Category: Legal Stuff

Career Crossroads, first draft

I’m at a bit of a crossroads currently.  We know that we will be moving because H has an awesome new job — but we are still waiting for the location so I’ve been holding back on announcing this to people in my professional world.  Once we know when and where, we can start discussing, but until then there really isn’t much to say:  

We might be moving somewhere sometime after August.  
It might be earlier.  I have no idea when or where or how
we will make this work.  

Yet I’m trying to make some big decisions in this vacuum.  Do I want to continue doing federal-agency-level policy making, or do I want to jump off this ship and swim back toward legal services?  Do I want to manage a non-profit?  Do I want to do real estate and development deals to create more affordable housing?  And the biggest question of all:  is it too late, is my career too off-the-beaten path, can I even get a job as a lawyer anymore?  Has my resume been permanently stamped with the scarlet letter of a policy-maker?

I don’t know these answers.  I know that I want to make a difference — that when I see a need, I want to meet it.  That this world is broken in so many ways, and that we can soothe the pain that stems from its brokenness.

I have a few dreams right now.  I dream of working in family law and helping wounded mothers and children find protection from their dangerous worlds and benefits to help them transition into a new life.  I dream of sitting in a coffee shop in Chicago or Nashville or Dallas and meeting with low-income individuals who want to understand how to start a business, or provide for their families, or start a non-profit, but just don’t know what the rules and regulations are.  That just need someone to explain the rules of the game, the way insurance works, and how to move forward when so much is uncertain.

But a lot is uncertain for me too, and I wonder sometimes how I can possibly be qualified to provide legal counsel to a family struggling with such difficult issues when my own life is so bland and safe by comparison.

But there is also another option:  an option where I transition into another federal-policy-making position and continue down my current path.  And that option, it is full of job security but not necessarily satisfying work; bureaucracy can be such a bummer.  But it could be perfect.  That job has the potential to change the lives not just of the families I have time to sit with, but families all across our country.  And that is something I could fight for, if the possibility were real, and the cards were right, and the budgets came through and the politics supported the effort.

If I stay in the bureaucracy there is no guarantee that the work I will accomplish will actually change the circumstances of any families.  And if I leave, there is no guarantee that I can find a position that permits me to do the work I want to do — no guarantee that I can articulate the type of work I am looking for, much less find someone in that field prepared to take a risk by hiring me.

But perhaps, just maybe, I’d rather sit down and talk to one family than change a paragraph in a regulation that may or may not trickle down to affect families in need.  Perhaps I’d rather meet one family’s needs where the family is, and help that family find security and peace than to edit all of the regulations in the world.

Calling is a tricky thing, in case you were wondering.


Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week

Five Awesome Things I Read This Week copy


1. The best tip for being an effective female leader? Stop worrying so much about how you are perceived and focus on getting the job done. This and more from Herminia Ibarra in How Female Leaders Should Handle Double Standards.

2. & 3. There were two fantastic posts on sex, gender, and the church by Preston Yancey this week, and I’d like to tell you which one is the most essential for your weekend reading, but honestly? Both.

First up was his piece on how adolescent boys understand sexuality and purity when our youth pastors tell young women to “cover up,” instead of telling young men to see their female peers [and all peers, while we’re at it] as human beings made in the image of God.

And right behind that came a call for continued feminism in the church. And this one line still rings in my heart even now, like a battlefield call to action:

“Put a woman behind the pulpit so I can hear He is risen! in the tone it was first shouted.”

4. A little land-use nerd alert for you guys: RegBlog’s update on the forthcoming Supreme Court case on regulatory takings.

5. Oliver’s guide to reading like a writer (beer in hand) over on Literature and Libations.

Okay, there you have it! Have a fantastic weekend and feel free to link up to what you’ve been reading in the comments.

Let’s talk about Hobby Lobby

I hear your voices in the distance [on my newsfeed] supporting Hobby Lobby’s complaint that the company’s freedom of religion is being violated by the ACA/Obamacare birth control provision.  I have seen your commentary about protecting religious freedom in America.  I have also reviewed the documents, so I know that before mandatory full payment for women’s preventative health care became controversial, Hobby Lobby was paying for the now-objectionable emergency contraceptive coverage.  It only changed its plan once it discovered this was an issue.  And I’m not making any assumptions here – perhaps Hobby Lobby’s owners didn’t realize what they were paying for until these news articles came out and they took a look at their own plan.

I love shopping at Hobby Lobby, but I’m a little confused about why so many people are jumping on this bandwagon.  I’m not expressing a position on the nature of human sexuality or the social or moral value of contraception [not that I don’t have one, mind you . . .], but I do think we should examine an issue before choosing the side of “Devout Christians,” as the Becket Fund has classified its supporters.  I’d also like to support Hobby Lobby putting its 1.3 million dollars per day into the mouths of hungry poverty-stricken children instead of paying fines to the government while it fights against the violation of a right it may or may not actually have.

So, with that said, let’s talk about the Constitution.  Just for a few minutes, without checking all of my law books and citations and shepardizing cases and so on, let me just put some things out there.  The first amendment and the freedom of religion can be kind of tricky, but the basic principles really aren’t as complicated as they may seem.

I’ve pulled my bar exam notes for you, to talk about a few sticky bits but honestly handle only the very basic issues.  The bar exam is not exactly the most sophisticated or nuanced thing.  We don’t cite cases or prepare briefs – we simply apply basic principles to relatively straightforward fact patterns to show that we have a handle on how the law works.  So what you’re about to read is not exactly rocket science, and is certainly NOT LEGAL ADVICE.  [If it alarms you that this is the simple kind of analysis used to pass an exam that qualifies one individual to hold the personal freedoms and, sometimes, the life of another in his or her hands, don’t worry.  It shocked the rest of us too.  We aren’t entirely sure we are qualified to be lawyers either.]

So here’s one of the most important things you can know as an American citizen:  The constitution does not protect your right to do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want, no matter what.  I know, I know, THIS IS AMERICA.  But seriously, that’s just not how it works.

As a religious individual, you have two specific protections granted by the first amendment regarding your religious-ness.  There are other protections, like the freedom to associate with those you choose, that are also essential to religious expression, but let’s forget about those and focus on the “freedom of religion” piece of Amendment Numero Uno.

1)      The Establishment Clause.  This clause prohibits the government from making a law or operating a program that favors one religious faith over another or names one religious faith as the faith of the country.

2)      The Free Exercise Clause.  This clause prohibits the government from enacting a law or program that is based on hostility to a religious faith.

This second clause applies here, so let’s dig a little deeper.

The government is not prohibited from making a law that inadvertently inconveniences religious expression if the purpose of that law is something other than hostility to the inconvenienced religious expression.

For example, when the purpose of a law is to protect the health and safety of the citizenry and applies to the general public, there is no violation of the first amendment even if that law happens to prohibit a religious practice of a certain group.  There is certainly a limit to this.  If the religious practice is not merely inconvenienced by the rule, but the complaining party’s religious expression is substantially burdened by the rule, and the party shows this substantial burden, the rules change.  Once a substantial burden is proven, the law can only be upheld if it (a) furthers a compelling governmental interest and (b) is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.  This only comes into play after a substantial burden is shown.

What is a substantial burden?  That’s a hard question to answer.  There’s not necessarily a perfect formula for finding one.  What we know so far from this case is that the courts are not satisfied enough with Hobby Lobby’s argument to grant an injunction.  There are a few issues at play, which we will know more about as the case moves forward.

  • The court explained that Hobby Lobby’s funding of a group health plan that “might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [the corporate] plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiff[s’] religion” wasn’t enough to show a substantial burden at the injunction stage.  They wrote that the relationship between Hobby Lobby and the use of contraception was too attenuated — too far removed to be a substantial burden on Hobby Lobby.  We will see how this develops during the rest of the case.
  • The court also noted that a secular company does not have a right to religious expression that can be substantially burdened.  And that’s a new and interesting idea, which will most likely be hotly contested in the forthcoming litigation.  Read the opinion here, and skip to pages 10-12 for the corporate rights question.

So there it is, you guys, one of my first law-related posts in a pretty long while.  I’m interested in the issues from academic and religious perspectives, and hope this break-down is helpful without being too simplistic.  Feel free to leave comments and/or corrections to my hastily written summary.  And happy first-day-after-the-fiscal-cliff!

Catching You Up

It’s been a weird summer, and an even weirder week. Most of you know that I started a job rotation in late April, and that my husband moved away for the summer to take a fantastic yet far away internship. You probably noticed that the blog was floating in and out of focus, but you haven’t heard that I’ve been contemplating big life changes like pursuing a Ph.D. and teaching undergraduate classes, becoming a full-time reader and writer and thinker, and throwing in a potential cross-country move.

But this past week, my dad got sick. His sickness is neither permanent nor debilitating (for long, although he might argue that point), but it changed my perspective. This summer I’ve been a bit of an island: a pocket of humanity floating along mostly alone. Thinking about my future and my country and my politics. Spending the last few days intensely with my family was therapeutic.

It’s funny how your life is more exciting and “cooler” when you see it through another’s eyes. How having someone who knows you affirm your dreams of writing and thinking and teaching because, to that person, it’s obviously a central part of your creative made-in-His-image Soul. It’s funny how knowing that H will be home on Sunday makes Monday morning seem like a good idea.

My speech is still limited so my politics are still mine (you’re welcome, America), but I’m feeling a lit less lonely and embracing the fact that this life is not mine and the game is not mine to win or to lose. My gifts, talents, struggles and blessings are not for me, but for you. For shining light into darkness, for extending compassion to those in despair. And whether that is as counsel or teacher, professor or special friend, it’s pretty much the same.


Lawyers are not necessarily good…or bad

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a lawyer the last few days.  I think I’ve had an unreasonably lofty assumption about the label — that when you are tasked with providing counsel and advice to individuals struggling through difficult and important stages of their lives, you would approach that task with some sort of grandeur or seriousness or dedication.  And I think there are some who do apply this sort of weight to the occupation, but clearly there are others.

This week at work, I had a moment with my boss.  It was just a moment, so it may be artificial to place much importance on what she said, but the exchange went something like this:  I told her that I didn’t know “what kind of lawyer” would give his client information that was exactly 100% wrong and then not even “remember” the name of the person he spoke to on the phone who gave him the information he then misconstrued.  And she said “oh, your still young, just wait.”

Again and again, I am finding that the combination of four years of undergraduate plus three years of graduate study of the law plus three months of frantic studying and ethics evaluations is not providing our community with attorneys of which they can be proud, who they can trust.  Over and over, I am reading articles about how much law school costs and how the institution is ripping off the people who are paying so much for law school with no hopes of being profitable, and it makes me wonder:  who is looking out for the client in that conversation?  Does making law school more or less expensive really make legal services better for people who are not providing legal services?

And I don’t think that I am some high-and-mighty attorney.  I honestly have no idea what I am doing most of the time, and don’t even consider myself a “real” attorney when I am doing policy work.  I just worry that while I am sitting here feeling mystified and intimidated by the responsibility of holding another person’s fate and future and business opportunities and on and on in my hands, and taking that responsibility seriously, there is at least one guy out there who had my supervisor spell her name out on the phone and then promptly forgot what her name was when speaking with his client….who advised his client to purchase a plane ticket to DC when we explained to him that we do all interviews by phone.

When I encounter these sort of folks while seeing my classmates and friends (and myself, in another year) struggling to find meaningful legal work in this job market, it makes me sad.

. . .

I have found myself saying some version of “and I’m an attorney, so” when working with collegiates on financial and/or legal issues.  To me, that had some positive meaning about why my advice should be taken seriously.  That with my training and empathy and counseling skills, if I’m not getting what they are doing we should stop and take a moment to consider the choice they are making.  However, when they still continue to ignore and/or avoid all interactions with these rules, I think it’s time to let the shield go.  It’s not my status as an attorney that makes my advice meaningful.  Using that label as a defense just obscures the issue.  My advice is meaningful because I have evaluated the situation with both compassion, understanding, and special training and knowledge.  Being a lawyer doesn’t make me (or you) “good” or “bad.”  But I am good, and that is where I should base my value, and that is why my advice should be listened to, even if you choose to go in another direction.

It’s weird how tiny moments like this can fit together to teach you something about yourself, isn’t it?

FYI: This is not about Minnesota.

Sorry team, still haven’t uploaded my photos (or found my camera cord…) so no glamorous vacay recaps for you yet. Just a list:

1. I haven’t really felt like blogging in a while.

2. I’m sick of my consulting job and am not going to renew my contract when this one expires (June 30!!). But, that means I should really finish the article and I haven’t managed to do that for the past two months so chances are…

3. I’m excited to start an Open Yale Course as a trade-off. I really want to go back to school but obviously need to work for a while, so perhaps that can hold me over.  I’ve been informed that the course on “Death” is a bit, ummm, dark and non-religious-afterlife-y.  If you’ve done one of these courses and have recommendations for a good first try, please send!

4. So far, working 9.5 hour days totally sucks. Shocker, right?

5. Leo (the cat) is so lonely and it breaks my heart every time I leave the apartment. He misses his poppa. I’m spending the entire weekend with him (and with #2, of course).

6. I have a lot of thoughts about Southern Baptists and Gay Marriage but I’m still pretty confused about why I still care what Southern Baptists say and I’m refraining from posting re: those issues until I can articulate a reason that the SBC is relevant. But, I found John Piper’s sermon and blog series on the gay marriage issue pretty flat, and while I’m not necessarily secure enough in my faith to go head-to-heart with Piper, I’m deciding he’s not as great as everyone says. I mean, I respect his knowledge even while disagreeing about a lot, but his twitter feed has typos on a regular basis. Not cool. oh geez, I’m a terrible person!!! JK, John Piper, JK.

7. I am love-love-loving my new job but also missing the old stomping grounds. Things there are a bit more exciting (read: crazy) than they are where I currently am. I had lunch with my boss and drinks with some co-workers and decided second-hand work gossip + first-hand happy work environment is the perfect balance.

8. I think the metro + this weather is going to be the death of me.

9. I made chicken with garlic and mushrooms in white wine last night and it is the-bomb-DOT-com. Recipe: sear both sides of chicken in olive oil, remove. Pour wine into hot pan to get all the burned up bits, put mushrooms and chopped garlic in wine, warm up. Put chicken back in and simmer until done. Seriously, delicious.

10. I’m drinking Green Monster smoothies for breakfast every day this week. So far, no impressive energy boosts. Quite the contrary, in fact. I usually just want to take a nap.However, I do have quite a pile of dirty dishes.

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On hold

This blog, like several other pieces of my life, has been on hold the last week or so while I adjust to a new job, a new schedule, and new limits on my freedom of speech. :) Just kidding about that last part — I am so excited to be where I am and will continue to be until September 20.

The sensitive nature of some of my work, however, limits my partisan political speech a bit more than most federal employees. So while I can blog about issues, I can’t blog about the campaign. And I can’t like campaign-related things on Facebook. And so on.

I’m also on hold with my legal research/editing consulting projects until my ethics review ends, and it looks like I’ll be staying on but recusing myself from certain work issues to be doubly safe. If there’s one thing I’m certainly not doing for the sake of punctuation and proper citations, it’s going to jail. I’m not quite that hardcore about the English language. Other proof: I use the word “like” a lot. Intentionally, mind you, for emphasis and drama.

H is officially leaving on June 1st [Sidenote: can someone please go see snow white with me? The one where Charlize Theron eats people? Okay thanks.] but we are not preparing for that until he finishes a multitude of projects and exams and so on for school. He is WAY overcommitted in my book, not that my take on how to get an MBA is all that informed or wise. So he is all in a fluster and working himself to death. It’s kind of cute how dedicated he is, when I’m not annoyed that we aren’t going to happy hour every day.

I’m getting smarter every day at work and using parts of my brain that have been semi-dormant for a while. I think I’m really going to like this new gig.

And as for the blog, I will get back into the habit soon, but it will be a little different for a while. I’m going to censor myself a bit more and focus on life and writing and good things like mail and company. My most political posts have been set to private for the duration of my rotation. It will be like taking the summer off. Hopefully it will still be interesting. If not, I’ll meet you here when September’s over.

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