Thursday, April 4, 2013

Notches In The Lawyer Belt

I strolled into the office this morning expecting a very quiet Thursday. I ended up with a wonderful, awesome, stressful hot mess.

My boss called me at about 9:30 telling me that he was not able to come into the office today and needed my help with something. "Sure," I replied. I assumed that he wanted me to draft a motion or do some legal research on an obscure area of law.

"I need you to cover a mediation."

"Ha ha ha."

"I know I joke around a lot. But I'm absolutely serious."

"Ha ha ha....wait....wha???"

"I need you to cover a mediation. It starts at 2."

"You mean as in 4.5 hours?"

"Yes. It's on the X case"

If you could have turned life into a still shot at that very moment, you would have seen the look of pure terror fall across my face like a curtain. You know that scene in Jurassic Park where the little girl escapes from the upturned car and turns around to find a gigantic T-Rex staring at her? She looked like this:

Yeah. That is exactly how I felt.

Not only have I never heard of this case before, but I have never handled a mediation on my own before. In fact, I had only participated in one, as second-chair to a partner about three years ago. On top of that stress, I was woefully underdressed for a mediation. My light grey skirt did NOT match the tweed suit jacket that I had shoved into my drawer in case of last minute client meetings. Plus, I managed to rip my panty hose the second I walked into the office just half an hour earlier. The second that happened, I just had one of those feelings that today was going to be an interesting day.

I hunkered down, pulled the file, read every report, caught up on pertinent medical records, added up the special damages, and tried to diagram the names of all the parties and participants. Just my luck, this case involved three different collisions and several layers of automobile insurance. I learned what little I could in three hours, packed up the case files, and headed downtown towards the mediation, making an emergency 3 minute stop at Ann Taylor Loft to purchase the first black skirt and pair of sheer hose that I could find, then I barrelled awkwardly down the streets in the rain dragging a 50 pound box of case files on wheels behind me.

But it was all worth it. The mediation was fantastic! There was another party aligned with our interests and the attorney and I sat in the same room and strategized and joked and told stories. The other attorney was very experienced and had good ideas for getting the case settled. He was hilarious and entertaining and even made crude jokes (my favorite kind).

It was a complicated case with a lot of things going haywire. It took nearly three hours before we got the opening demand from the plaintiff. We finally settled the case at 7 o'clock pm (mediation was supposed to go from 2pm to 6pm). And although it was stressful and crazy and unexpected and long, it was such a great experience.

Although the day was full of challenges, I walked out of the room feeling proud and re-energized to be part of the legal profession. The people I spent the day with were not only intelligent and creative thinkers who did a great job of representing their clients, but they were professional in dealing with the case, and, during the periods of downtime, were a blast to chat with.

The topics of our conversations during downtime were so derailed that I one point (in front of my boss who joined us at the end of the mediation), we were discussing potty training boys and, in front of a room full of clients and lawyers, I offered up this brilliant piece of poetry:"If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweety, wipe the seaty."... I groaned internally as I was saying it but, thankfully, the only responses were chuckles and laughs.

At one point in the middle of the mediation, I looked around the table and found myself surrounded by middle age to older men from all walks and cultures. I was by far the youngest attorney present. I was the only female. But as we all sat around talking about our children, parenting, interesting cases, war stories, and the legal profession in general, I found myself oddly at ease. I felt that I had more in common with them than not. And although I was the youngest and most unexperienced in the room, they made me feel as if I was a valuable asset to the mediation and gave me an opportunity to speak my two cents.

So now, I have two mediations under my belt. And while that is not a lot, that is 100% more than yesterday. This is pretty much the only way to gain experience as a lawyer--by looking anxiety right in the eyeball, throwing yourself into the chaos, and one-by-one, adding small notches to your lawyer belt.