The Humble, Hopeful Lawyer


I had a wonderful, terrible moment this week.

I was sitting in the back of the courtroom, and I was struck by the achy questioning:

“What if I can’t do this? What if I’ve wasted a year and tens of thousands of dollars… what if I waste two more years and a hundred thousand dollars more… only to discover I can’t do this? What if I can’t do this? What if I can’t?”

I don’t have an academic fear. I’m not worried that I won’t be smart enough or competent enough. Don’t get me wrong; there are lots of times I don’t feel smart enough. What’s worse for me, though is knowing what it is to work a job like this.

You see, there was this eight-year-old. He is my boss’s client, and it was my job to play with him a.k.a. keep him distracted while the grown-ups talk.

He is so smart. Like SO smart. I think he should be an engineer when he grows up. He’s adorable. He’s scared. He’s shy.

And I got to play with him.

There he was, wearing a fireman’s helmet and coat, sitting on the floor with me, talking about robots.

And his life was falling apart.

He didn’t understand a lot of it, but he understood enough.

And for the first time in my life, I legit wanted to take a kid home with me and feed him cookies and adopt him.

That’s why the doubt and fear in the courtroom – it was a hearing for this kid, and even though there were a shitload of smart, caring people trying to make things better for him, his life was and is still falling apart.

It’s the lawyer’s job to be one piece of overwhelmingly complex situations – situations where things have gone very, very wrong. It’s the lawyer’s job to try to make it better.

I almost cried in court that day – for the adorable, smart, shy kid, who I wanted to take home and feed cookies… I don’t even eat cookies.

I asked my boss after the hearing how she keeps from crying in the court room. She jokingly said, “I’m a little bit dead inside.” Then, more seriously, “I guess I’m just so focused on the job that I don’t have time to think about the emotions of it.”

That was so incredibly helpful to hear.

I’ve felt so much doubt lately about whether I even really want to be a lawyer. Whether I want to work with kids. Whether I’m enough.

I used to know I was enough.

With Victim Services, I never shed a tear on-scene or even while debriefing with my team in the van.

I saw horrific things.

I went into the darkest moments, held people’s hands while they cried, helped them arrange for someone to come and pick up the body, watched hospital staff pump them full of pain meds, stood by as DCS removed their children, told them their loved one was dead.

In the courtroom that day, I wondered if I’ve just lost whatever ability I used to have to be what was needed in the moment.

I don’t know if I want to work with kids anymore.

It’s been a question for almost a year.

I see so much value in representing kids, but I also know how bad it can hurt.

Having done the teacher thing, it would be a natural progression of my career to work with kids in the law.

Also, I’m masochistic or something, so I know I’m going to end up practicing some sort of heartbreaking law – DV, sexual assault, wrongful convictions, civil rights. Only the saddest of stories for Lawyer Kate.

But kids…

?

It was humbling sitting in that courtroom, seeing how good my boss is at her job, how much she cares. She’s actually not dead inside at all… but I think maybe she says things like that because she wants to be dead inside.

Victim Services took an enormous amount of self-care.

You have to constantly nurture humility and hope. Humility to know you cannot fix it. No matter how hard you work, the outcome is always out of your hands. Hope that even though it’s not okay and you can’t fix it, maybe your life, your presence in a difficult moment will matter. You might make things just a little bit better for someone, somewhere.

Working with kids would be that all over again. Humility. Can’t take him home, feed him cookies, and adopt him… and even if you did, that won’t fix it. Hope that someone does take him home, feed him cookies, and adopt him, and that the little bit of time I spent playing with him made his day or someone else’s a little bit better. Hope that what I contributed to an overwhelmingly complex situation was and is enough.

 

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