I did something to better myself after the first of the year: I started taking some paralegal classes.
My goal is to get out of IT if I can. It might not pan out: the legal field is a bureaucratic nightmare of billing and unpaid overtime. Most of my instructors are lawyers who switched practices at least twice because of burnout or money reasons. My criminal law instructor started off as a real estate attorney because, as you know, that’s where the money is. “After a year,” he said, “I was so bored I almost killed myself. The work was tedious: easements and encumbrances, hours in conference rooms. I quit and took a job with the county DA’s office.”
He explained he stayed with that job for almost 20 years, reminding us that the state of Georgia has the death penalty. “The government doesn’t sentence people to death,” my instructor insisted. “A jury of your peers does. But I don’t want to talk about those cases. I left that work and now I’m a criminal defense attorney.” He smiled with pride. His life is defending petty criminals – shoplifters, low-level drug offenders, and uniform traffic citations.
But I don’t want to work in criminal law. I don’t want to know the stories behind anyone’s transition from prosecutor to public defender.
My aim, however, is family law: divorces, custody, adoptions, alimony. You know – the ugly, fun stuff. My instructor is a small woman with big hair, who warned us that no one in family law is nice. “You see everyone at their worst: the lawyers, the clients, and even the judges. Divorces are usually the worst time in anyone’s life; they’re not going to be on their best behavior.”
But like a reality TV star, I’m not going into family law to make friends. I’m thinking about the children.
My new hair stylist clocked me right away. As she shampooed my hair, she asked me point blank – “So, why family law? Did you experience child abuse and now you want to protect children?”
Goddamn. There are three people you cannot lie to in this world – your judge, your religious leader of choice, and your hair stylist.
“Yeah,” I admitted. No way out that one. “I was the product of a nasty breakup. And I don’t like seeing children hurt.”
“Yeah? Me too – by my step-father.” she said, without any hint of hesitation. She added, “I’d love to hear your testimony one day.”
I smiled. “One day.”
Speaking of testimony…
My family law class had three three guest speakers from two nearby law firms give their own about why they became family law attorneys. Two of them started out as – you guessed it – prosecutors before burning out and leaving. The third joined a family law practice out of law school because the practice was the first to give them a job and, they explained, they never left.
But these first two presenters. Oh my lord.
The first two presenters were women – young, I’m going to guess no older than my age, but shinier, sharper, and just better. Upgraded. Their hair: blown out, smooth, ends curled. Their clothes: pressed, tailored, hemmed. Makeup: lashes evenly split and darkened, eyeliner unsullied, lipstick fresh. They didn’t wake up like this; they were born like this. The first woman stood up to speak, slid out of her sensibly-high pumps, and said, “Sorry for my feet, y’all, but I’m seven months pregnant and I hate high heels.”
I nearly shit myself. Seven months pregnant? I looked bigger after eating a plate of nachos and drinking a can of La Croix. Instantly, I felt a wave of insecurity and glanced down at my sweats. Yes, sweats. Why did I opt out of my usual business casual attire for that evening and not even a dash of mascara? I didn’t even go for athleisure wear, I went for fucking sweats. You know the difference – athleisure cheers I’m ready to shop at Target! while sweats just moans I’m premenstrual and out of Wellbutrin.
However, both women spoke at length about their experiences in the family law field: that it’s a rough area of the law to practice. No one’s on their best behavior: clients, lawyers, and judges. “Lawyers are mean to each other,” the second speaker warned. “At my previous job, I would go out to lunch or drinks with defense attorneys after a trial. In family law, there’s none of that. You don’t want your client to see you friendly with opposing counsel because it looks really bad.”
“It’s the children that really get it the worst,” my instructor reminded us. “Kids are shuttled back and forth between parents’ houses. Their lives are in upheaval.”
When it was time for questions, someone from class asked the speakers if they ever took their paralegals to court with them.
The second speaker said, “Not always. I need mine in the office.”
The first replied, “When I worked in the DA’s office, I never did. I didn’t want her around…well, murders, rapists, drug dealers, and gang bangers. Hell, I didn’t want to be around them, either. That’s kind of why I left.” She laughed. “Family law is much better.”
On the way out of class, I mentioned the guest speakers to M, who drops me off and picks me up each night. First I discussed what they talked about and why it was important to hear the negative first. M frequently sits outside the classroom to work on their own laptop, and when I told them the story about the speakers, they nodded.
“I think I know who you were talking about. Were the two speakers the women standing outside the classroom?”
“I think so. Were they spectacularly well-dressed and was one of them pregnant?”
“Wait, one of them was pregnant?”
“It was very hard to tell.”
“I was going to say, I wasn’t sure they were even our same species.”
“I’m sure they weren’t.”