I have always felt that, because of my education and societal privilege, I had an obligation to speak up. So I started doing a lot of volunteer work, particularly around sexual violence and trauma. I learned that zero people on the team had a law degree or any legal background at all. So I thought, maybe I should become a lawyer. It’s not that I ever wanted to be an attorney. I didn’t have dreams of holding the corner office or litigating high-value cases, but I had a dream of speaking up for people who didn’t feel able to speak up for themselves. Being a lawyer would give me authority in the courtroom and challenge the treatment of that person. Law felt like the clearest root to being able to make a difference between structure and a society. So that’s when I knew I wanted to be a lawyer.
I was under the impression through my first and second years of law school that there’s always a clear right and wrong. The biggest surprise has been how untrue that is most of the time. In family law, everything is a shade of gray. You don’t always know the right answer or the best recommendation to make, because there doesn’t feel like there’s a good solution given the reality of the situation. You have to sit with a lot of ambiguity and willingness to give people the benefit of the doubt, because there’s never a perfect solution. That’s a hard thing to come to a realization about.
The most rewarding part of my job as an attorney is the privilege of walking alongside my clients. A lot of attorney work is tedious. It’s writing. It’s research. It’s phone calls. It’s sitting at a desk working away until you have something that is presentable and persuasive. The rewarding part is knowing that your client feels comfortable calling you, that they feel comfortable trust you to tell their story to a judge or to an opposing attorney. The rewarding part if seeing them feel empowered, because they’ve gotten to say what matters to them and somebody has taken that seriously. That is a humongous privilege. As a manager, I find it rewarding to empower our staff to work together, because we believe in a unified mission. It’s rewarding to know that the people in our office feel that they have the support that they need to do the hard work and to dig in when we feel like our client’s lives are on the line. Whether I’m advocating for a client or I’m advocating for another attorney in our office, seeing people feel like their lives matter and their work matters is the most rewarding part through and through.
I represented a client who underwent 8 years of domestic violence. I remember that she, her mother, and her sister, who are all immigrants from a Central American country, got on the stand in open court and said: ‘In the country that I grew up in, we just tolerated this. I was the expectation that we would be okay with violence. We would hope for a better future for our children but not proactively protect them. Now we’re in America, and we don’t deserve to be treated like this. We don’t have to tolerate abuse and violence in our homes. We shouldn’t have to feel scared of the people that we love. If that means that we have to sit here and say hard things against our family, we will do it.’ I’ve never seen such a clear example of empowerment. That will stay with me forever. I hope that it will continue to be a guidepost for me. When I feel overwhelmed, I know that it all boils down to the simple idea that we matter and protecting each other matters. That’s why I come to work every day.
I don’t feel that my work will affect the bigger world that my daughter grows up in, because I feel committed to working locally. But I hope my work shows my daughter that fighting for people matters. I hope it shows that kindness is the most important thing that we can do. I don’t know if I will ever change the bigger world but I hope that I give her a home and a love that is fierce enough to take on the world. I hope that my work as an attorney will show her that we can’t be afraid. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there for our friends, our neighbors, our family, and our country. It’s worth clawing for, sweating for, bleeding for. We need to protect each other, because who else will? These things matter the most.
Photography by Syler Van Molen
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