling to and fro in suits and briefcases... the shiny elevators and big desks... the women- so many women!- so put together and business-like, I honestly had no idea that existed. Maybe in an abstract way, I knew my dad worked with women, I had just never seen it. And seeing is a very powerful thing.

Obviously, my kids are well aware women work, and now boys are included (which is appropriate since in my house it is a little more of a stretch to picture an adult man in an office than an adult woman), but I still enjoy the day and the opportunity to spend more time with the kids and see them interact with new people in a new way.

It's hard to believe I could have been at the SEC long enough to be on our 4th Take Your Kids to Work Day. (A day I enjoyed thoroughly but still had to recover from post-Cora's-swim-lesson with a sangria swirl margarita. And then I recovered from that by dragging my tequila-fueled self to barre which was a terrible decision because I ended up subbing this morning's class. I should have taken the kids to that.)

When I first moved to the SEC, I assumed I'd be here for 3-4 years. Long enough to gain some precious deposition and case management experience, bring a few cases before the Commission, and generally get to know the securities litigation area (because, though I pretended to be a business litigator, I was really an IP attorney for most of my time in Austin). I assumed that when my former boss at V&E left his new post as SEC Regional Director to return to private practice, I'd go with him. I honestly enjoyed most of my time in private practice and I loved the actual work. To this day there is much I miss about being a BigLaw attorney and I never thought I was saying goodbye to that gilded legal cage forever.

Then I started my new job here. I immediately fell for the autonomy of the position, even if it frequently scared the crap out of me. Successful rounds of testimony gave me much-needed injections of confidence after BigLaw told me only partners could be trusted with anything of any importance. I enjoyed digging for facts and finding the story, basically mimicking what I'd found to enjoy about managing litigation discovery as a junior associate, except now I was also the partner and I could do whatever I wanted with the facts and story I uncovered. Plus I had subpoena power, so doing the uncovering was sometimes a little easier than it used to be.

But I fell hardest for the life. The "go home after 8.5 hours of work and LIVE MY LIFE" life. And not just that, but go home and build a life to live! I found hobbies and sleep and barre and yoga and a third child. I found a deeper well to support my husband and parent my kids. I found dimensions to me I had buried since college. My life is so much broader and so much deeper and so much MORE than it could ever have been when I worked on nights and weekends. Containing my work hours within regular working hours has been extraordinary.

But even still, and even though I really like my job, there are things I miss about being a BigLaw defense attorney. I don't know that I miss them enough to go get them back, but I worry sometimes that staying where I am is somehow settling in a way that my former gold-star-getting self would be disappointed by, because I know, underneath, that I'm in it as much for the lifestyle as for the work itself and in some aspects the defense work fulfilled me more. Then again, my former gold-star-getting self didn't have time to work out, so I'm pretty sure I can outrun her.

~ ~ ~ Career Day, November 2016 ~ ~ ~

Last week I did my 3rd round of Career Day at the kids' elementary school. Career day is exhausting and it always seems to pop up at a bad time, but at the end I'm always SO glad that I went and did it. I think it's important to represent professional, office careers- the ones that, unlike the very practical and visible (and obviously very important!) doctor, veterinarian, policeman, firefighter, etc., are a little harder for kids to see and understand. I think it's important in my kids' very socioeconomically diverse school to talk about grad school, working in an office, working to help people in a different, more academic way. I think it's important to show up as a professional female, in her pantsuit and loving her job. I just think a broad representation of careers is important and I'm glad I can offer mine.

For any other lawyers out there who will ever volunteer at their own kids' school (or another school! Even if you don't have kids, schools LOVE professional volunteers to speak on career days and if you know of one you should volunteer!), I thought I'd write up a bit of what I say. Being a lawyer is a little hard to explain to the really young grades, but I try, and I've had some really wonderful discussions and Q&A with the older grades.

After I introduce myself, I start out broad. I tell them I'm a lawyer, or attorney, and I work with our laws to make sure they are followed and applied the right way. I tell them that I loved school, that I loved to read and write and that reading and writing are still what I spend most of my time doing. I tell them I studied hard and got good grades, that I went to college and did the same, and THEN I went to a special school called law school for another three years after college so I could learn the law and become a lawyer. I talk about how there are lots of kinds of lawyers, just like there are lots of kinds of doctors, and then I get suggestions from older classes on types (criminal and divorce always come first, so I try to talk about how lawyers help with adoptions, we help business grow and merge and hire new people, we help create wills and charities, we help people find an answer to an argument they can't solve themselves) or just describe a few for the younger ones.

I talk about how being a lawyer is important because we make sure everyone is treated fairly. How even if you did something wrong, you still get to tell your side of the story and lawyers help make sure the punishment is right. I'll give hypos like, "let's say your sister tells your parents that you stole her toy. Would it be fair for them to punish you without hearing your side of the story? Would it be fair if they punished you but she never got punished for stealing your toys? Lawyers help make sure that your parents hear your side of the story and that rules are applied consistently and fairly." If I have time, I've done a surprisingly fun hypo with older classes- 4th grade and up, about a contract dispute surrounding an agreement to paint a house:

"What if you hire someone to paint your room. You tell them the paint color - electric blue - and you agree on how much you will pay them and you go to work. You come home, and your room is neon pink! What should happen?"
--> You shouldn't have to pay them!
But what if you didn't actually say "electric blue," you just gave them a paint number?
--> They still got it wrong!
But what if you gave them the wrong paint number?
--> Then it's your fault!
But what if you gave them the wrong paint number but you also told them after how excited you were to have a blue room?
What if he tried to show you a sample of the paint color but you didn't answer him back?
What if it was your fault and the painter already spent his own money on the paint?
What if it was his fault, do you have to pay for his time for painting the wrong color? What about the right color? What if he doesn't want to paint for you anymore? What if he is the only one who can paint your room?

And so we go on. It's fun watching them start out with black and white answers of fault and then realize that sometimes both people are wrong and both people are right and then you need lawyers and precedent to figure out who owes who what. It's hard making commercial litigation accessible, but I had 5th grade class SO into that hypo they were all ready to start writing their briefs.

And then I talk about my job specifically. I give a very superficial story of an offering fraud, about your friend saying he can double your money by investing it in an oil well (because it's always an oil well) but goes and buys candy instead. All the kids are horrified their friend would do such a thing. I tell them I read a lot and ask a lot of questions and talk to a lot of people and then read some more. I need to learn the whole story so I can figure out if the person we're investigating actually did something wrong and that many times they haven't and then I just close my case (like sometimes your sister tattles on you but you didn't actually do anything).

I tell them one of the most fun parts of my job is "taking testimony" where I swear a witness in and ask questions on the record in order to get to the bottom of things. Then I ask for volunteers and swear the witness in and try to discover if they've ever broken a rule in the cafeteria or classroom. The kids LOVE this and it's super fun to catch them breaking rules, though usually the younger kids are too honest for me to trap. I did get to trap Claire this time- she said she never got out of her chair in the cafeteria, but then I asked if she was in the cafeteria right now. She told me no, in a voice that said she felt sorry for me for asking such a dumb question, and then I pointed out that she must have gotten up from her chair in the cafeteria in violation of the rule. The class loved it. Then we talked about the fact Claire would have a lawyer who would point out why my statement was wrong - she may have gotten out of the chair, but she didn't necessarily break a rule to do it.

I get lots of questions along the way and I love answering them. I usually have 30 mins in each class and spend the last 10 or so taking testimony until the clock runs out. And then I do that 3-4 more times. I do my own kids' classes and then get drafted for a few others. It's exhausting but really fun and rewarding. If nothing else I try to promote the idea that lawyers = fairness and you should always always get one!


  1. How great! Your story makes me feel like I was there having fun as one of the class, too. :D And your hypo about the painter and bedroom owner reminds me of the civil case I was selected as a juror for earlier this month. (Contractor and Homowner; they were "brought together" by a major fire.) I still have lots of thoughts and feelings about it. Growing up, I always thought it would be wonderful to be part of a jury; civic duty, participating in the legal process as a neutral party to help get work done, etc. Now, I mostly hope I never am again--in this county, at least! Listening to a glut of mixed-up junk for days on end, hearing at least 8 hours of "testimony" about photos which amounted to "Is this the house? Yes, it's the house" spread over 6 days yet never being able to see the photos or any other thing until deliberations--all this without ever being able to ask a question yourself. That was the "It was so hard and I did not expect it" portion of serving. And the deliberations! How people think! And how they just don't! I'll stop now; I felt sadness and grief for the future.

  2. This SO makes me wish my kids' school has career day! From your descriptions of your life and schedule I swear your day has a few extra hours in it. I work a government 8 hour day and I still feel like I never have time to do all the things I need to do, much less want to do in my home life..I don't know what I'm doing wrong or inefficiently!?!?

  3. Love that you do this and commit to doing it well! My sister and I have often commented that we were at a slight disadvantage with our small town, small school, upbringing because there are so many careers out there that we're super interested in, but we didn't know enough about career and college options to realize we were missing out. As we've grown up, we talk to our parents' friends more and hear more about their jobs. We've asked why they didn't tell us about their careers when we were younger because some of them have seriously cool jobs and the usual response is, "I didn't know anyone would be interested!" Thanks for understanding that sharing what you do makes a difference in a child's future!