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Kim Lowe served as the 2015-2016 HCBA President. Views expressed here are her own.

 

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R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Posted By HCBA President Kimberly A. Lowe, Monday, November 2, 2015

Last week was the ABA Pro Bono Week; a week-long event where pro bono is encouraged and celebrated.   Now, it goes without saying that I am a little bit of a pro bono junkie.  But why am I a pro bono junkie?  When asked why I provide pro bono legal services, my answer is not exactly nuanced – pro bono makes me feel good about what I do as a business law lawyer.  This is basically a “because I said so” answer.  It works for me. 

But if I think about songs that come to mind when I reflect on why I do pro bono, my canned answer above starts to take on a much more nuanced flavor.

·         One song that immediately stands out for me is Aretha Franklin’s Respect. When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, and I told people I wanted to be a lawyer, without hesitation, those people would either launch into lawyer jokes, tell me there were too many lawyers in the world or self-importantly mis-quote Shakespeare.   Doing pro bono makes my choice to be a lawyer a valid, community-serving choice.  As I said, free association of songs often allows us to reconsider why we make the choices we make.  Basically, pro bono allows me to demand RESPECT!

·         As I try to take the edge off my first song choice, Bill Wither’s Lean on Me and Dione Warwick’s That’s What Friends are For come to mind.  But these songs continue the theme of bolstering my decision to do pro bono as a choice to feel good about myself.  I vividly recall my college psychology/sociology/philosophy classes where my professors would proclaim there is no such thing as altruism.  Everything we do as a human being is self-motivated.  Is the motivation bad it the end result is good? 

So after contemplating songs reflective of my motivation, Shakespeare, and the social sciences, is there really one right answer as to why a lawyer does pro bono?  I think the answer is still a personal one, “Because . . ."

But this whole discussion then leads to two more questions:  Why does the legal profession require/strongly encourage its licensed participants to provide pro bono legal services?  And why do some lawyers decide not do pro bono? 

Your thoughts are appreciated on my questions or my reasons.  

Tags:  Pro bono 

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Take this Job and Shove It!

Posted By HCBA President Kimberly A. Lowe, Tuesday, October 27, 2015

As I was lying awake in bed last night, sleepless, worrying about: (1) my pipeline of work, (2) my billable hours, (3) my collections, and (4) whether or not I was a “center of economic activity” at my law firm, Johnny Paycheck’s acerbic country 80s classic Take This Job and Shove It  came to mind, quickly followed by the lyrics of the O’Jays’ For the Love of Money, summarized by the Bangles’ (by way of Prince) Manic Monday. After a sleepless Sunday night worrying about all of the above, I realized sometimes I really dislike the private practice of law. 

Sometimes:

I hate the cursed billable hour! 

I hate continually selling billable hours – mine and others! 

Sometimes I just HATE MY JOB!

I know, I know.  As a “leader in the profession” I am never supposed to express any sort of negative feelings about my chosen profession.  But I am only human. 

But, as I reflect on what I dislike (my mom always told me “hate” was a strong word that should not be thrown around lightly) about “my job,” what I am really expressing discontent with is not the profession of law but the pressures that exist within the practice and business of law.  Being a lawyer isn’t a bad job. In fact, being a lawyer is a great job, especially at my law firm, Fredrikson & Byron.  But being a lawyer is a very “personal” job, where the value of a lawyer is judged continually by extrinsic factors such as success rates, productivity, and client acquisition. 

So, intrepid readers of this blog, what are you supposed to take away from this collection of songs about kicking your job to the curb (because your dog died and your women left you), money, discontentment with one’s job on a Monday morning, and my very specific dislikes (this week) about my very personal feelings about the private practice of law? 

It is not a disservice to the profession or to you or others who are members of the profession to express feelings of discontent or anxiety about the economic pressures of the legal profession.  Nor is it a disservice to the profession to mention the personal toll this profession takes on the lives of its participants. (Hint: now I come to the meat of this blog.)  As a profession, we need to openly, honestly and humanely grapple with issues such as depression, suicide and substance abuse among members of our profession. 

The operative words in the immediately prior sentence are “openly,” “honestly,” and “humanely.” If you read that sentence and thought, “Not everyone can handle the pressure of our lauded profession,” then consider Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, lauded by many as one of the greatest songs of all time and the tragic suicide of Nirvana’s lead singer, Kurt Cobain. We all need to remember to care for ourselves and others in our profession as we make our way through Monday. 

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Overpriced Dresses and the 2016 Presidential Race: Why Words Matter

Posted By HCBA President Kimberly A. Lowe, Monday, October 12, 2015

In the legal profession, every word we write and say is scrutinized, searched for meaning and then read and reread for every possible outcome. Words are our livelihood. To lawyers, words are like the famous dress that sparked a vicious Tumblr debate earlier this year (check out the debate here and a more professional scientific explanation here). Like the dress, which can be either blue and black or gold and white depending how you look at it, the color of words change according to who sees (or hears) them and when.  While what has been lovingly dubbed on the internet as “The Great Dress Debate of 2015” may seem like a trite example of the importance of perspective, it does a good job of showing how even seemingly unimportant things (like the color of an overpriced dress) can have large, unintended consequences and spark strong opinions.

The implications of this last point can be seen in statements made to date by 2016 presidential candidates. In attempting to identify with one group of constituents, candidates from both sides of the political spectrum have said things to alienate many groups of people, leading to legitimately hurt feelings and more harsh words. These words, which appear white and gold to some and black and blue to others, have only served to divide people further. These words, whether uttered in a blasé manner during a televised debate or carefully considered, infuse the general atmosphere of the political campaign with a feeling of hate and bigotry.

And so it falls to us to remind those who bandy about words without consideration of the impact that those words have on people, and to tell them that they are accountable for the words they speak. It is not our job to persuade people that the dress is one color or another, or even to rise above the debate and prove that the whole argument is really just based on a trick of the light. Rather, it is our job to carefully consider the implications of words and how they might both intentionally and inadvertently affect the people we represent as well as the people we are.


So go ahead, become part of The Great Dress Debate of 2015… just make sure you know what you’re getting into when you tell us which color you’ve chosen.

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It’s Time to Make the Donuts

Posted By HCBA President Kimberly A. Lowe, Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I tend to hum or mutter to myself as I go through my day: a sort of soundtrack that accompanies me from place to place, an old habit I picked up from my childhood with my sister.  At the same time she was convincing me that Santa was an axe murderer and that a career as a Christmas tree was not exactly desirable, she instilled in me a habit of comparing the business of life to art (or vice versa). Since I try not to take myself too seriously, my brain tends towards various pop culture references that make me laugh as I go through this daily exercise. No Hamlet for me.

As I was heading into my office this morning, well before the skyway opened, I was muttering to myself: “It’s time to make the donuts” in solidarity with Fred the Baker from the Dunkin' Donuts® commercial.  Fred the Baker’s steadfast dedication to his craft always comes to mind when I am busy practicing law. While Fred the Baker works long hours and he is tired, these commercials were not about the drudgery of hard work. Dunkin’ Donuts’® Fred the Baker celebrates the excellence that results from hard work as well as the joy and pride that comes with said excellence. Throughout a legal career – from law school, to studying for the bar, to the early days of practice through years of providing legal services to clients – there are times when lawyers must work long, hard hours—and these long hours do interfere with life.  That is why law is a profession and not a club sport.

So as I end a long day of work penning this short blog, I push through the dark skyway to my car muttering “I made the donuts."

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Snow White and the New Lawyers

Posted By HCBA President Kimberly A. Lowe, Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Updated: Monday, September 28, 2015

The Snow White fairy tale has been reimagined countless times.  Many generations have seen Disney’s 1937 animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  I often hum “heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s home from work we go” as I leave the office…  I hum a lot.  But take a look at this clip from the film and then come back to me.

Last Thursday I spent a lovely late afternoon on the lawn bowling field at Brit’s Pub with about a dozen intrepid members of the HCBA New Lawyers Section.  As I stood in a light drizzle with these lawyers, I couldn’t help but think about my own early enthusiasm and heartbreak with the legal profession. I can recall like yesterday my first couple of years of practice, working furiously and diligently with an immense desire to master the law, guided by learned senior partners who looked at me much like Doc looked at Dopey when he puts the  diamonds in his eyes (watch the clip, I mean it).  I can also vividly recall my fear of failure as I ventured into something new and the heart-wrenching dread I felt when I wasn’t busy. But I was fortunate. I started my legal career in a large law firm where I was mentored and sponsored and guided and groomed. I had a Doc to my Dopey.

As I enjoyed a libation with these early entrants into the legal profession and heard their various stories (much like the different personalities of Snow White’s beloved friends), two undeniable truths slowly became obvious to me:

  • for a very few new entrants into the legal profession, not much has changed in the 18 years since I entered the profession (heigh ho, heigh ho, let’s mine for gems—watch the clip, I mean it);
  • but… for the bulk of new entrants, the legal profession is a whole different ball game where these players might be able to pitch, hit, and catch, but they don’t have bats or gloves or even a team on which to play. 

As I drank my fourth Diet Coke after 6 pm (thinking, or humming, rather, to myself how there was no way I was going to get any sleep with all of this caffeine after lunch), I heard about their struggles to find any sort of legal employment, the staggering debt loads they were carrying, how some struck out on their own taking on pro bono cases just to do something legal until a paying job came along and how others took on multiple low-paying contract jobs and non-paying positions with nonprofit organizations.

As I processed this information, my heart broke (remember, I am in Snow White character here) for the entire legal profession.  How can we expect this next generation of lawyers—many of whom have been so battered and bruised during their entry into the legal profession—to take on what the legal profession’s establishment considers the most revered and important aspects of the profession: public service as a judge, pro bono, providing service that provides access to legal and economic justice, or other professional obligations?  Our happy Snow White fairy tale is no more.

In the 2012 re-telling of the Snow White fairy tale, Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White is still there and the dwarfs are still there, but the world is drastically different from 1937, with evil Queen Revenna beautifully portrayed by Charlize Theron perfectly symbolizing the struggles and turmoil many of our new lawyers face and probably what we will face as a profession if we don’t figure out some of the pressing questions that we face in the new legal landscape. 

Tags:  New Lawyers  Snow White 

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