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Lawyers of San Diego is a specialty bar association committed to advancing the status of women in the law and society. We use this space to share articles written about Lawyers Club events and programs and items of interest to our members which are relevant to our mission. The opinions outlined in content published on the Lawyers Club of San Diego blog are those of the authors and not of Lawyers Club. All members are encouraged to participate respectfully in discussions regarding the topics posted on the blog. Guest writers are welcome.

 

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California Authorizes Special Admission for Military Spouse Attorneys

Posted By Guest Blogger L. Jamison, Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Unlike most attorneys, military spouse attorneys straddle the divide between military and civilian life. While building meaningful careers, they face challenges unique to military life, including lengthy separations, geographic insecurity, and assignments to remote locations. Frequent moves across the country have a particularly negative effect on military spouse attorneys, for whom state licensing requirements create daunting obstacles to practice. This has a disparate impact on women in our profession, as over 90 percent of military spouse attorneys are women.

 

My own military spouse journey involved four moves to different states in the last six years. Although I am licensed in California and Washington, the Navy took us to Florida, Rhode Island, and Virginia, before we returned to San Diego last year. Each move came with new career challenges, including licensing decisions and job hunts. After three moves, I was fortunate enough to find a legal position that allows for remote work and does not require state-specific licensing. This job relieves many stressors that come with military life. But for military spouse attorneys working in roles requiring a state license, the time and expense of re-licensing with each move is a significant career disruptor. Almost 50 percent of military spouse attorneys report living apart from their service member in order to maintain a legal career. Military spouses shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs and their service members’ jobs.


With these challenges in mind, I’m happy to report that on February 22nd, the California Supreme Court approved amendments to the Rules of Court, including the adoption of Rule 9.41.1, which creates a new special admissions category specific to military spouse attorneys, which went into effect on March 1, 2019. This move by the Supreme Court recognizes the unique mobility requirements of military families by granting a pathway to employment for attorney spouses of uniformed service members while on orders to our state.


As I summarized for the Military Spouse J.D. Network, a specialty bar association supporting military spouse attorneys and law students, to be eligible for special admission under Rule 9.41.1, a military spouse applicant must reside in California with their active duty service member on orders and be supervised by a member of the California bar who has actively practiced for the last two years. The supervising attorney must submit a declaration to the State Bar assuming professional responsibility for the work performed by the military spouse attorney. A military spouse may practice for five years under Rule 9.41.1. The full text of the rule can be found here.


While we applaud the progress demonstrated by the passage of Rule 9.41.1, our advocacy will continue for a rule that truly addresses the unique concerns of military spouses in the workplace. Some concerns highlighted by the Military Spouse J.D. Network and shared by Lawyers Club include:


1) Overly burdensome supervision requirement undermines the rule: Supervision requirements stigmatize military spouses already facing an estimated 28 percent unemployment rate. For example, under the current version of Rule 9.41.1, “any documents” submitted by a military spouse attorney to another party must first be read and approved by the supervising attorney. While pleadings and briefs fall under this provision, it’s unclear whether this includes even emails. This unnecessarily broad oversight reduces military spouse attorneys to a status on par with interns, regardless of actual experience. The supervision requirements in Rule 9.41.1 should be rewritten to be less burdensome so that employers are encouraged, rather than deterred, from hiring military spouses.


2) Job hunting without an approved license puts military spouse attorneys in an untenable position: Under Rule 9.41.1, a military spouse attorney must obtain a declaration from a supervising attorney in order to register for admission. This creates a logistical roadblock for military spouses on the job hunt who already face an uphill battle to find employment in a new state without an established network. Having to explain to a potential employer that they are not eligible to practice until going through a registration process after being hired means that, in reality, they are likely to be passed over for someone with a license already in hand. A better approach is to allow a military spouse to pre-register prior to the job search in order to approach potential employers with licensure established. A subsequent declaration from a supervising attorney can then be submitted once employment is secured.


Thank you to Lawyers Club for advocating on behalf of provisional licensing for military spouses without these conditions. And, we remain optimistic that these burdensome requirements could be changed in the future. The State Bar of California expressed its intent to review the implementation of Rule 9.41.1 and the impact of supervision in the next three years. Lawyers Club will continue to monitor the impact of this rule and advocate for a change that reflects appropriate public safety measures without overly burdening our military spouse colleagues in career pursuits. 

 

 


Libby Jamison is an attorney, a Navy spouse, the Immediate Past President of Military Spouse J.D. Network, and works at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

 

 

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Lady Justice

Posted By Lawyers Club President Danna Cotman, Thursday, March 7, 2019
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2019

Yesterday’s Trial Advocacy Task Force meeting, Co-chaired by Christopher Todd and Deborah Wolfe, included an enriching conversation on the topic of the female figure of justice viewed through the lens of art and ancient gods and goddesses and what we can learn from that to improve our strengths as trial lawyers.

 

The guest speaker, Sarah E. Murray, President and Senior Consultant of Trialcraft, highlighted the paradox that, while female depictions of justice can be traced as far back as Mesopotamian civilizations, and Justitia, the Roman Goddess of Justice, was depicted blind with both a sword and scales, trial has historically been the purview of men.

A key takeaway from the talk was that our strength and ability to advocate and be persuasive in the courtroom means being authentically ourselves and embracing and using our “masculine” and “feminine” energies, regardless and distinct from gender or sex. Also that honing those skills is done in community.

The meeting was fun, provocative, and informative. It made me think about how Lawyers Club inspires and mentors feminist leaders: we do it as a community, mentoring, by providing timely and meaningful programming to our members, welcoming and collaborating with our male allies, law firms, law schools, sponsors, and other community organizations. But there is more to be done and as you know, nothing beats a personal connection.

So, I ask you, what else can YOU do to be an inspiring feminist leader and to mentor others? Share your ideas with us – we want your input! Please comment on this post. And…share the benefits of Lawyers Club with your friends and networks! LC’s spring membership drive is in full swing! Non-members of LC can join now for $50; their membership will run through June 30, 2020. By joining now, a new member can also take advantage of the member ticket prices for events such as Equal Pay Day, the Annual Dinner, and more! Let’s work together to elevate more feminist leaders and make a difference!

Tags:  demand equality  feminist  justice  lady justice  leaders  TATF  trial 

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The Nation’s Best Legal Commentator: What I Learned Through Muppet Theory

Posted By Guest Blogger Haylee Saathoff, Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Have you ever thought about what kind of Muppet you are? I can admit, before learning that this year’s Annual Dinner speaker was Dahlia Lithwick, I had not. Dahlia Lithwick is an accomplished, experienced journalist, and, for lack of a better term, a downright cool woman. She has made her career as a journalist, covering law and politics. She was front and center in covering Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, and was even the subject of one of her own columns when she bravely shared her own #metoo story. In 2018, Lithwick was awarded the 2018 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism and referred to as, “the nation’s best legal commentator for two decades.”

Ironically, though, one of her more viral articles was not actually one of her strictly legal or political pieces. Lithwick has remarked that the piece most repeated to her, brought up in conversation, and remembered by readers has nothing to do with the decisions of the Supreme Court or the political happenings of the last twenty years. It has to do with the Muppets. Yes, the Muppets.

In 2012, Lithwick wrote an article for Slate, the outlet where she is currently senior editor, called “Chaos Theory: A Unified Theory of Muppet Types.” The heart of the piece is this: there are only Chaos Muppets and Order Muppets, and we are all one of the two. Once you know which type of Muppet you are, you will have it all figured out –whom you should marry, what your job should be, all of it.

While I cannot say I have it all figured out, I can say that when I read Lithwick’s piece on Chaos Theory, I did not even have to reach the end before I had already self-identified as an Order Muppet. You are either order (like Kermit the Frog, Bert) or chaos (like Miss Piggy, Ernie, Animal), and to me, the choice was glaringly obvious. Maybe to others less so, or maybe it is easier to identify the people around you, your spouses, friends, family, and colleagues, than it is to identify yourself.

One of my favorite lines from Lithwick’s piece on Muppet Theory is, “It is hard to be ruthlessly honest when evaluating one’s own Muppet Classification. As is the case when going shopping for white pants, your best bet is probably just to trust a friend.” Her writing style is one reason why I think Lithwick is a downright cool woman. She sets an example that you can be funny, creative, smart, and serious all at once. That you can write about Supreme Court decisions that change the foundation of our country one day, and the Muppets the next. And you know what? You can go back to the Supreme Court the day after that.

As a woman at the beginning of my career, I sometimes worry that the only way to be taken seriously is to be, well, serious. Dahlia Lithwick’s career and work is a testament to the fact that the personality you show in your work may just be what others remember about you. It is entirely possible to be both creative and by-the-book, both funny and serious; these are not “either/or” options. Really, the only “either/or” option is your Muppet Type—you are either Order or Chaos, and you are definitely one of the two.

Lawyers Club of San Diego is delighted to feature Lithwick as this year’s Annual Dinner speaker on May 9, 2019. Tickets are on sale now, click here to register.

 

Haylee Saathoff is a labor and employment attorney at Fisher Phillips and a member of San Diego Lawyers Club’s Annual Dinner Committee.

 

 

 

Tags:  Annual Dinner  chaos  Dahlia Lithwick  guest blogger  legal profession  MeToo  muppets  order  women 

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Read-In, For Inspiration

Posted By Guest Blogger Joe Mayo, Tuesday, February 26, 2019

 

On October 31, 2018, the San Diego Lawyers Club’s Community Outreach Committee (COC) and San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association (SDLRLA) conducted the Halloween Read-In at Central Elementary, a pre-kindergarten through 5th grade school located in the heart of City Heights. San Diego Lawyers Club has a twenty-three-year Read-In partnership with Central Elementary, where students are among the most economically challenged in the district. This year’s Halloween Read-In event featured numerous memorable costumes and volunteers included many San Diego Lawyers Club members, SDLRLA members, judges, law students, and San Diego City Attorney, Mara Elliott. Both the Halloween and Spring Read-Ins are influential events, where volunteers serve as role models, and provide an opportunity for students to learn about different careers while inspiring them to dream big.

 



This was my first Read-In and I was placed in Mr. Lou’s second grade class. I was paired with Attorneys Danielle Ward and former Lawyers Club President Kate Kowalewski. Danielle read from a book with wide-eyed children looking on with wonder as she pointed to various characters in the book and read out loud. I was moved to see how receptive the children were to Danielle’s reading.

After Danielle read the book, Mr. Lou conducted a mock trial, based on a patent case involving magic wands. Kate acted as the judge as Danielle made her case as plaintiff’s counsel that a student’s wand with a yellow star was copied by another student who had a wand with a blue star. Kate’s evenhanded judging and Danielle’s civil approach echoed San Diego’s courteous legal climate. Just to be clear, I appealed the decision brought down by the jury—a real travesty!

Also, I was touched to see how interested the students were as Mr. Lou went between the two students and explained each step of the trial in terms the youngsters could understand. Lawyers use a lot of big words—who knew?! At any rate, Mr. Lou is an awesome teacher and is the kind of teacher that changes lives and makes a real difference in our society. This event affirmed my belief that teachers like Mr. Lou deserve to be valued highly in our society.

I saw the young lady that was on my side of the patent case outside the school after the event was over. I told her that she did a great job and that she could do anything she wanted if she worked hard. This is one of the best events I have ever attended and am thankful to have been given the opportunity to make an impact on the students.

Mark your calendar for the Spring Read-In on Friday, March 1, 2019 – register here if you wish to participate. In the interim, COC will continue to provide much-needed basic school supplies to Central Elementary through a school supply donation drive and email lc.communityoutreachc@gmail.com to participate in that effort.


Here are some pictures from the event:

 

 

 

Joe Mayo is patent agent at ARC IP Law, PC, a member of San Diego Lawyers Club’s Community Outreach Committee, and is First Man of Lawyers Club 2018-19.

 

Tags:  Central Elementary  civility  Community Outreach Committee  education  mock trial  read-in  San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association  teacher 

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A Roadmap for Balancing LGBTQ+ Protections with Religious Freedom

Posted By by Tristan Higgins for Lawyers Club's LGBTQ Committee, Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2019

At Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s 19th Annual Women and the Law Conference, The Way Forward: Gender, LGBTQIA Rights, and Religious Liberties, on February 1, 2019, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecturer was former EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum. Feldblum was raised an Orthodox Jew, but at 18 lost her faith. She is also a “practicing lesbian” and joked that she would like to continue “practicing for as long as possible.”


To Feldblum, there are two important, and sometimes conflicting, principles in the workplace: 1) to ensure religious liberty in both religious practice and pluralism, and 2) that everyone has the right to live an honest life, free from discrimination and harassment. Feldblum encouraged us to engage in this discussion with a “generosity of spirit,” regardless of the emotions invoked.


She laid out four “locations” that justify different outcomes for LGBTQ+ employee protection and religious freedom:

  1. Individuals seeking protection in the public sector from an employer’s requirement [e.g., an employer bans any head coverings and an employee wants to wear a hijab at work];
  2. Religious individuals who provide a service to the public seeking an exemption [e.g., a baker asserts religious beliefs as the basis for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple];
  3. Religious institutions seeking an exemption [e.g., the Catholic church refusing to hire a trans priest]; and,
  4. Institutions controlled by a religious institution or beliefs [e.g., a Yeshiva Day Camp denying admission to Christian children].

In the first location, the employer should accommodate the employee’s request for an exception to the employer’s requirement as long as it does not place an undue burden on the employer. If the employee can still get their work done, why shouldn’t the employer grant a religious exemption? That said, this protection for the religious employee does not grant that same employee license to harass, say, LGBTQ+ employees at work—because the religious person’s right to free speech does not outweigh the LGBTQ+ person’s right to be free from harassment.


In the second location, Feldblum argues that the balance should be in favor of the LGBTQ+ individual. It is key to our society that people are free from harassment and discrimination. It is not enough to tell the LGBTQ+ individual to go to another bakery. Rather, if the baker works in a bakery that is open to the public, they should bake the cake regardless of their religious beliefs. Feldblum commented that if the baker worked in a bakery with 50 employees (instead of only a handful), perhaps that employee could be excused from baking such cakes. The LGBTQ+ couple need never know there was an issue. A balance can, and should, be struck.


It is not controversial that a religious institution be allowed to select only ministers, priests, rabbis, and imams that embrace the tenants of its religion. It is crucial to that religious organization that it be allowed to pass on its teachings unobstructed by anti-discrimination laws. This need outweighs my need as a lesbian to serve as a minister in a church that believes being a lesbian is a sin.


The last location is tricky. Feldblum argues that if that location wants to discriminate, it needs to be consistent. For the Yeshiva Day Camp to keep out a Christian child, they need to only allow Jewish children, and employ only Jewish employees. If their religious beliefs are so crucial to them that they cannot allow a Christian child to attend, they better mean it and prove it with consistency.


As a member of the LGBTQ+ community and an atheist with a long and storied background in religion, I very much appreciate the framework that Feldblum set forth. Members of both the LGBTQ+ and faith communities need to understand that a balance must be struck between, for example, my right to be a proud lesbian free from harassment and discrimination and my friend’s right to practice and celebrate sincerely held religious beliefs. The balance will not always be the same, but if we discuss these issues with a generosity of spirit and profound respect for each other, we can work to create an equilibrium.


Editor’s Note: Feldblum explains the concepts summarized above, and more, in her recent post, which you can read here: What I Really Believe About Religious Liberty and LGBT Rights.


Tristan Higgins, who wrote this post for San Diego Lawyers Club’s LGBTQ Committee, is a seasoned lawyer specializing in diversity and inclusion speaking and consulting.

 

 

 

Tags:  Chai Feldblum  churches  discrimination  diversity  EEOC  exemptions  LGBTQ  LGBTQ+  pluralism  religious freedom  schools 

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Women of Color Reception – Recognizing Role Models for Women of Color in the Law

Posted By Elidia Dostal for Lawyers Club's Diverse Women's Committee, Wednesday, January 30, 2019

As the youngest and scrawniest of six siblings, my fast talking was my best defense. As far back as I can remember, my family told me, “You talk so much, you should be a lawyer.” So it was determined. But when I finally decided to apply to law school, I planned on going to the local law school in Sacramento. Applying to the Ivy League law schools never even occurred to me, even after I received my LSAT scores and understood that I’d scored in the top 1%. But then my coworker’s sister, a Latina who attended Cornell Law School, heard about me and insisted that I apply to the Ivy Leagues. Still I resisted, counting all the reasons I wouldn’t get in. Once she helped me understand what was possible – because she was an example – I applied to and graduated from Yale Law School. This is the power of seeing someone like you ascend to positions you had not even considered for yourself. It is the power of the Lawyers Club Diverse Women’s Committee (DWC). This is true for whatever “like you” means to you. It is important that we all have role models that we can relate to, and that we can see ourselves emulating.

Continuing DWC’s tradition of recognizing women of color in the law who are breaking barriers and serving as important role models, Janice P. Brown will be the honoree at the seventh annual Women of Color reception being held February 6, 2019. Janice P. Brown is the founding partner of Brown Law Group and is the first African American woman to serve as the Board Chair for the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC). She is an ideal leader for EDC’s inclusive growth initiative, which aims to close the minority achievement gap and equip small businesses to compete.

The Diverse Women’s Committee Women of Color reception will take place on February 6, 2019 at Procopio’s downtown office from 5:30-7:30 p.m. I will be there to learn from and be inspired by Ms. Brown. I hope you will join me.


Elidia Dostal wrote this for the Lawyers Club’s Diverse Women’s Committee, and she is an environmental and land use partner at Vanst Law—a law firm committed to changing law firm culture for the better, one attorney at a time.

 

Tags:  diversity  DWC  Janice Brown  role models  WOC  Women of Color reception 

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Turn on the Light

Posted By Guest Blogger Julie Lopez, Thursday, January 24, 2019


One in four of us experience a mental illness. We are three times more likely to suffer from depression, and have one of the highest suicide rates of all professions. If we are female, we are twice as likely to get depressed as our male counterparts. We are lawyers, and we take the required MCLE for competency. We learn that mental illness and substance abuse run rampant among us; but, we never talk about the real problem—the fact that shame and stigma often deter us from seeking treatment.


We hide the fact that we are struggling, which only prolongs our struggle. I was one of these attorneys, suffering through anxiety and depression in silence, too ashamed to seek help or even admit to myself that I was struggling. After I recovered, I saw that nothing stood in the way of my recovery but shame and fear. I share my experience here, and at the Life & Law Committee’s February 5, 2019, MCLE on competency, in an effort to bring this common struggle into the light.


I had always been an anxious person. My anxiety ratcheted up in law school, and it -skyrocketed after my son was born when I was a fifth-year attorney. Trying to balance new motherhood as a litigator felt impossible, and the self-imposed pressure to be perfect in multiple arenas was crushing. I was in a car crash shortly after returning to work from maternity leave, and my anxiety worsened. I was afraid to drive, and I couldn’t work on an auto case without having a panic attack. I did all of the things you’re supposed to do to feel better—I went to therapy, exercised every day, learned to meditate, practiced yoga, ate well, and even (gasp!) took a month off of work. But nothing helped, and I eventually spiraled down into depression.


I had never been depressed before, and it is truly a tortured despair that I would not wish on my worst enemy. I felt like checking myself into a psychiatric hospital would have been a welcomed relief, and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t “work” my way out of it. Despite my efforts for more than a year, I just wasn’t getting better, so I made an appointment with a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with depression and anxiety disorder. I was terrified to take medication for a mental illness, but I also had to figure out a way to get better. The doctor prescribed antidepressant, and I—terrified of what it meant, but desperate for improvement—took it. And then, amazingly, I got better, and I got better pretty fast.


Looking back, I see that nothing stood in the way of my recovery but shame, and that shame robbed me of a year of my life. Shame told me that it was my fault I couldn’t “work” my way out of being depressed and get better with meditation/yoga/therapy/ exercise or whatever else you’re “supposed” to be able to do to feel better. Once I started sharing what I’d been through, I found that a LOT of other attorneys (and people in general, for that matter) struggle with all kinds of mental illnesses, and lots of other attorneys take medication to manage it.

 

Like any monster in the darkness, it isn’t scary once you turn on the light. I realized that the stigma and shame of mental illness would evaporate if everyone just stopped hiding their own struggles. And really, why do we hide it in the first place? We don’t wait a year to go to the doctor if we have a broken leg because we fear what others will think, hoping that it magically will heal if we just exercise/meditate/go to therapy/do yoga. We go to the doctor, get a cast put on, limp around for a few weeks, and then we are fine. But, if we walk around on a broken leg for a year because we fear that getting treatment for it threatens our careers, or is shameful—like we do with mental illness—that broken leg is going to start hurting pretty bad, and it will take a lot longer to heal. I think it’s time we start treating mental illness like we treat a broken leg.


Julie Lopez is co-chair of Lawyers Club’s Life & Law Committee, and partner at Tatro & Lopez, LLP, a litigation firm representing nonprofit organizations and business, and individuals who've been injured by elder abuse, medical malpractice, and auto collisions.

 



Editor’s Note: The February 5, 2019, MCLE referenced in this post, (regarding competence and mental wellness), has been POSTPONED but will take place as part of a Lawyers Club Life & Law Committee meeting. For more information and to rsvp, please contact julie@tatrolopez.com.

 

Tags:  anxiety  competency  depression  MCLE  mental illness  mental wellness  psychiatry  stress  treatment 

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March Together!

Posted By Guest Blogger Vaani Chawla, Thursday, January 17, 2019
Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2019


I remember January 21, 2017, like it was yesterday. It was an emotional day. The new president had been sworn in just the day before. I was in a fog of confusion. I was depressed and disappointed in the results of the election. But a part of me hung on to hope, thinking I could be wrong in my assessment of an administration that was just about to begin. I hoped that the new administration would be different from what was advertised—more respectful of women and other diverse groups in America. Maybe it was just a tactic the new president had used just to get elected? But I wasn’t sure.


I felt compelled to attend the Women’s March in 2017. I drove downtown to the San Diego Civic Center with my supportive husband and my little spaniel dressed in a bright pink jacket. We walked to the center and found a throng of people. There were women wearing pink hats and pink scarves. They brought their children, some of them sitting in Radio Flyer-type wagons and strollers. Their partners and significant others were with them. They held signs with slogans supporting women, immigrants, and other groups.
We stood shoulder to shoulder with one another, strangers in a crowd, but the mood was palpable. I watched a woman who had brought her two sons, about 3 and 5 years of age, and her husband with her. She stood listening to the speakers while her 3-year old played in a planter. The speakers were moving. Tears streamed down the woman’s cheeks as she stroked the hair of her 5 year-old. I felt it too.


Then finally, we began to move forward. We began to march. It felt like the emotional pressure of the moment was finally released. The crowd chanted slogans, and we began to smile. The mood had changed. We were now feeling stronger, like a cloud had been lifted. A comradery had developed among us even though we didn’t know each other.


That is what it was like for me and my family to attend the march in 2017. Imagine how much more wonderful the experience would have been if I had attended with my Lawyers Club sisters and brothers.


In a few days, we have the opportunity to do this together. We can shake off the daily onslaught of negative news, join forces, and stand up for the advancement of women. We can carry signs, chant slogans, and clearly demand equality.

The third annual Women’s March is this coming Saturday, January 19, 2019. The program starts at 10:00 a.m. with a blessing and performances. At 11:00 a.m., speeches will be delivered by inspiring leaders, and at noon, we march! Join your Lawyers Club sisters, brothers, and families at the steps of the County Administration Building, facing Pacific Highway, at 11:30 a.m. The building is located at 1600 Pacific Highway, San Diego, CA 92101. Together, we will bring #TruthToPower!


Vaani Chawla is co-chair of Lawyers Club’s Equality and Action Committee, current President of the South Asian Bar Association, founder of Chawla Law Group, APC, and provides legal representation to families and businesses in immigration matters.

 

 

Tags:  activism  advance women  Advocacy  demand equality  equality  equality&action  feminism  feminist  First amendment  now more than ever  social media  speech  united  vote  women’s advocacy  women's march 

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How Many Freakin’ Pronouns?

Posted By Ari Hornick, Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Last year, Laci Green posted How Many Freakin Genders, and How Many Freakin Genders, Part 2. If you’ve never thought about issues surrounding sex and gender, her videos are a good introduction. However, Green makes a common mistake when she says that biological sex has basically two options (male and female). To this point, scientific research has found that the genetic switches determinative of your biological sex are not binary like an on/off switch. They're more like dimmer switches with an infinite number of settings between extremes. How many freakin’ biological sexes? Possibly infinite.


Even if there were only one gender for each biological sex, there would be an infinite number of genders. If different genders use different pronouns, how many freakin’ pronouns? He and she don’t come close to covering infinity, so people have come up with a variety of first person, singular pronouns to fill the gap. There is some resistance to the new pronouns, but remember, we learned how to say “Ms.” We learned to say “African-American.” If a friend changes their name when they get married or divorced, we adapt to the new name. If we know a judge personally, we don’t forget to call them “your honor” in court. We can definitely learn which pronouns people use.


How do you know which pronouns a person uses? They tell you. Until then, stick with gender neutral pronouns. Perhaps the easiest path is to start with the familiar: Use “they” as a singular pronoun. “They” has been both singular and plural (like “you”) since, at least, Chaucer, and we still use it that way. (See e.g. “If a friend changes their name…”). If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out the Motivated Grammar post “Singular ‘they’” or Grammar Girl’s “Gender-Neutral Pronouns” and “Singular ‘They’.”


How do you tell someone which pronouns you use? It’s easy to insert this into your introduction, “I’m Ari—they, them—nice to meet you.” Include your pronouns in your signature block. My signature block says “Pronouns: they, them, their” right below my phone number. If someone uses an incorrect pronoun for you, just give a mild, matter of fact correction as you would if someone used an incorrect pronoun for your pet. “I use they.” If the person looks confused, follow up with “not she” or “not he” as the case may be.


What if you say the wrong pronoun by accident? Don’t freak out. Correct yourself, or accept the correction, in a mild, matter-of-fact tone, and move on. For example, “…she—I mean they—…” The key is to be respectful.


To make your pronouns known, the convention is to list them in the following order: subject, object, possessive, possessive pronoun, reflexive. “I’m Ari—they, them, their, theirs, themself.” You don’t have to list all five all the time, but do include any nonstandard parts. “I’m Ari—they, them” is sufficient, but “I’m Ari—phe, phe, phes” (pronunciation: fē, fē, fēz). I would stop there because the listener will probably assume the last two correctly (phes, pheself).


An easy way to be an ally is to include pronouns in your introduction and signature block even if you’re cisgender. This will help everyone feel more comfortable asserting their pronouns, and you’ll be less likely to use an incorrect pronoun if everyone includes them in their introductions and signature blocks. Win-win.

 

Ari Hornick, who wrote this for San Diego Lawyers Club’s LGBTQ Committee, is an ethics attorney in downtown San Diego.

 

Tags:  binary gender  cisgender  gender  introductions  LGBTQ  pronouns  signature blocks  trans 

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Inviting the outsider in | Empathy helps you help your clients

Posted By Guest Blogger Christy Heiskala , Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Updated: Monday, November 19, 2018

My experience working with lawyers and being a member of the Lawyers Club of San Diego entirely changed my perspective from the experience I had as a client. I parented my child through the experience of being a victim of crime in a criminal case, a plaintiff in a civil trial, and a fighter through two subsequent appeals. Over a period of eight years, I spent many hours talking to the Deputy District Attorney, talking to my attorneys, being deposed by defense attorneys, and sitting in the court room. Even though I had top-notch attorneys and mostly positive outcomes, I felt lost throughout the entire process. I have been a victim advocate for clients in both civil and criminal cases for three years now and want to share with lawyers what it feels like from a client’s perspective.

 

Clients are intimidated by you.

 
No matter how kind you are, clients are scared of you. They won’t tell you everything up front due to trauma, lack of trust, and fear of sounding stupid. People seek help from attorneys when they feel they have been wronged and their trust has been broken. Their nervous system is stuck in fight, flight, or freeze mode and they may not be thinking clearly. Help your client relax and feel more comfortable with you by letting them speak without interrupting and leave a long pause before responding. Provide helpful resources and conduct grounding exercises that will further help them.

 

Clients feel like outsiders.

 
Legalese is the equivalent of a foreign language to people outside the legal world. Every word feels like drinking from a firehose. Clients may not keep up and will be too embarrassed to say they don’t understand. Not asking for help in a foreign country can lead to costly mistakes, and the same can apply to your clients because this area is foreign to them. They may have never stepped foot into a law office or court room before, except perhaps for a day of jury duty. Your clients may have never answered interrogatories or been deposed. This adds up to a client who feels lost and unsure of themselves and can lead to misunderstandings.
You can help by losing the formalities when possible. Meeting rooms should be warm and inviting. Save the suit for court. Talk slower and lose the legalese. Instruct them about the process in a manner you would give directions to a visitor without a map.


To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.

 
You do this work daily and might be working on twenty cases at a time; but (hopefully), this is your client’s one and only case. Clients do not realize how long the process takes, how much time lapses in between the different stages of litigation, and how much work is expected of them. When court dates change, that is a normal workday for you—but your client has been planning their entire life around the court date (arranging childcare, making travel arrangements, and requesting days off work in advance). Inevitable court changes can be financially burdensome and make a client become uncooperative.


As the best lawyers know, little actions can go a long way. Help clients feel validated by being mindful not to rush them off the phone or use template correspondence. Check in with them often and offer to revisit how the process works and what the next steps will be. Make sure they know in advance that court dates can change at the last minute, acknowledge how much of an inconvenience it may be, and ask how you can help.

Christy Heiskala is co-chair of San Diego Lawyers Club’s Human Trafficking Collaborative Community Sub-Committee, she provides civil litigation victim support, and volunteers for the Center for Community Solutions as a SART advocate.

 

Tags:  client  client management  client perspective  client treatment  intimidation  lawyering  mindfulness  victim advocacy 

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