You Got This!
by Alyssa Bartholomew, OCDLA President
From the Jan-Feb-Mar 2020 issue of The Oregon Defense Attorney
As I walk through my office, I see a young attorney grab her jacket and file and is about to run out the door to court. I ask how she is doing; her response is one word: “stressed.” She just graduated law school, with high hopes and aspirations of being a good attorney, fighting the injustice of the world against all odds every day. She gets into work early, leaves late, brings work and research home, goes to visit clients in the jail on her weekend. She is sleep-deprived, frequently sick, and constantly a nervous wreck. She often feels anxiety and as if no matter what she does she is looked at like she doesn’t belong. At the end of the day, sometimes long after everyone else has gone home, she leaves, grabbing that file to make sure she looks at it after dinner (if she has time). Often, she will sit at her desk, hunched over with her head in her hands crying, or about to, losing it because she is so tired and stressed. So, how does she cope with all the stress?
I have been a mentor to young lawyers for years, and I see their daily struggles—heck, I’ve been there. We all have. Fighting the good fight, trying to be a good attorney and understanding that losing is a part of it. Working long hours, bringing work home, researching in the middle of the night because you “just thought of something,” writing motions so as not to reinvent the wheel, yet while doing all of this you tend to sacrifice the most important person, yourself. Yes, I remember.
What do I tell these new lawyers? Lots of times I just listen. I am a sounding board, someone to nod my head, say, “It gets better, I promise,” and then give my two cents. I direct them to motions I’ve written or found in our shared database, to new case law, explain to them how to deal with that “certain DA” who won’t make a reasonable offer or that judge who they think has it out for them. I explain ways to help them negotiate and how to cope with constant emails and phone calls from frantic family members. It’s more than just a job, it’s a lifestyle, I say, and I tell them, “You need to remember to take time for yourself.”
How does a new lawyer cope? In my office we have an open-door policy—you can come and ask any of us our opinions and suggestions. We share motions and new case law updates. We support each other in our wins and our losses. We celebrate victories, even the small ones, and we commiserate losses, especially the big ones. We know that work is stressful, having the weight of someone’s life and liberty balancing on your shoulders. We are all in this together, but your health and happiness needs to be #1. If you don’t achieve balance, you will burn out. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will quit, and we don’t want you to ever do that or feel like you can’t.
What about those who do not have a “law firm family” to look to? Those that graduated and decided to hang their own shingle—what do these new lawyers do, where do they turn? Well, that is where you, my dear OCDLA member, come in.
To Our Veteran Attorneys
When you see a new lawyer in the courthouse, introduce yourself, ask them if they need help or have questions. Take them to lunch and be a mentor even if it’s just for an hour. Tell them to join a gym, take a hike, go to a concert, try goat yoga, host movie nights or hang out after work at a restaurant for a quick bite. Just be there for them. Suggest joining the local Rotary or a book club, get a pet, take up knitting; above all, just listen to them. Tell them how to deal with so and so on the bench, or just smile and say, “You got this” when they look distressed or defeated. You have vast knowledge and experiences that are unique, so share them. When you see them at the jail ask them about their life, not just work. Ask them about the newest book, movie or podcast. OCDLA is filled with lawyers who care about their well being, we have all been there/done that, let us share that with new lawyers Engage with them about non-work-related things, remember we are all people first, lawyers second.
Maybe it’s been thirty years, or just five but remember you were a young lawyer once, we are their tribe, too. Let’s be there to help them succeed.
And to you, young lawyer out there reading this, you got this!
OCDLA Board President Alyssa Bartholomew practices law in Medford.