Voicemails are forever

Posted: November 2nd, 2015 by Mirriam.

So I am going to be honest here.

I advertise.

Yup, that’s right. I actually shell out money for people to know I exist and what it is I do. It’s true. It’s not major. I mean, I am not a superlawyer yet or anything like that, but I’ve got some money out there in the legal marketing world. There, I said it. Whew. If you stick with me, you will see why this is important. I promise it becomes relevant, eventually. Would I lie to you?

This blog, though, has never been a money maker. It isn’t for advertising. Never has been, never will be. That’s not to say this blog hasn’t helped me make money. I write things in here, people google me and then this stuff comes up and people think “oh, she is really a lawyer and has thoughts and thinks things and then, sometimes, writes about them.” So, while I don’t make money directly from here, it’s helped me snag a client or two.

And it’s helped me make friends and enemies. I don’t love making enemies. It feels a little uncomfortable and well, the nature of this business is antagonistic anyway, why make it worse by using yet another forum to pick fights? But sometimes, it can’t be helped. This might be one of those times.

I was on twitter today having a conversation of sorts with a couple of real blogging friends of mine.  I call them ‘real blogging friends’ not because they are real friends but because they have blogs that are real, meaning they are vibrant and updated more than once every three months. Keith, the real blogging friend, has turned his blog into something more and I am exceptionally proud of him. But that’s also not the point. The point is that I was chatting with him about twitter and how it is shallow, fine for what it is, but ultimately doesn’t cause change. I disagreed with him (black lives matter, anyone? Arab Spring?) but I got what he was saying. The blogs caused a ruckus. They made people talk and think and the blogs made waves. There was the Streisand Effect and the folks who wrote could actually get people to think about things differently. It was a great community.

Keith, during this twitter ‘conversation’ specifically talked about an individual who he called Zarrelli. I didn’t know anyone named Zarrelli and had no idea who he was talking about. Well, a quick google search of this name led me to none other than Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice. Scott wrote a blog post about this Zarrelli which is fairly interesting to those of us who are cautious about advertising. It explained the background of the Zarrelli dispute. It’s a good read.  But the best part of the blog is the voicemail this guy Zarrelli left wherein he tells Scott – one of the most prolific and popular bloggers in the legal world – that he can help him make his blog better. Yes, that is a real thing this Patrick Zarrelli said. He then goes on to talk about how his family are all high powered lawyers. And some other stuff that is truly mind blowingly moronic. It is. Well, it’s worth a listen.

You don’t believe me? Listen to it here.

So why does the confession of my advertising come into play with all of this? Well, if you go to Scott’s post you can see how all of this came about. A guy wants to make money. They guy happens to be a lawyer so he advertises and says some things that are bordering on ridiculous, someone calls him out on how ridiculous it is, and then his feelings get hurt and he hires that someone to make phone calls and harangue people to make them stop saying mean things about him.  I get it. Most people don’t like to have the world saying terrible things about them. It sucks. People’s feelings get hurt and they want to lash out and MAKE THOSE PEOPLE PAY. But you can’t ever really make anyone pay. That sort of I WILL SHOW YOU is a myth and is the stuff of fictional novels where the one who is wronged manages to exact revenge through some convoluted and complicated plot. The Zarrelli’s of the world can’t manage that kind of revenge because, well, you simply can’t control that other people think you (or your client) is a moron.

Let me take that back. You can control it to the degree that you can stop acting like a moron, or advise your client to do the same. But I am pretty sure that calling people with popular blogs and leaving (pretty hilarious) voice messages will do the trick.

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Posted: November 1st, 2015 by Mirriam.

This isn’t about science or Darwin or that guy that defended him – Clarence Darrow, right? I’m not about to give you the legal analysis of anything that has come about recently – the evolution of fourth amendment law or black lives matter or anything else that is relevant to our profession at this moment.

This is about my favorite topic:  Me.

You all know that I came back to life sometime around 2010. I had a little office and a 4 cup coffee pot and a cell phone and I would wait for it to ring. I had a pocketful of hope and lint and little else. Oh, I had knowledge and skills. Apparently those things do count for something. I started writing in this blog again and I realized that the world was much bigger than it was when I disappeared into my shell when my kids were born. It was eye opening and it was  energizing and a little frightening. However, I fell into it totally and completely. I loved writing. I had an audience to write for – the moms who were out there who didn’t understand what I did or why I would do it. Defend those people? How could you? I wanted to explain how I could. I wanted those moms to see that I was still like them and they could think like me.

I failed.

I don’t know if I changed anyone’s mind. I do know I lost a lot of friends who didn’t like this criminal defense lawyer me. They wouldn’t understand how or why or what. They judged me for working so much, for being away from these boys that I adore “you’ll never get this time back” they would say “you will regret it.” I didn’t think I would regret it. I didn’t think that this thing that I did was just a job. It wasn’t. It was part of who I was. I am a lawyer. I am a mom. How could you tell me that I would regret being a part of who I was? It felt like I was being asked to give up a limb to save another limb.

This isn’t how it’s done if you are a mom. Kids come first. And of course they do. I leave work if they are sick. I try to schedule my days off around theirs. I do everything I can to make sure they are happy and healthy and get what they need and want. But I won’t give up my right leg in exchange for my left one. And, it tuns out, I don’t have to.

My evolution is this. I know now that there is no such thing as work/life balance. Not for me and for what I’ve chosen to do. I head a law firm that at any point in time has 2-4 lawyers and we have 2-3 support staff. We have a full sized coffee pot (and a Nespresso, come by sometime for a cup.) I have three offices and a conference room now. I have a “phone system” and I have to put up those awful labor law posters in the kitchenette. I mentor my people and send them to trainings and I give them the standards by which we live and die in our firm.

And I try to live a life at home. It’s no easy feat. And here is the next evolution that I have and that is a sincere understanding of what it must be like for the men who have typically done this work, the men who were responsible for providing for their families and running businesses. And the complaints they got from their wives and the guilt they felt at not being able to be present at every event in their children’s lives. I think of my own father and how his absence seemed so normal growing up. I mean, the man was a surgeon. He had things to do and we knew it. We didn’t feel deprived or sad. Our mom was there and that was her job. It wasn’t until I grew up and someone told me your dad wasn’t ‘present’ for you that I started to think differently about it. But now I know, he did the stuff he did because that’s how it had to happen. And no matter what society says about it, no one will ever be a successful surgeon and have work/life balance. It just isn’t realistic.

If this sounds like complaining, I don’t mean it to. It should sound like someone who has come to grips with the reality of the life she has chosen and the fact that much of my original audience has left because I am not the person they wanted me to be. And here I am, announcing it loud and clear that I am not going to change anytime soon. I travel more than I did before because I now have clients in other parts of the country (and world), I spend late nights at the office and frequent the jails on the weekends. I don’t think my kids feel deprived of my love and affection, but I imagine someone later on will tell them otherwise and they will let me know that I am at the root of their inability to commit, settle down, manage their finances, clean their apartment – whatever.

The evolution continues. I am trying to reformulate my audience for this blog. I am wondering who it is that reads it and how would I tell you what it is I want you to know. Because trust me, I’ve got a lot of things to say to you, whoever you are.

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Posted: July 2nd, 2015 by Mirriam.

Folks, it is time to have an honest discussion about this topic. I know we’ve had this fireside chat before but it seems we’ve forgotten what this word means and how it works. Let’s start with the basics.

Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘tolerate’ this way:

to allow (something that is bad, unpleasant, etc.) to exist, happen, or be done

: to experience (something harmful or unpleasant) without being harmed

: to accept the feelings, behavior, or beliefs of (someone)

The third definition is complete bullshit and is put there because well, some people believe that’s what they mean when they say tolerate. But it’s not. If you tolerate something you do not accept it. You put up with it. Read the entire entry for this word and you will see that to be true. If you mean acceptance, use acceptance. If you mean put up with or withstand despite how much it sucks, use tolerance.

I am not asking you to be tolerant of my beliefs about certain things. Gay marriage and equal rights generally. I don’t want you to put up with it even though it is unpleasant. I want you to incorporate it into your being and accept it.

If you mean acceptance, say it.

If you mean tolerance, then say it. I will know what side you are on. It makes it easier for all of us to know what you mean. Words have meanings. Sometimes they have multiple meanings. It is helpful to know which thing you mean.

Here’s the thing about tolerance, sometimes you have to do it. I have to tolerate extensive delays in court during morning cattle calls (Andy S, you hear me on this don’t you?) I have to tolerate opposing counsel and their annoying ways (you know who you are.) I have to tolerate the terrible food some people make for me out of love and a desire to nurture (no, not you.)

I have to tolerate the existence of some people that I find to be repugnant but I do not have to tolerate their morally repugnant views on equal rights.

Look, you are probably thinking “I’m a good person. I don’t want gay people to die or anything. I just think God invented marriage and it is between a man and a woman.” You know what? Good for you and your belief. I happen to think religion should go by the wayside and I am stunned that people actually believe Adam and Eve were real people (did they ride dinosaurs?) but hey, that’s you. You can think whatever you want and so can I. It is when you start to prevent people from having the things that you have based on your belief that we come to a serious impasse.

What if I think people who are brainwashed by religion should not get married because they should not reproduce? What if I believe this because I see the harm religion does to people and that it creates a divisiveness in our society that doesn’t exist in societies that are not religious? What if I give you studies that I’ve commissioned that prove this to you? What if I lobby the government to make sure religious people can’t get married and can’t reproduce? What if I am an OB/Gyn and I refuse to provide service to religious women and I advise abortion or adoption to pregnant religious women? What if I am a court clerk and I refuse to issue marriage licenses to people who I think are religious?

It is probably difficult to imagine such a world especially with our first amendment and all. After all the constitution says you are allowed to practice your religion free from interference from the government. If I can accept that our society functions that way, and that even people I have to tolerate get to fully participate, why can’t people on the other side? Why can’t there be full acceptance of the rights that are bestowed upon each and every American whether they are black or white (did you forget that part already) gay or straight or Chinese or muslim? Why must it simply be ‘tolerated.’ Man this unpleasant equal rights thing that just sucks major ass. Guess I just gotta put up with it.

I know it is hard to give up something that you thought belonged solely to you. It made your thing special. Whites in segregated America had a  hard time with integration because it meant they weren’t as special as they thought they were. Their god given right to lord over everyone who wasn’t white. I get it. When you are king of the mountain it’s hard to have co-kings, or to just give up the title all together. God did not make you special because he (if he exists) made you straight. He didn’t give you special gifts like extra arms or an eye in the back of your head. He gave you the parts he gave everyone else and that’s it. Your specialness is made up. A lot of your ancestors made it up to justify slavery and look how that turned out.

So let’s agree that while we may not all like each other and how we choose to live, we live in a country that accepts us for who we are.


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Posted: June 26th, 2015 by Mirriam.

There are times in our lives where we have to convince someone of something. I think this is an art we begin to cultivate as a child. Back then our wants are so many, but we don’t get to pick so we learn how to compromise, promise, sweet talk. As we get older and learn the nuances of the world (or of the people we want to influence) we refine this skill. We use words that we know resonate with the person, we appeal to their values and emotions. Then we learn logic (well, some of us do) and we try to appeal to that.

As time goes by, most of us settle into jobs or lifestyles which don’t demand too much persuasion, unless you are asking for a raise or looking for a job, or want a girls’ weekend away. Then you probably gather enough facts to support your position, or cry and say “but the kids are making me crazy and I really need a break.” But for the most part we plug away at the task at hand.

We over here on this side don’t get to do that. Our entire universe is built on persuading people do to kind things for people who have done unkind things. This, my friends, is a formidable task as much in reality as it seems on this page. In an ideal situation, our clients have been changed from the time they were arrested and ultimately and unfortunately convicted, so much so that the person we are trying to persuade (the judge in most cases) is moved by our arguments. Our clients have helped us by maybe getting a job, finishing school, reuniting with family members (this is actually more important than you might think) or just generally not acting in the way they were before.

Most of the time, though, this isn’t the case and we are left trying to persuade based on the rightness of the thing. Yes, our client admitted to selling drugs, but is a 10 year prison sentence just? Will it serve our society to just lock him away and take him away from his family and his environment and all that he knows? Well, during the heyday of the war on drugs, the answer to this was a resounding YES! Lock them all up. And in order to make sure that no one was able to persuade a judge to look inside himself, to actually believe that this person he was about to warehouse was a human being, Congress instituted mandatory minimum sentences taking discretion away from judges and forcing them to sentence people to what Congress decided what fair and just.

This is still the case. There are still mandatory minimums that are reserved primarily for drug offenses. And our job is to persuade the world that this isn’t fair. We dig deep into our toolbox for this. We sometimes quote Burroughs (I’ve done Naked Lunch and Junky so far) or Les Miserables. We look at the statistics on recidivism and quote those as well. One time I quoted a statistic for a client who was black with no criminal history facing a 5 year mandatory minimum. I told the judge, who was black, that the only reason for any increase in the percentage of his rate of recidivism was because he was black. The judge said “well sometimes those statistics lie and aren’t accurate” and then continued to sentence him based on the guidelines that cite those very same statistics as support.

Whew, this post is super legally isn’t it? Yeah, well, suck it up. Sometimes it’s good for you to just know how this goes. You think your judges are there listening to both sides and then imposing a sentence that is most fair not just to the person in front of them (sentence the person, not the crime) but to society as well. They are the ones who know the case, the players and really at the end of the day, they know exactly how many people have been harmed by these laws.

I still get up and do my job even in situations where it may seem to make no difference. I beg and plead sometimes. I say “come on judge, you know this isn’t right.” We cite statistics (people with strong family support do better overall than those who don’t. Which is why we like to pack a courtroom for every court event.) People who have jobs do better (but how do you find a job once you are a convicted felon?) People who are white with a good education do better (yup, that’s an actual statistic in case you are wondering about sentencing disparity along racial lines.)

There is a veritable laundry list of things we talk about during sentencing. We love it when our clients help us help them, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. And then I want to resort to tactics I relied on as a kid – call the judge a big meanie head, take my toys and go home. But instead I stand there next to my client and do the best I can. And hope that someday we will fix this madness.

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