I never feel less like myself than when I put on a suit and go to court. That was my realization today as I walked awkwardly in my too-tall heels from my office to the courthouse just five blocks away. I wondered, “Do I look as awkward as I feel? Are people who see me thinking to themselves, ‘Is she limping?'” At first, I was deeply saddened by the realization that my profession is one for which I am poorly suited. But then it occurred to me that I am incredibly lucky to have found a way to work as a lawyer, do good work, and keep my sanity, at least most of the time.
I see litigation as involving two sets of skills. One is that you have to be a good researcher and writer. The other is that you have to present well and think on your feet. I’m really good at the first set. I’m less good at the second. Or, perhaps more accurately, I don’t enjoy the second. Not even a little bit.
Lucky for me, I’ve developed a practice for myself that allows me, for the most part, to avoid the courthouse entirely. I research and write and package materials, and then I pass my work off to other people who digest what I’ve done and go argue our position. I can present if I have to, but there is no part of me that enjoys that. Worse, I worry like crazy any time I have to be in that position, I spend far too long preparing, and I don’t sleep a bit the night before.
When I was a younger lawyer, I used to suck it up and do what I needed to because it was my job. But as an older lawyer, I’ve managed to find people who appreciate my set of skills and my need to have peace in my life enough to honor, as much as they can, my request that I do the behind-the-scenes work and leave the presentation to others. It works for both of us because the people who present incredibly well often don’t have the patience or the attention to detail needed for the prep work. They like the game. They like the dance of the courtroom. They don’t like muddling through boxes of documents trying to figure out what the hell happened. They don’t like reading fifty page motions and coming up with an easily understood and concise response.
I’m really good at muddling through ridiculous amounts of information and coming up with a way to tell a story that makes sense. I’m really good at keeping track of all the crap the other side files and making sure we address everything that needs addressing. But the gamesmanship of getting what I want from someone I don’t trust? The dance of trying to always sound like I know what I’m talking about and like I am surprised by nothing out of anyone’s mouth? Good heavens. Please just let me sit at my desk and do my [expletive deleted] work.
So I can be sad that I’ve put sixteen years into a profession that sometimes goes against every grain of my personality. Or I can be thrilled that I’ve built a career within that profession, working for people I respect and adore, that allows me to be me, at least most of the time. Or maybe I can be a little bit of both, like I am right now.