When I started practicing law, all women wore these bow tie scarf things that scared me and suits with skirts only. This always struck me as bi-polar, ties to emulate men and skirts because it was proper. It was 1990 when I graduated from law school and after having a discussion in 1989 with my soon to be husband and then ex-husband about the fact that I wanted to be a lawyer and a mom and not necessarily in that order, I applied for and “won” the much coveted position of the only associate, in our class of double digit new associates joining the firm that year, who would get the position in the appellate department. I was an appellate lawyer. I bought my skirts, decided my neck was just too short for the scarf tie things and reported to the little room that looked like a closet but was referred to as an office where I was supposed to sit, and read, and write and then read again and write again and then when it was dark outside and had been that way for a while, go home. Next day, repeat as indicated. WHAT A DISASTER. I am a woman of words, yes, but spoken words, words spoken early and often, words spoken spontaneously and words spoken to humans not to dicta-phones (it was the 90s) with the hope if not the anticipation that the human will speak back. I was not meant for the closet. It was not a happy place because when I showed up every day I had to set aside the thing that I would come to be known for, the skill I would embrace and would put braces on my kids teeth, the ability that would give me not just a platform but a paycheck, I had to sit down and work, QUIETLY. Don’t get me wrong, I am a hard worker, and I did good work, for a first year. But I was not able to produce magic because my magic was gone and the sad part is that I gave it away, it was not taken.
Ezell Lesson one, learned early: You cannot change your essential nature and be wildly successful. Since this lesson, which took days to learn and months to correct, I have continued to study myself and keep track of who I am so as never to make this mistake again. I have taken tests to tell me the answer to these questions about what I need and what environment sets me up for success. I am an extrovert, with a strange little introvert twist. But, bottom line, I need to talk. I need to talk loud. I talk in declarative sentences. When I talk, I need people to listen. I also need to direct and persuade people. I need to strategize. I need to strategize out loud. I need to be in situations where by nature and necessity I am allowed or forced to think on my feet, to decide in the moment, to react and move forward. I need to be involved in human activity and I need to see the beginning, middle and end of everything.
For all of these reasons, I am, was and always will be a trial lawyer. I was born, evolved into, shaped as, molded to be and created in the image of a trial lawyer. Many people make jokes about the profession that I boldly, gladly, loudly and proudly claim, but, let’s face it, we are funny. We are also serious, ethical, honorable, relevant, revolutionary, cutting edge, and funny (in both the laugh at and laugh with kind of way). So if your joke about lawyers is funny, I will laugh. If it is not, I will not, but at the end of the joke, either way, I will still be a trial lawyer, which is the greatest profession in the world. This is a profound honor and responsibility and I both love and appreciate it each and every time I get to stand up and say, “Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury.” It is exceptionally demanding work, but the rewards are worth it.
So, at the end of your lawyer joke, I may laugh, but I will still be a trial lawyer and the biggest lawyer joke for me will be that for a short time in my young career I fooled myself into thinking that I could live in my head, that I could sit in a room and use only my legal mind and disregard the rest of me, the essential me, the on-the-spot strategist, the consummate preparer, the take-no-prisoners advocate, the talker, the declarer who performs my art, my trade, my craft in the most important venue there is. When I think of this I still laugh at the arrogance and certainty of my youth. I was so sure I had figured it out that it is shocking to think about the pieces of the puzzle that were not even in my puzzle box.
So, my women, my readers, my people, today’s message is, as you navigate this profession of ours, be who you are, not what people think you ought to be. Don’t compromise, don’t take short cuts, be your bold, your daring, your loud, your most audacious self and then (and arguably for most of us only then) you will realize the thing that I have…a love of, an appreciation for and a belief in my profession and my place in it. I love my job. I love what I do. I love the adrenalin that marks the beginning of every new trial.
Do you love your job? Are you proud of what you do? Do you project your accomplishments and pride onto your children and your team? If not, if you find that you fall short of being in love with your days, then look back. Did you make a misstep? Did you ebb when you should have flowed? Did you bend when you should have bowed? Worries not women, mistakes are just opportunities for learning. The bigger your mistake, the bigger a change you can make. Find that one thing in your day, in your practice, in your business, in your zone of influence that makes you proud and gives you height and be loud, be bold, be brazen – you have permission. In fact, I implore you. Plan your change right now. Use chocolate, it helps the planning process, and unless you really, really, I mean really love them, get rid of those bow tie scarf things, we are not girl versions of men.