Lawyer or Attorney?

I grew up working class and attended mediocre public schools. I wanted to attend The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and I had the math scores to back it up, but I flunked the medical because I had lupus. By age 20, I received my Bachelor of Science degree. I did not go to an Ivy League law school but I received my J.D. in 1985 from an expensive, lower tier law school. I also hold an honorary degree from the School of Hard Knocks earned because of my illness and other life events too horrific to mention. I have never missed a day of work from the lupus that I now treat at the Cleveland Clinic and this makes me proud.

After law school I accepted a job with a major law firm in Dallas, Texas; then I accepted a job as a Contract Lawyer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base; then I joined the public defender’s office; then I returned to full-time to private practice; and here I shall remain. Along the way, I served on Law Review, passed the Texas Bar (first round), waived into the Ohio Bar and became an OSBA Board Certified Specialist in Family Relations Law (first round).

I came into my own in the public defender’s office, where I represented accused murderers, rapists, thieves, drug dealers, drug users, traffic offenders and loiterers. The sheer volume of cases and the constant presence in court, under fire, with very little to work with and even less preparation time, killed the nerves and self-doubt that had previously paralyzed me. When the courtroom is packed, and you represent everyone in the room, you learn to think on your feet, assess possible defenses, and make good decisions. It was exhilarating and I never worked so hard and so long for so little pay in my life.

The public defender’s taught me that there are “attorneys,” and then there are “lawyers.” An attorney requires hours of preparation, over thinks every issue, and chokes under pressure. A lawyer is outspoken, direct and a little too rough. Attorneys are at their best when reading small print, while lawyers are at their finest on cross-examination and closing arguments. Attorneys worry about billing, improbable scenarios, and networking. Lawyers bill fairly but don’t expect to be paid for scholarly thoughts and don’t glad-hand people they don’t like to generate business. I am a lawyer both by trade and by temperament and I’ve never been anything else.

Working a felony docket prepared me well for serious divorce work. Becoming some attorney’s client gave me empathy and humility. I’m a lawyer who knows what it means to be a vulnerable client and this memory is so vivid that it haunts me at night and drives me to be the kind of lawyer I needed myself. I believe that the attorney-client relationship is sacred and sets America apart from the savages. I will open up a vein for a client but I will also walk away if they need that from me.

I turned fifty recently and miraculously became athletic. I now love to run fast, lift weights, and practice yoga, Pilates and dance. My first ever-timed run occurred last September when I finished the Air Force Half Marathon for Research Downs’ Syndrome. This is my favorite charity and I plan to run on its behalf every year for the rest of my life.

Time will tell what becomes of me.