GPSolo Magazine - July/August 2006
How I Became Reacquainted with the Sunrise
A t the end of the last millennium, I left the practice of law; it was precisely 25 years after I was admitted to the bar and it seemed like the thing to do at the time. During the next few years I worked through a number of projects—running and then closing a business; administering an estate; cleaning out and selling a house that had been occupied by family for some 80 years; traveling; putting on a wedding for 75; renovating a house; writing a book. And then it happened—I ran out of projects.
What to do? I had to do something. So, after being out of the loop for six years and noting, once again, that one should never say never, I reentered the practice of law. What a shock this has been!
The first shock came as I began to acclimate to being back on the timetable of the business world; to getting up in the dark and going home in the dark; to actually seeing the sunrise again. That has taken some adjustment.
Next came finding myself on the learning curve for new technology. First came learning to use the office telephone system: how to read the screen on the phone (I still haven’t figured that out), how to delete, how to forward, how to bill long-distance calls to clients, even how to check for voice mail from another phone. Then I had to learn Outlook. I have happily used Yahoo for years, but it isn’t very professional and it certainly is not cutting edge. Plus, it isn’t what the office uses. One day I actually broke down and bought an Outlook book, although I haven’t had time to study it yet. Then there was the matter of learning how to use the office computer system: learning where to find documents, learning Word when I knew WordPerfect, learning the time and billing system. I also had to acquaint myself with the fax machine, the copier, and the scanner. I received great comfort when the IT guy told me there was absolutely nothing I could do that he couldn’t fix. So far that’s been true.
Then came the actual practice of law. I was amazed at how some of it just came back as if I had been practicing only yesterday. Those little brain cells just popped open, wide awake. But then there were some nitty-gritty things that I didn’t remember, like picky new court rules. Who knew that, for temporary hearings, financial affidavits must be served five days in advance, and only one live character witness was permitted—everyone else must be presented through affidavits filed and served at least 24 hours in advance. It wasn’t always that way.
Compounding all of this is the fact that I am working with someone else’s clients. (There is no book of business to bring after being out six years). One thing I have run up against is the client who heard, or thinks he/she heard, one thing from one attorney and then hears another thing from me. Of course, this only becomes an issue when the client does not like my assessment. “But he said I would get alimony and all the assets.” “But he said contempt would be a slam dunk.” This proves that it is not that easy to hand off clients to other attorneys. I have a small sign in my office that says, “A closed mouth gathers no foot.” I try to remind myself of that on a daily basis.
Another area of adjustment had to do with wardrobe. The good news is that, so far, I have not had to wear a skirt. The bad news is that the few professional clothes I still own are seriously out of date. Remember jewel-neck blouses? They no longer exist. Neither do jackets that drop to upper thigh. Everything is short, not very flattering, and expensive. And those pointy-toed shoes look like they belong on the Wicked Witch of the West—and they are not comfortable.
So, how is it going? Some days are great; I feel like I am making a contribution, earning my keep, and helping folks. Those are the “pigeon” days. Then there are the “statue” days—when I am vividly reminded why I was away for six years. Mixed results, I guess you could say—but I did do something.
Martha J. Church is a family law and divorce attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.