Tuesday, April 07, 2009

on being a public defender: you should also be something else

I've been working hard at trying to value myself through something other than my job.  I'm working hard trying not to rely on my job for deriving my sole source of pride or accomplishment.  The reason for that is because this job sucks.  I am a smart, hard-working, personable attorney.  However, no matter how much time or favorable law or civility or hard work I bring to the job, the outcome feels so predestined.  I often feel that I could accomplish the same results by caring less, working less, using the law less, being less prepared, and having nothing more than a high school diploma.
My work environment is part of the problem.  Because the volume tends to be high in my jurisdiction, there are a lot of prosecutors, a lot of lawyers, a high turnover rate for judges and prosecutors and defense attorneys.  I take my professional reputation very seriously, and it's important to me that the people who interact with me can at least respect me if they don't like me.  I'd rather they didn't like me, actually, but just respected me.  Recently, I've been offended by some judges because I expected that they saw how hard I worked, that I had integrity, that I afforded the court and the proceedings appropriate deference and respect, and that therefore when I needed some leeway (more time to find witnesses, or file a motion, or when I didn't appear on my own cases one day because oh, I WAS OUT SICK ONE DAY THIS ENTIRE YEAR) that this leeway would be granted. Not being the type of attorney to abuse these things, I thought I was owed at least that.  Apparently I hold no such regard in the eyes of others.
The law is not often on my side, so when it is, I expect you not to do disingenuous legal gymnastics to avoid ruling in my favor.  You can so easily rule against me within the bounds of the law, every single day.  Why thwart the law unnecessarily?
I've known this before, but I recently have had to remind myself of this constantly: this job cannot be my life.  A job this abusive and demoralizing and sad and illogical cannot be what I base my happiness and self-worth upon.  I've invested so much of my life in social justice and social causes that I'm not sure what else I enjoy.  I'm reading a lot more now, which is great, and I'm trying to make exercise a non-waivable priority, and I'm getting into music a lot more than I have been in recent years.  I've been to two museums, one choral concert, and one play in the past 6 weeks or so.  I cook a lot more.
The other thing I can't quite explain is that I would rather that other people in the courthouse didn't know who I really am.  With these social networking sites, or just being within close living and working proximity to my adversaries and to judges, I've suddenly realized that I don't want these people anywhere near the real, complete me.  I don't go to the bar when I know everyone else is going to be there anymore.  I thought at first that maybe knowing each other better would be good, but I don't trust it.  I don't trust that these people wouldn't use it to their advantage, or take the opportunity to further estrange us.  (Ever had a prosecutor sidle up alongside you and be all, "But you know your clients are all guilty right?"  Awesome.)  I'm jealously guarding parts of myself from the courthouse, and hoping that doing so will let these parts flourish instead of stomping them out, the way the courthouse has managed to stomp out any incentives for me to be a good lawyer.


gudnuff said...

I want to thank you for this post. You have described much of what I've been struggling with at my job in this post. I strive to limit personal exposure at my job as much as possible. But I couldn't articulate my reasons adequately. Sometimes our jobs are toxic, often because of the people we have to work with, who are also probably burnt out and jaded and surrounded by toxic people. The healthiest way to adapt is to construct barriers to protect ourselves from over-exposure to the toxicity. And to hold on to a sense of who the hell you were, long ago, before nearly suffocating in this poison. What you've outlined (avoiding the after-work meet-ups, more exercise, more culture, disengaging your complete self from work people) sounds like a great plan. I've already separated much of myself from people at work. And having done so, my days are less stressful and much less drama filled. And bad days can be turned around a LOT faster. Yesterday was a bad day for me, but today was better because yesterday, I kept my mouth shut and my head down as much as possible and refused to escalate anything, despite how pissy and petty and temperamental and bully-ish others were being. Anyway, I couldn't figure out how to write about it. But you did. And you did a great job. Thank you.

(I did not want my blog to turn into yet another mommy blog, but really...when your job is full of negative stuff that you try to distance yourself from, there's not much left to write about...for me, anyway.)

The Underblawger said...

This a great post. Thank you.

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