As a child in the 1980’s and 90’s, I had front row seats to view such Hollywood romantic masterpieces as The Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful, St. Elmo’s Fire, Dirty Dancing, and my favorite, Say Anything. While, I didn’t actually see these movies at the theater because I was just a little too young when they were initially released, and my parents just weren’t “those kind of parents” to bring their young daughters to PG-13 movies, by the 6th grade, my older friends and I were spending our weekends at Castle Video, renting them. I’m not too proud to admit that I didn’t understand just how much “trouble” Penny was in, why she got so sick and why Dr. Houseman had to come help her, probably until I was closer to college age. In any case, these movies formed the foundation of my romantic sensibilities, far more than any Bronte novel I ever read. And they probably ruined me for any guy who would ever attempt to start a relationship with me.
The problem with Lloyd Dobbler, once I discovered him, was (besides being a fictional character - let’s not get too technical, people) was the expectation he created in me that somewhere out there, there was a guy pining away for me. Like Diane Court, I was a smart kid in school and kind of socially out of the loop most of my four years. I was ambitious and my level of activity and number of extra-curriculars kept me from spending weekends with classmates at field parties. I had my pockets of good friends and we had some amazing times. We went to a small high school. My graduating class had less than 200 kids in it by June of 1994 when I stood at the podium in the sticky auditorium to give my graduation speech. But as I headed into the summer before college, I couldn’t help but think I missed out on that quintessential right of passage of teenagers; that kick ass, blow out, Dazed and Confused level party in the woods, where I finally get to make out and fall in love with “him.”
Beyond missing out on what I thought was a social, teenaged required event, my lifelong call to Lloyd Dobbler seems to have gone unanswered. What do I mean? I don’t mean the “go big or go home” actions - my ex husband decided our engagement, something I fantasized about for years would be this romantic, personal and private event, should be shared with almost 400 attendees of the Mystic Highland Robert Burns Supper. It was special TO HIM, but it was mortifying to me. And I’m a theater geek - I live in the spotlight! But not my romantic self. My romantic self wants you to come to my door on Christmas Eve with signs made, telling me you will love me until you die. “To me you’re perfect.”
Lloyd Dobbler fell in love with the brain, Diane, and even when she pushed him away, he parked outside her house with his boom box (remember those? Yeah, you’re old too) blasting “In Your Eyes.” Diane made Lloyd feel loved and accepted, and he did the same for her. And at the end, when the 80’s romantic teen movie plot-template allowed them to reunite after a tumultuous break up, we watched Lloyd dedicate himself to Diane and head to England with her so she could pursue her Fellowship. Ahh, sigh.
For me, the problem with Lloyd has always been that I know he exists. Some of my dearest friends have found and married their Lloyd. In fact, I knew some of them all the way back in high school. I’d watch closely as they would gaze at my girlfriends. My favorite “Lloyd and Diane” have been together for 30 years now. They went through their share of drama and break ups and agony over the early years, but they were always a team and still are.
I had my own Lloyd during my senior year of high school. Still my favorite boyfriend to this day. We weren’t right for each other in the end, but he is a wonderful human who has a beautiful family, which makes me happy to see. So I know there are Lloyds out there or guys with Lloyd potential, at the very least. And please no one read this post and show up at my door with a boom box and a John Legend song or something. I will seriously punch you in the privates.
Lloyd is so much bigger than just the grand gesture, although that would be nice. Lloyd is the love who fights for you, who shows you how smart and beautiful you are when you feel like a pile of crap. Lloyd is the guy who shows up when you’re falling apart and falling on the floor and lifts you up. He feels good when you feel good. He’s the romantic hero. I know he’s going to call me from the bathroom one of these days. The problem with Lloyd is maybe he doesn’t know he’s Lloyd.
It has been five years since I published my last novel, Queen Makers. Five years ago, I was in the midst of a complicated divorce and my own re-invention. I was busy throwing away friendships that no longer served any purpose in my life, and wandering through my cavernous home, glass of wine in hand, recanting all of the ways I had ruined my life. There was a lot of crying - uncontrollable sobbing, really. The ugly kind where you catch your reflection in the mirror and you don’t even recognize yourself, which makes you temporarily stop crying because you’re trying to figure out who the strange person is in your house making all that damn noise. Fun times.
In the middle of all that drama and nonsense, the final inspiration for Queen Makers emerged and I was able to publish it. Within months of the release of book two of my young adult fantasy series, while still tumultuous, life began to make sense again. I found a new group of amazing, supportive friends, rekindled friendships, moved out of the depressing, big house into a cozy apartment, started dating. As time wore on, I was happier and becoming settled. I sat down at the computer with the outline of Rose of the Field staring back at me. My creative brain shut down. I knew what was supposed to happen in my story, but I couldn’t figure out how it ended. Writer’s block is a real thing.
Five years later, life has kicked me in the butt again. It happens. I’m pouring over motivating Pinterest posts to remind myself I’ll be OK; I’m posting passive aggressive memes - the stuff I always say I’m not going to do, and then I do because I can’t help myself, and then I regret it because I’m sure I’m just creating whispers and gossip and looking like the same desperate, sad ladies I pity on social media. Well, pity this...no, I brought it on myself. Namaste.
But in between the full blown panic attacks over attempting to set up an online dating profile - not happening, by the way - and forcing myself to be otherwise productive at work, my creative brain turned back on and the ending of Rose of the Field came to me. Despite my emotional misery, I found immense joy and comfort in re-thinking the entire story.
By now, most people who know me and have actually read my books understand that I draw on my life for inspiration for the characters and story. Apparently, my pure happiness, however fleeting, blocked my creative juices from flowing. Although I’m happy to be back at the keyboard, telling the story of my favorite princesses, the fact that I can only accomplish this when I’m not at my personal best is a little disturbing, if I’m being honest.
Yet, I understand that my literary idols, Hemingway, in particular, poured their guts and souls, and all of their depressing misery into their work. Do not mistake what I’m saying. I would never compare my princess stories to the literary masterpieces of Papa Hemingway, but I felt a bit of acceptance when I recognized the similarities in the “process.”
In any event, having been through this cycle of personal agony before, I’m sure it will work itself out the way it’s supposed to, but in a weird way, I’m hoping it doesn’t resolve until after I have my first draft ready for editing. I know how I wish my story would end, but I’m willing to sacrifice my happiness for the moments of creative energy I have been experiencing and give my princesses the happy ending their stories deserve. After all, my art imitates life and maybe if I’m lucky this time, my life will imitate my art.
When I meet with clients who have been injured through no fault of their own, while preparing their cases, one of the questions I ask of them is “what is the worst part of what happened to you.” Most of them say, it’s the pain. Then I ask them, “what does the pain feel like?” and many answer “it just hurts.” Obtaining further information can be a lot like pulling teeth (pun intended, and you’ll get it when you read on) so I follow up with “what would you have to do to me to duplicate the pain you feel?” and this is when the answers get good:
“I would have to stab you in your lower back with an ice pick and twist” “I’d set a mountain gorilla on you and have him squeeze – it just takes your breath away” “I’d have to give you the worst toothache ever in your neck.”
That last one, I imagine was a description of a dull, constant throbbing pain, but I never had a toothache. Seriously. I avoid the dentist like I avoid Walmart during Covid-19 or cold/flu season. I have severe dental anxiety, even though most visits, aside from being uncomfortable, are completely uneventful. Sure, I’ve had 2 or 3 fillings in my time due to wear and tear, but never a painful cavity. I’m embarrassed to admit, that I go years in between cleanings because I hate and fear the process so much. I went my entire 44 years of life without experiencing dental pain, that is until last February.
I started having this uncomfortable pain in my mouth. So I put on my brave girl pants, and headed to a dentist I heard nice things about and he confirmed, you need to have wisdom tooth extraction. In fairness to this nice man, I had heard this recommendation for years, but this time the problem was that there was a cavity on my wisdom tooth causing my pain. Plus the others weren’t far behind. I agreed that it was time to take care of this problem and took the referral card for an oral surgeon in town. Then Covid shut it all down and mysteriously, my tooth ache kind of went away. Kind of. I was warned by everyone I spoke to that I “need to take care of this…it’ll only get worse.” It wasn’t so bad anymore and I just didn’t have the time…
With the State of New Jersey shut down and our law practices turning almost exclusively virtual, I picked up the pace with my caseload. With no distractions like commuting or trial calls or sitting around a courthouse, “waiting to be reached” on a motion or conference, suddenly I found extra hours to churn out work. I was so proud of my super productivity. Even with the uncertainty of it all, I fell into a routine and a pace that I thought I could sustain. I may have put on a few pounds in those months (wine deliveries), but I was healthy and getting it done. Lady boss quality stuff. Even with Anna in virtual school last spring, with “mom, I need help” being shouted at me from the kitchen, usually at inconvenient times, it was all working out ok. That is, until the tooth pain cometh.
The pain came back, and in the words of our former President, it returned “BIGLY.” It became intolerable. I complained constantly. It brought tears to my eyes. It required pain medication and ice packs. I couldn’t think straight. I was short-tempered (not just short-statured). I couldn’t sleep. And because I couldn’t sleep, I was tired and unfocused. I was moody and emotional. It’s impossible to be a boss-lady-litigator/mommy/housekeeper/partner/dance studio director/musical theater teacher when your face hurts all the time. It was definitely time for action. I called the oral surgeon, she confirmed my fears, but reassured me she was really good at her job and I was going to be just fine. She told me, we would have fun. She is a very beautiful liar.
Ironically, on the afternoon of February 19th, 2021, the 12th anniversary of perhaps one of the most important jury verdicts of my life against a local oral surgeon who molested his patients while they were under anesthesia for wisdom tooth extraction, I underwent oral surgery for wisdom tooth extraction. I went in with a sense of dread and overwhelming anxiety. I liked this dentist a lot and I trusted her, but I knew what was about to happen wasn’t going to be that much fun. I was right about that as I continue to recover. It’s not going great and they don’t give you the “good stuff” anymore. I have to rely on Extra-strength Tylenol and whatever Scotch or Whiskey we have laying around – I’m old-fashioned like that.
The take away from this experience has been two-fold: first, we really have to stop ignoring ourselves and self-care. Self-care always seemed to me to be a namby-pamby, frou-frou idea that justified massages, pedicures and “Treat Yo’ Self” style indulgences. It’s not. Had I just taken care of my tooth pain when it first reared it’s ugly head, I probably wouldn’t be dealing with the residual issues now that are interfering with just about everything from work to sleep to fun stuff like folding laundry (ok, that’s not really fun, but my excuse for not doing it is and has been “babe, my mouth hurts, I need you to do it.” Babe is thrilled.)
Second, when it comes to our injured clients, and the way we tell their stories of harms and losses, of pain and suffering, I now have a much better relatable experience to what they must go through, especially my spine injured clients. Only their pain doesn’t always resolve (and hopefully mine finally does) even with surgical intervention. All of my complaints – the lack of sleep, the emotional issues, the way a stupid tooth could interrupt my entire life – are very similar to the way our clients feel, daily. Even though it’s kind of terrible now, and I am writing this after waking up in agony in the middle of the night, I will feel better, or should, by next week. Our clients with permanent injuries won’t.
Although my wisdom tooth experience is a big, fat “I told you so” from everyone, it’s also a broader learning experience in the art of telling my client’s story. I’d like to even say this experience has made me a better trial lawyer. Let’s say that. And yes, I solemnly swear to make my dentist appointments on a regular basis from now on.
Making the leap from lady-boss-queen solo lawyer back to a law firm, and a large national law firm at that, should have been much more difficult. In theory, transitioning from the practice I had been building to one in existence longer than I have been in existence should have been a challenge. It really was not. I found my place and folded into it rather seamlessly. The most wonderful part of this whole change has been that I can once again sleep at night. I don't worry about making payroll or paying taxes (on everything). Now my worries are the normal trial lawyer worries, which are completely manageable. (Plus, there's scotch).
Perhaps, the greatest fear I had, which was instantly put to rest, was that I would lose my individuality as an attorney. My bosses assured me out of the gate that I was brought onto the team for who I am as much as for what they know I can do for the firm. In other words, I would not be hidden back within the shadows of a large firm where someone else more senior to me would take credit for my successes or ideas. I had been down that road before and certainly did not want to head back that way. And true to their word, my firm is clearly a place where growth is encouraged and there are wonderful incentives for hard work. I believe I have found my tribe and my home, legally speaking.
The challenge I needed to overcome in order to get myself to even knock on the door of opportunity was the feeling that I had failed as a small business person/girl boss. There was no mistaking it: I hated having to manage everything. Maybe if I had chosen a less litigation intensive practice area, I could have hung on longer, but I felt and have always felt an obligation to help people injured through no fault of their own. I have this mission to try to help make our communities safer by holding people who break safety rules accountable, whether that be drivers or business owners, medical professionals or hospitals and nursing homes. Real Estate closings have never been part of my vision.
Ultimately, I'm glad to have had the experience I did out on my own. I assembled a hard working and exceptionally smart team of legal assistants and paralegals who dedicated themselves to helping our clients, and who would go above and beyond for them and for me. To be sure, I learned that loyalty means a lot to me. And I also learned that people can be very self centered and selfish and have no problem taking advantage of you, despite having a front seat view of a situation. The answer to, "After everything I have done, this is how you treat me?" Is "Yup." (I didn't actually ask that question with those words to anyone, because that would have been very whiny and not lady boss-like.) That's an unfortunate trait of some humans. Some people have no problem taking.
People thought I was brave to go out on my own with nothing more than a really good stapler and a couple pens "borrowed" from the bank. Others thought I was an idiot with a pie-in the sky vision that was unsustainable. Well, rather than give in to the "I told ya so" crew, I'd rather chalk it all up to experience and say that I've come to the place I wanted to be because I had that vision. I grew from zero clients and files to a full filing cabinet of important cases in two short years. And I am now a partner with one of the most highly regarded injury law firms in NJ, maybe even the country. I get to collaborate with some of the best legal minds around on a daily basis. That's not bad, not bad at all. And I still have my really good stapler.
Note: More changes are coming soon. My amazing friends at BizBudding are reinventing my website, http://LaurenDFraser.com as a central hub for all my blog posts, past, present and future and all of my news about the law and my books. Be sure to check back periodically to see what's new. Stay safe out there and stay fierce.
Not to brag, but I will; a few weekends ago I ran a 5K Trail Race with some of my running friends. 3.2 miles through fields, up and down the side of a rocky, root covered, mountain. I haven't been running as much as I have in the past because we've had a ridiculously rainy summer and I've been busy doing other stuff, so I didn't expect very much in terms of being competitive in this race. Frankly, even when I have achieved some award at a race, it was not because I was expecting or even trying to run competitively. I never run expecting to win anything or beat anybody. I try to better my own time. And not die.
In any case, I received a medal - 2nd place in the 40-49 year old Female age group, about 2:30 minutes behind my friend, who won our age group. My team did really well, winning the Overall Male and Overall Female awards, plus 2nd Place Overall Female. I was proud of my team, and that's an understatement. I threw up a bunch of photos and posts on social media bragging on my winning team. And we all had my new law firm running shirts on, which made our success even sweeter.
After that morning, I felt good. Not only about how great my team did or adding another medal to my nifty wall display at the office (early relationship Christmas gift from my man-friend, Chester Copperpot), but I felt good that I accomplished something that I never thought I could; that other people told me I couldn't do for various reasons.
But then Monday came, and I received a nasty-gram in response to an email where I was attempting to be a nice person and give someone a way out of the bullshit swamp of lies he created, unfortunately in violation of a court ordered agreement we have. Part of his defense, as it usually is, is to distract from the issue by crapping on me. This is always infuriating, but this particular time it hit home. He was essentially calling me a failure. And suddenly, my cool 2nd place -running up a mountain - bad ass - winner medal didn't matter. Was he right?
As I sat at my desk reading and re-reading this paragraph - the "I told you so" part and the "you know as well as anyone how difficult building a law practice is from the ground up..." I started to doubt myself and my vision. Maybe he was right. Maybe I was biting off more than I could chew?
I went to grab lunch and run some errands. At the bank, as I made yet another deposit into my business account, I started chuckling. Then it was a good laugh, and I felt a little badly because the guy at the drive thru window probably thought I was laughing at him. It was a bit weird. But as I dropped my checks and deposit slip into the clear vacuum tube, it dawned on me; I was doing it. I was building my practice - with a little help from my friends, of course, but the vision was already taking shape. It's a slow build, like the slow clap in 90's teen movies after someone stands up for the weird kid.
One of the things I am trying to stop myself from doing is listening to anyone or anything - like the nasty voice in my head that sometimes tells me I can't do something - who isn't going to offer support. Undoubtedly, this vision of mine is the most difficult task I have ever tackled. But I'm doing it. I'm surrounded by supportive staff and colleagues who believe in my vision too.
At one point during my 3.2 miles up and down the mountain, I felt like I needed to stop. I turned my ankle a little weirdly on a wet rock and felt a pain up into my knee. I looked at my Garmin running watch and saw I only had about 1/2 a mile left. I could see the bright pink logo of my law firm in the woods ahead of me. The finish line - the goal - was up ahead, so I pushed through and kept going. I didn't set the world on fire with my finish time, but I finished.
I had been told that I would never be able to run trails or run at all. But I was doing it, improving with every attempt, and loving every moment. I get to do it with my good friends and my little girl.
So nasty emails and nasty voices can suck it! I'm going finish what I started. There is no doubt.
I remember it was a very clear day. Not a cloud in the sky as I pulled up to Cindy's apartment building at 7:30. I got out of my car to take off my jacket and realized there was something on my beige suit pants - of course. It was a full day of law school classes and then work on the main campus in the Office of Undergraduate Admission immediately after for both of us on that Tuesday, beginning with Tax Law at around 8:50 am.
I remember our tax professor wasn't there, which was odd because she was always early to class. When she swooped in late she apologized. There was something wrong with the trains heading out of the World Trade Center, she told us.
I remember Russ Cote talking at the back of the classroom, sitting in the top row, closest to the door with his laptop open. I remember him saying, "holy shit," and rushing over to the large window at the other end of the classroom. I remember him saying, "holy shit, a plane just hit the World Trade Center. It's on fire." I remember a few other classmates rushing to see and reiterating Russ', "holy shit" statement just as Dean Hobbs came into our 3rd floor classroom and said, "We need to evacuate. All Federal Buildings are being evacuated." Our school was attached to a Federal Building.
I remember grabbing my book, my notebook and Cindy and heading to the hallway to our lockers. I remember everyone speculating what happened as we stuffed books and sweatshirts into our backpacks. I remember knowing what had happened already and I remember feeling very sick.
I remember stopping in the student lounge where the news was on the large TV. Cindy gasped, "Brad is down there," she said. I assured her that he probably wasn't. And as we watched the replay of the second plane crashing into the south tower, one of the other women in the lounge realized her husband was there, working on the 77th floor.
I remember Dean Hobbs coming in and comforting her while telling the rest of us to get out of the building, we were under orders to evacuate. I pulled Cindy by the hand. "Let's go to the car and call Brad."
I remember the sirens, already, even in Newark as Cindy and I rushed with all of our books to my car parked in the NJPAC lot, a block away. I remember trying to call my friend Sam who took the train downtown every morning to go to his law school in NY. I couldn't get through. No calls were going through. I remember telling Cindy as she sat crying in my passenger seat, we'd call Brad from a landline when we got home.
I remember leaving Newark and looking in my rear view mirror at the NYC skyline that had been pristine and sparkling in the clear, blue day only 90 minutes before this. It was now a cloud of smoke. I remember thinking we were in some movie remake of Escape from New York.
I remember getting back to my apartment and immediately turning on the TV just in time to watch the south tower fall. I remember Cindy was hysterical now - she couldn't reach Brad. I told her he wasn't there, but I didn't know. I told her the trains stopped at 8:45 and he wasn't even leaving for work until 8:30, he was probably just stuck in Hoboken or Jersey City with his camera, doing his best to capture photos for the Associated Press. That made sense.
I remember calling Sam over and over and calling my fiance who was working in Jersey City. Where was everyone?
I remember seeing the planes hit the towers and explode over and over again, the people running, covered in white ash.
I remember my phone finally ringing around 2 pm. It was Sammy - he made it uptown. He had been exiting the World Trade Center from the train as the first plane hit, but he was fine. He ran and kept running and now he was in Brooklyn.
Then it was Pete calling about an hour later. He saw both planes hit from his office in Jersey City, directly across from downtown. He saw people jumping from the buildings to escape the fire and flames, but jumping to their deaths. He saw the people - both survivors and bodies come across the Hudson as a triage station was set up near his building. He saw the first tower fall and the second. He hitchhiked up the NJ Turnpike with a co-worker and a nice guy drove them to New Brunswick. He was at the old fraternity house, if I could come get him. I remember asking why he didn't just try to come home to South Orange and he said, "I couldn't think. I needed to go. The smell...it was like a barbecue and burnt hair..."
I remember Brad, who as I suspected, had never made it all the way to the city, came to my apartment to get Cindy around 4:30 and I left on an adventure to New Brunswick to recover Pete. I remember the Garden State Parkway was empty. I remember the guy on the radio telling me that the governor had issued a state of emergency and only essential vehicles would be permitted on the roads. Oops.
I remember reaching the fraternity house on College Avenue and hearing about so and so who didn't make it out or was missing. The guys sat together drinking crappy beer and smoking on the front porch. I sat down too and took a cup of whatever was in the keg and lit a Parliament. Every so often the silence was broken with someone yelling the F-word and declaring "this was bullshit."
I remember not saying a word but feeling the darkness of the world enveloping me and I was scared. I remember telling Pete, we should get home and seeing his face. He was scared too.
I remember the two days following 9/11. There was no school, no work. The super from my building knocked on our door one night and asked if we knew where the people in 303 were. How about the guy in 306? They hadn't been home since Tuesday morning.
I remember trying to return to business as usual in the days and weeks later. I remember my boss telling me someone from the FBI might want to talk to me about some of the international students I admitted to the undergraduate school over the last year. I remember being told to hold all applications from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and North Africa and put them aside. I remember thinking maybe I didn't want this job anymore.
It's difficult to believe that all of this happened 17 years ago today because I remember so much. I remember my drive from South Orange to Newark on Route 280 - how I loved to see the NYC skyline each morning because it reminded me of my grandfather and theater and excitement, and how for weeks, it was a cloud of smoke. I remember the burning smell. I remember the non-stop news coverage. And I remember the fear. No one spoke about it; we just felt it.
On this day that many of us remember so well, I still feel that pit of anxiety in my stomach, still. That desire to just cry over lost friends and family, over a lost sense of security hits me by 8 am every September 11th. I hate that this world is a dark place, full of dark, evil, psychotic people. But on this day, I also remember how the country came together. I remember that we still have our guys overseas hunting and fighting those dark, evil psychos. I may never feel as safe as I did on September 10, 2001, but there is some security knowing that as Americans, we fight back, we never give up and we never forget.
Despite what some people may believe, the first thing out of an injured client's mouth upon meeting with me is not "how much money can I get?" Frankly, if it was, I likely wouldn't interested in representing that client. In fact, it is not until I begin the conversation with them, usually prompted by some contact with the insurance adjuster for the other side, that the topic of compensation arises.
Something that most people (and even some out of state lawyers or lawyers who do not handle this kind of work) do not realize is that at the time of trial in a personal injury case, we cannot ask for a specific amount of money from a court or a jury to make up for what happened to an injured person. We can't even tell the jury that 1) there is insurance (although most people kind of figure this out) or 2) how much insurance there is. All that we are permitted to tell the jury is that they are responsible for deciding how much money an injured person should receive for what happened to him. All they are allowed to consider are the harms and losses to that person. That's it. Nothing else.
But for pre-trial settlement purposes, how do we measure the value of a personal injury case? A number of different factors weigh into this analysis and here are some of them:
1. Who's fault was the accident? Liability is the first question I have to answer for a jury if and when a case goes to trial. If an accident is caused by the injured person, there is no need for me to continue the conversation. For one thing, I can't take that case on and represent that person. If you cause your own injury, you are not entitled to compensation (except in super rare instances that I'm not going to bother discussing here). Liability has to rest with some other person or entity. An accident needs to be through no fault of the injured person (or limited fault at most) in order to even have a case worth pursuing. So as long as we know someone else is responsible for the bad thing that happened, we are in good shape.
2. What are the extent of the injuries? This is a little tricky and relies heavily on objective medical evidence which includes Xrays, MRIs, CT scans and other diagnostic tools that can show an injury to a doctor. If a client has broken a bone, that bone will likely and hopefully heal with the right treatment. But some injuries, like injuries to the spine in the form of herniated discs or even bulging discs in some instances, tend to be permanent injuries. A permanent injury has greater "value" than an injury that can be healed or cured. And that just makes sense because the impact on a person's life will be more significant when they have a permanent spinal injury in their neck vs. a broken arm.
3. What are the harms and losses? Harms and losses are the things that throw a person's life off balance resulting from an injury. If you think about an injured person's life as the scales of justice, for every bad thing that has resulted from a car crash; pain and suffering, the inability to take part in activities and hobbies, the loss of the enjoyment of life, etc..., compensation has to weigh as much as the harms to bring the person's life back into balance. A jury's verdict has to weigh as much as the harm done.
Everyone's life is different - what we do, how we live - so how an injury affects a person's life is going to be an individualized analysis. At least in my geographic area, injured people who give up their life activities and stop working are not well compensated by juries. But injured people who try to continue their lives despite their injuries, limitations and discomfort tend to obtain better results at trial. I think this has to do with the fact that no one likes a quitter - hard work is rewarded. Obviously, in some cases, working becomes impossible for some injured people, or at least working the job they had - especially when an injured person owns their own business or it's physical in nature. By and large though, a client who describes their life as full and active before a car crash and almost completely empty after, despite a zillion attempts to perform household and recreational activities with their family, tends to do better in front of a jury.
4. What are the policy limits? As I have said before, this is an insurance world, we just live in it. The policy limits of both the person who caused the crash and the injured person weigh into the analysis of settlement value. If the person who caused the crash (lets call him the "tortfeasor,"because that's what we learned to call that person in law school) has a liability policy of insurance on his vehicle of $100,000.00 per person and the injured person has an underinsured policy with $250,000.00 with his insurance, the available insurance coverage in NJ is $250,000.00 because we go with whoever has the higher amount. So if a person is significantly injured, they can conceivably collect $100,000.00 from the tortfeasor and an additional $150,000.00 from their own policy. This is a pre-trial resolution without the necessity of hiring many experts or incurring much expense. Of course, most cases do not resolve very quickly or easily, but at times we are guided by the policy limits in the case as we attempt to resolve the case without the necessity of litigation.
5. What are the jury verdicts or settlements in our area for similar cases? In order to determine a range of possible settlement values, smart lawyers always do (or should always do) a jury verdict search to determine the ranges or possibilities of a verdict. We look up similar injuries, demographic information and the like to get an idea of "what a case is worth." Again, every case and every jury is different so being definitive is not possible. However, researching prevailing values of settlements and verdicts can help resolve a case with an insurance company for the policy limits. It can also help maintain a substantial verdict if the defense appeals it on the premise that "it's too much money."
When you are living with a permanent injury that you got because someone else was negligent, it's really a life sentence to live with pain, discomfort and limitations. I tell clients and juries alike, "If we could go back in time and stand at Bob's front porch on December 13, 2015 and tell him, 'Bob, if you leave the house now, you will be involved in a bad car wreck that will change your life forever,' we would do that, but we can't. The best we can do and the best our system of justice allows is to help balance the harms and losses in Bob's life with a money amount equal to those harms and losses."
Our current system of injury compensation in NJ is largely based upon available insurance, unless you are unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to get rear-ended by a Vanderbilt or a Kennedy or someone with substantial assets. Ultimately, a time machine where we could go back and change the history of a crash or a fall would be the way any of my injured clients would prefer to deal with their claims. No one wants to live with a permanent injury. The struggle is with the insurance companies to get them to fairly evaluate and compensate an injury claim; the insurance industry for unfairly trying to poison our jury pools, spreading propaganda about "fraud" or "mayhem;" and then with the jury to offer enough information allowing it to compensate an injured person in a way that will bring their life into balance.
This is a challenging struggle to which I have devoted my career, pursuing justice and fairness on behalf of injured people. On one hand, I'm somewhat glad the insurance companies are so unfair at times because their "no pay" or "deny, delay, defend" attitudes provide me with a job. On the other hand, I kind of want to send some of the remote adjusters who refuse to be reasonable a tray of cookies laced with laxatives. Luckily for them, I don't bake.
I cut bangs yesterday. Well, this time, I had a professional at Mancuso Salon, across the street from my law office, cut my bangs. You see friends, I have a history of drinking wine and taking paper scissors to the front of my hair to create that "edgy, bad ass Lauren" look to reflect my insides. That choice always goes badly for me. I regret it almost immediately and tell my friends, "next time I say I want bangs, remind me that I definitely don't want bangs."
"I think I'm going to get bangs," I reported to my office earlier this week. Because my staff genuinely cares for my well being (and know very well how this potential decision can affect their well being at the office - more complaining than usual from the ol' boss lady), they immediately reminded me I should not do that. I showed them the pictures I had pinned from Pinterest...
"But look, my hair can do this. This can work this time," I declared confidently.
"That's what you said the last time," replied Benjamin. He's right, I did.
"It's going to be different this time, I know it!"
Trying to convince me that I'm wrong might be the most difficult task anyone can undertake. Certainly when I am wrong about something, I admit it and move on from it eventually. I have been very, very wrong about many, many things. "Trump is never going to make it past the GOP Primary." Wrong. "A lease is fine. I definitely won't go over my miles in the first 18 months I drive the car." Wrong again.
So I felt for my co-workers and my amazing boyfriend as I sat in my stylist's chair and watched 6 inches of hair fall in front of me. Bangs. Boom. There I was. New look, new attitude.
It amazes me that all it takes to remind me I'm a bad- ass- lady- lawyer- boss- babe is to change my look a little. I thought the tattoo I got last November would do the trick, but when I tell people what it is, a Celtic Mother Daughter symbol, the reaction I get is not "Whoa! That's bad ass," it's, "That is so sweet." No people, tattoos are not sweet. Damnit! (When my mom saw it, she had a different reaction of course. And now I can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery since I've desecrated my body and stuff. Sorry mom. I'm probably too bad ass for a Jewish cemetery anyway, membership in my HS Marching Band, notwithstanding.)
Pleased with my new look, I took a selfie. I have so many photographer friends, I have picked up a few pointers on lighting so I turned around awkwardly and shot my selfie. Pretty, pretty, pretty good if you ask me. Then I did what any self respecting middle-aged bad ass woman would do, I filtered it and posted it on Instagram.
Then I sent it as a text to Benjamin and some of my closest friends. The compliments poured in from all over - "Love it!" "Sexy" "You look beautiful..." My expanding head was deflated back to its normal proportions when Benjamin responded:
"Did you use a filter?"
Him: "Don't lie to me."
Me: "Fine. Yes. I filtered it to post it on Instagram." (Note: Instagram filters are really flattering, especially if you adjust the light and color...)
Benjamin knows me and is also intimately familiar with my face. Specifically, he is fully conscious of the field of zits inhabiting my chin following this months break-out, that happened to be missing from this photo - makeup helps hide them, but they are a vicious gang of hormone induced jerks. The largest of the group, the leader, is an angry zit that communicates in three languages. It's disturbing.
In any case, my admission that I filtered and doctored my photo brought on immense guilt. Would a true bad-ass lady post a misleading photo of herself just to get compliments from the social media community? I felt like a jerk. Not only am I not getting buried in a Jewish cemetery, but I'm letting down feminists and woman-kind. Why did I even get out of bed today? (I remember, because it was bangs day.)
I proceeded to try to redeem my reputation, at least with my best friend and love of my life, and sent him the original, unfiltered version of the photo. Really, it wasn't that bad. You can kind of see the zits (yay for Younique BB Cream and cover-up) and you can definitely see that my face isn't smooth or laugh-line/wrinkle free as the filtered version would make you believe. I vowed to Benjamin that I would clear up my misleading photo with a blog post, and here we are.
Here's the thing: I don't know a lot of celebrities or even friends who don't use a filter when they post a photo on social media these days. The technology exists to make ourselves look younger, thinner, prettier, smarter (You can actually add glasses to your face on Snapchat and some other apps), so why shouldn't we use it? And we're all doing it. What's the harm?
The harm is, we are all living by comparison and hurting ourselves emotionally and mentally. We are so obsessed with what everyone else looks like or has in their lives because of social media, that we worry ourselves - make ourselves sick over it whether we realize it or not.
The filtered, Facebook lives of some of our friends would make us believe they are happy, sun-kissed, smooth - skinned, fit-model millionaires. And we are big, wrinkled, frizzy haired, poor losers with boring lives, crappy jobs and terrible kids. Newsflash friends- that's all a bunch of crap! All of it.
Here's the thing, only the most honest, good humored, bad-ass, balls to the wall, people out there will ever admit to the world of social media that things aren't going that great. Sure, we've got those friends who occasionally surf Pinterest at night searching for quotes and memes to passively aggressively inform our loved ones that "We deserve better than this." (Me) And we have those friends who over-share stories of the horrors of child-rearing at times giving the impression that the State should probably intervene. (Also me). The rest of us are wimps. We are. Or more accurately perhaps, we don't want to burden the world with news of how crappy our day just went or how bad our hair looks. Social Media typically reflects the very best moments in people's lives.
It's not that we are lying about our lives on social media or intentionally misleading people (I hope), it's just that we want to share the things we are most proud of - we ran an ultra race, graduated from college, our kid kicked ass at his piano recital, it's our anniversary, no one threw up today (moms, you feel me). But the filters change that concept. Now, we're being a little misleady (not a word, I know, just work with me language purists.).
And I'm not judging. I'm not saying don't filter. I'm not saying I'm going to stop filtering my posted pictures when necessary. What I am saying is, don't believe the "fake news" that you see and for the love of Peter Griffin, do not let that sh*t get you down. Envy is a dangerous vice. Please don't get caught up in other people's fantasy worlds and believe you are somehow inferior or insignificant in your life. Don't compare, even though it is so difficult to avoid those feelings.
See through the filters, click on "like" (because that is the polite thing to do) and remember we are all just trying to do our best to get by each day. Then jump over to Snapchat and take a bad ass selfie of yourself as an adorable woodland creature. Life can never be that bad when you are disguised as a little bunny.
Two years ago today, I went to a surprise 50th birthday party for the boyfriend of one of my favorite human friends. I had met the boyfriend many years before at a mutual friend's party, before he and my girlfriend began dating, and then one other time while they were dating. Needless to say, I was definitely not someone he would expect to see at this somewhat intimate surprise celebration on a party bus headed to a boardwalk bar at the NJ Shore.
My girlfriend and I had reconnected recently over shared life experiences and she invited me to her beloved's celebration because a) based on our conversations, it sounded like I needed to get out, let loose and have fun, and b) she had a couple cancellations and needed to fill the bus to be able to foot the bill. So I said "yes" not knowing it was going to be the greatest "yes" I had ever uttered (or one of the best...and I don't mean that in a pervy, sexy way...). This "yes" with surprisingly little hesitation given the fact that I knew maybe two other people going to this party (because we are related) has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made to date (going from blonde to brunette, notwithstanding) and it almost didn't happen.
The anxiety cocktail kicked in a few days before the event. My inner voices were explaining why this party was going to be a bad idea: 1) I don't know anyone; 2) the birthday boy probably won't even remember meeting me; 3) what if the people suck? I'm trapped on a bus for 2.5 hours each way; 4) I'm not going to have fun - I don't even like the shore 5) it's going to be super hot and humid, my hair will be out of control and nobody needs to see that...I needed to tell my girlfriend I wasn't going to make it after all. This party thing was a dumb idea.
But first, I asked my sister how I should approach the subject. My sister and brother in law were also going to the party, and both of them mocked me until I relented. "Fine! I'll go, but you jerks better hang out with me at this thing." (Spoiler alert: They didn't.) The morning of the surprise, I was still wrestling with the idea of sending the "I'm so sorry, something came up. Have fun" text ten minutes before bus boarding time.
So I show up and step onto the bus. I sat down and started chatting with a woman who I recognized from the women's club tennis team I had been occasionally playing with that spring and summer. The bus began filling with a lot of people who seemed to know each other. I could feel myself sweating already. This was going to be a long ride.
Three guys got on the bus together. I made eye contact with one of them and internally chastised myself. Meeting guys and talking to them were really not on my agenda. I had been separated for quite a while, my ex already seriously dating someone else, and I had just very emotionally ended a dead-end relationship of my own. Flirting or having conversations with men were not part of my plan to remain heartbroken and miserable. But I wasn't going to be rude.
One of the guys asked if the seat next to me was taken. I probably stuttered something stupid, because I am so smooth. And he began to chat me up, but first offered to get me a beer. I liked him already. He asked me some stuff as the noise level on the bus began to rise. I explained that I had just returned from LA a few days before having spoken at a national lawyers' convention and I was also there to meet with my writing partner. He didn't seem all that impressed with that information, nor did he ask any follow up questions. Instead, he excused himself and went to talk to another woman directly across from us. "Nice talking to you, too, buddy!"
My brother in law took pity on me and led me to where he and my sister were seated. I was introduced to a bunch of very nice people, most of whom were members of the trail running club to which I now belong. When we finally reached our destination, I felt comfortable enough having met these nice people, to continue conversing. It looked as though I might actually enjoy myself, which was something I had found impossible at social events, by myself. Perhaps today was the exception. (Also: I had a few IPAs in me from the bus ride. Feeling pretty, pretty, pretty good.)
I headed to the bar and the guy from the bus offered to buy me a Summer Shandy. That was nice. I went off and danced with my girlfriend, my sister and some of my new acquaintances and noticed the guy seemed to be watching me. I asked my sister "what's his deal?" Her response was "not your type." Sounded like a challenge. Unfortunately, I was not up for challenges. It didn't fit with my current "miserable and heartbroken" self.
At one point in the afternoon, I needed some fresh Jersey Shore, Boardwalk air. Outside I went. "Bus boy" found me there and asked to join me. We picked up on the small talk sitting on a boardwalk bench.
I learned that he was my younger sister's age; he learned and was surprised I was not 25 (marry me?), had a kid and was dealing with a divorce. He suggested we get a giant slice of pizza (again, marry me?) and the conversation continued. He lived in my old hometown, owned his own home, had a dog, was very close with his family, had a Masters degree...then one of the women I had been dancing with earlier came up to us and reported there was another band and dancing on the roof and we should go do that. Of course we should. He tells me "I don't really dance." I tell him, "I most seriously do." He danced.
In fact, we danced until it was time to leave. Back on the bus, I hoped the night never would end, and by some strange magic, it hasn't. Since that day, two years ago, there hasn't been a day we have not been in contact. We started seeing each other as friends and then started dating a month later. Another month later it was just him and me.
Looking back now on what we count as our anniversary day, I realize just how one tiny decision to not be an anti-social loser has led to a whole new and amazing life experience. I wasn't expecting that getting on a party bus with a bunch of strangers would now be one of the best choices I have ever made. I was looking for "Benjamin" and I found him. I also found 40 + new friends and running buddies.
I'm a risk taker, as we all know - primarily in non-life threatening situations - and when it came to relenting and getting on that bus, the juice was worth the squeeze. The internal struggle- "what if this is terrible vs. what if this is wonderful " played out in my mind the days before the party.
Once we have a positive experience from taking a chance, even as seemingly innocuous as just saying yes to a party invitation (and actually showing up), taking other risks becomes easier. The risk of starting my own law firm, for example, although continuously terrifying and challenging, became an easier "yes" because the internal "what if this sucks vs. what if it's awesome" conflict became easier to resolve. Most things are difficult- work, relationships, living an authentic life, running up a mountain - so the fear of something being terrible can be overcome with the possibility of it being the best thing ever. Little chances we take can sometimes result in big, rewards.
Like anybody in a relationship, we aren't perfect, but we have had some truly perfect moments. We make a great team. I am grateful and incredibly proud to have this wonderful man on my side and at my side.
Benjamin hates when I make public proclamations of love and get all mushy-gushy, but it's our special day so I think he'll give me a pass this time.
I'm just so glad you were on that bus. xoxoxo
This week marks fifteen years since I sat for that most dreaded and traumatic test - the NJ Bar Exam. I recall leaving the testing site, a large convention center in Somerset, NJ at the end of the first day, bypassing all of the "what did you put for that question about riparian rights...?" conversations, lighting a cigarette (because I was still affected and bad ass back then. Couldn't breathe, but I looked cool I guess), getting into my car and melting down. Like, hard-core, ugly cry meltdown.
I left law school in early June with one piece of paper that certified my graduation from the Seton Hall School of Law and another piece of paper informing me I owed nearly a gazillion-dollars in student loan debt. Not passing the bar exam this round was not a viable option, yet it felt like a distinct possibility in that moment.
Of course, I passed the test, although the almost four months between taking the test and receiving the results were some of the most stressful of my life (back then, anyway). I am still traumatized by the overwhelming feeling that I had failed. It was not as though I hadn't bombed a test before, after all Chemistry 2 in college was the reason I was led away from Science toward the Liberal Arts. But this test meant everything and believing I had not prepared well enough was a difficult pill to swallow after I sacrificed my summer and my relationship at the time. I was grateful to have passed. The experience gave me the drive to go back to my overachieving roots and work harder than the guy next to me as I pursued my career. That's exactly what I did.
Completing my clerkship and being told by my judge that I was probably her best law clerk in twenty some years on the bench was an amazing way to begin my career path at a very prestigious local law firm. I worked very hard for her during my short year and took my position very seriously, clearing her backlogged docket before I ended my term.
As a law clerk, I was able to watch lawyers - some very seasoned, bright and professional and others not so much - appear before judge and jury in the courtroom. What I found somewhat odd was that from September 2003-August 2004, I saw no positive verdicts for injured people. None.
When I asked my judge if that was "normal" she informed me that it was. "People around here just don't want to give money to people hurt in car accidents," she told me. So I knew what area of law I wanted to avoid if I was to pay back my exorbitant law school debt.
Of course, as I entered the first weeks of my law firm job, I was assigned to the attorney who worked in Personal Injury. I could already tell that my time at this firm would be short given the modest starting salary and the clear way I was being set up to fail. Thanks for the opportunity, old white guys. But it proved to be an incredible opportunity to use my knowledge and skills as a newly minted lady lawyer.
At the time I began in private practice, in order for an auto crash case to even make it before a judge and jury, it had to get passed a two-prong test - the plaintiff had to prove a permanent injury causally related to the crash and that the injury had a substantial and serious impact upon the life of the plaintiff. It was an objective and subjective test that was a matter of law, and a judge, not the jury, would decide these issues before a plaintiff was permitted his/her day in court. And this standard applied to an injured person if he/she happened to select the "Verbal Threshold" or "Limitation on Lawsuit Option" when signing up for mandatory car insurance. This "option," we were all told, made our premiums much lower. What we were never told by our insurance sales people and brokers was that this option also limited our ability to seek compensation for injuries caused by someone else.
Much of my work as a law clerk had been writing statements of reasons and opinions for my judge on these issues when insurance defense lawyers would file motions for summary judgment to help dismiss a case before trial. I recall debating my judge on what "substantial impact" on a plaintiff's life truly meant, based on other courts' opinions and dicta.
The decisions often were boiling down to whether or not the plaintiff sufficiently described her life at her deposition to the judge's satisfaction. Something did not sit well with me as I argued with my judge that a person who used to play golf at least once a week and now could only play once in a while because of his injury was substantially impacted. Her response was, "but he can still play golf."
We battled over whether to dismiss a case or not based on the law and the facts. I lost a lot of those battles to my judge, but I took the experience of knowing how she ruled on these issues to my new law firm job. I was able to successfully argue against any motion for summary judgment by a defense lawyer in a car crash case and win my client the opportunity to have his/her day in court leading to some of the highest verdicts and settlements for those types of cases my firm had ever obtained. Yay, me!
The good news was, this nearly impossible standard, obviously drafted by legislators in the back pocket of the auto insurance industry was eliminated only a few years into my new attorney associate position. But the task of overcoming juror bias against people who bring lawsuits and overcoming the insurance industry's propaganda campaign, that anyone involved in a car crash is either not injured or attempting to commit fraud, still proved to be challenging.
This challenge of bringing justice to people who's lives have been thrown off balance by the bad choices of someone else became my professional crusade. What made the "good fight" an even better fight for me was that I help injured people in my own community.
In grammar school, high school, college and even in law school, I was involved in student government. Now as a seasoned professional, I am technically re-involved in "student council" with my involvement with the New Jersey State Bar Association, the NJ Association for Justice and the American Association for Justice. These groups are dedicated to helping to provide access to justice for everyone. The vast majority of professionals I have met from these groups from across the country have been incredibly generous with their time and experience, offering advice and counsel on handling cases for injured people.
I still pay my law school student loans every month, but I'm happy to do it to be involved with such great professionals and grateful clients as we whittle away at the billion dollar insurance industry's strong hold on justice and fairness. It's definitely the good fight.
Life lately has been a bit "extra" as my young and hip millennial friends would say. Extra stressful, extra busy and also extra challenging and exciting, with a sprinkle of fun here and there. Running a business has still to prove itself as the "ultimate, best professional decision I have ever made," as my friend and mentor has referred to her experience. I eat, sleep and dream budgets and payroll and taxes. And then, there are my cases and my clients - each amazing and challenging in their own right.
This new adventure brings with it so many more worries than I ever had to deal with when I was at my old firm (at the big firm, there were plenty of other frustrations, but it's been over a year since I've had to concern myself with those. Bygones.). But since re-branding and reorganizing this spring, the office is a much more enjoyable place to work for me and my amazing team. And we have lots of snacks.
Unfortunately, the stresses of trying to build something from nothing have been taking their toll on me. I have seemed to have lost the ability to just say no to the office snacks, late night snacks, early afternoon snacks, mid morning snacks, basically any and all snacks. I've also lost the ability to regain my after work routines.
I've been "leaning" into everything this year because that bad ass lady book told me to. I've been stressing myself out with no consistent outlet to release that stress. I'm a hands on person with everything in my life and as my stress level rose to an all time high, a few months ago, I recognized that perhaps it was time to lean back, rather than lean in so far.
Business stuff aside, everything else was driving me bananas from my relationships to dealing with my ex, to my family. As usual, I'm helping to put out fires everywhere else as smoke is starting to seep out of my own roof, but the hose has a kink in it.
Probably around Mothers Day (partly because I liked the symbolic nature and partly because I like to ruin holidays - not really, but it's been known to happen), I threw down the gauntlet. I was tired of not getting what I wanted and needed. So in a classic "F that S" moment (my mom says she has really had enough of my bad language. I call bulls*#t, but whatevs...I'll try to contain myself. Although I should point out that my mom made me ride the bus to school through High School and as everyone and their much more tolerant mothers understand, nothing good happens on the school bus, and no good things are learned. I can directly correlate my colorful vocabulary to daily bus rides. Mom, you have no one else to blame but yourself. You're welcome.)
...sorry, I digressed...I basically dropped the mic on everything and everyone that weekend and that week. Enough was enough. Tired of giving and not getting, I decided to be honest with myself and everyone around me. No, I wasn't ok; no, everything isn't fine...and here's how I really feel.
Not only did I feel better, I started seeing results from my candid communication. I wasn't accusatory - after all, it's not their fault I was giving in to everyone else's needs and wants and losing myself - I was just honest. Finding myself making decisions based on what everyone else wanted was not working for my well being. So, I told everyone, I was no longer going to do that. Life and relationships in families and among friends is about compromise, but I was done compromising when no else was willing to do it for me.
When we stop to remember that our well being isn't optional and putting everyone else first, while it may seem heroic and selfless, is not good for us, we can begin to lean back, relax and enjoy life. It always goes back to setting reasonable personal boundaries and saying "no" whenever we can to the things that do not bring us joy so that we can say "yes" to the things that do. Being upfront about what we want and expect from a relationship - whether it be a spouse or significant other or even a parent - can be likewise liberating.
I still have more work to do in this area, especially where my relationships are concerned - I totally treasure the invention of caller ID - but finally being able to say "this is what I want; this is what I need and if you're not going to honor that, it's ok but don't expect to spend time with me/for me to do what you want because I deserve to receive what I am asking of you" seems to have everyone in my life on the same page as me.
I sent this text to a family member last week: "you're asking me to rearrange my schedule for you again, but you have refused to accommodate my schedule when I ask the same thing of you. I would appreciate it if I can expect the same level of compromise and respect from you going forward." More on-edge, frustrated Lauren, might have sent an accusatory, "you always do this to me! Go figure it out!" type text (and I know this because that's what happened the week before. That reaction got me no where but elbow deep in a bag of Tostitos), but I took a breath and sent what I sent. I suppose that message resonated because I leaned back and opened up honestly.
I equate the concept of leaning back to opening up, of being forthright. Perhaps leaning back is equal parts honesty and settling the F down (yup, there it is again, mom). I cannot expect the people around me to stop taking advantage of my accommodating nature when I do not set the boundaries that would prevent that from occurring. Perhaps my insecurities have interfered with my ability to do this. Fearing losing a relationship or angering someone by telling them how I truly feel has prevented me from being forthright in the past. But I'm working on it.
Those of you who follow me on social media may have noticed a change in logo and law firm name. While I quietly tried to make the transition to my new "next, big thing" I soon recognized that nothing I do is quiet. I have no inside voice. Ask my sisters who have no problem shushing me in public and reminding me, "that's not a whisper, dummy."
Alas, I am proud to announce the dawn of The Fraser Firm, Attorneys at Law, LLC. And by "attorneys" I pretty much mean me, but my amazingly talented lady lawyer friend and colleague, Luisa Fuentes is also joining me, of counsel, in this new venture. My former lady lawyer partner has chosen to pursue her real estate practice on her own, in a new space, and we wish her well in those endeavors.
We have a new logo and symbol, designed by my super talented lady boss friend, Jennifer Dahl Domaracki of Dahl House Designs. And we some new practice areas - Injury Law, Family Law, Child Advocacy Law, Municipal Court and Criminal Law. Our main focus continues to be providing effective advocacy for the members of our community.
I love, love, love working with the ladies in my office. They are super smart, funny, fun, compassionate and hard working. Coming in every day is a pleasure that I look forward to each morning. We are a great team - everyone chips in to make sure whatever needs to be done for our clients, gets done and whatever needs to get done for the office gets done.
But the lady boss struggle is real. The "any boss" struggle is real, actually. There are times when I'm like, "man, I wonder what the boss would say about this?" and then I remember, that's me. Crap. I have to run payroll and pay the vendors and utilities. I have to buy the equipment and furniture and plastic spoons we never seem to have enough of and the copier paper. I have to create the marketing plan, execute it and pay for it. And I have to run a law practice. I need an adult. This is crap.
Over the years, I have been relatively successful in creating partnerships through my establishment of WEN (the Women's Entrepreneurial Network) as well as my relationships with other professionals and lawyers throughout the country. Something that has really motivated me to tighten my belt even more and keep going as a lady entrepreneur are those connections, many of whom have really come through with tremendous advice, support and case referrals.
Starting a business from literally nothing (although I did manage to bring my really good stapler from the old firm, so I did have that) has been the most difficult and stressful thing I have ever tried to do. It's expensive and is requiring far more sacrifice than I was willing to acknowledge or able to foresee at the outset of this adventure. Having no financial safety net is no picnic either. Banks don't lend to risky endeavors like personal injury law practices. They just don't.
So as I struggle to accept that manicures and pedicures are actually luxuries and not necessities and that I may have bitten off just about as much as I can chew here, I am still inspired not to "sell out" and join another stuffy, big firm. My vision for an all woman trial law practice was and still is an important goal. There aren't enough of us out there - or perhaps the opportunity to be a trial lawyer while still being a mom and ninja warrior at some other guy's law firm isn't a viable option, as I found. I believe we have to create our own opportunities and make our own way. So that's what I am attempting to provide with my firm; a platform for lady trial lawyers to start something new, that's all their own.
I suppose if it was easy, everyone would be doing it and The Fraser Firm wouldn't be all that special. But we are special and we have something special here. That much I know. Our struggle will be soon celebrated in a year or so when my vision has truly come to fruition. For now, we will eat Mac n Cheese, drink store brand seltzer and work harder than we ever have to make the dream a reality.
I know, I'm on kind of a love kick. With the state of the world where it is - increased violence everywhere, terror, clowns running our government both nationally and at the state and local levels, (sorry, not trying to get political, but WTF people? Is this the best we can come up with America?) and everyone angry about something, there is a comfort in knowing at the end of the day we get to shut out the world and spend quality time watching "Stranger Things" on Netflix with someone we love.
So everything sucks. The world sucks. The dinner I just made sucks. And it's November, cold and dark and watching Winona Ryder as "Joyce" is as stressful as reviewing my depleted bank account statement. Oh and the Kindle battery is dead. What to do?
Shuffling through my limited apartment library (Note to everyone: when I climb out of this temporary hole in the upside-down, my library is going to be pretty off the hook. Maybe not "Beast" library off the hook, which has always been my dream, but it's going to be good.), I found my copy of Gary Chapman's book, "The Five Love Languages." This book came recommended to me a long time ago by a lot of people who had gone through rough patches in their relationships and thought at that time, it could help me. Shocker, it didn't. Not because it isn't a good book with very helpful insights, but because at that time in my life, what I believed to be a rough patch was actually the eye of the shit-storm. Rediscovering why we "fell in love" and bringing that love back was NOT at the top of my priority list back then. I had other discoveries to make.
Nevertheless, something drew me back to this book and I'm glad I re-read it. It's about communication, something I always thought I was fairly adept at. But really, I'm good at talking and never shutting the hell up, as most people will tell you. Professionally and in the court room, I have the innate ability to know when I've made my point, should shut up and sit down. Personally, as we all know, I overshare and can chat your ear off. I know. That's a major flaw of mine and on the top of my "To Do List" for being less of an assh*le in life.
Communicating my needs in a relationship however, is something I have never been good at and the reason why goes back to overthinking (Should I say that? Will that make him mad at me? Is it too much? Will he think I'm being too needy or too selfish? Will he think I'm crazy? Does he even feel that way about me?) Sometimes I say way, way too much too soon. Other times, I don't say enough.
If I just relax and let relationships develop organically, probably a lot of the second guessing wouldn't happen. Reading about the 5 Love Languages was a helpful exercise, surprisingly. As described in the book, the 5 Love Languages are: Words of Affirmation (more than just saying I love you, giving compliments and encouragement, showing gratitude and appreciation); Quality Time (eliminating distractions and spending time doing things you both enjoy doing together and having meaningful conversations); Receiving Gifts (meaningful tokens and expressions of love, not necessarily jewelry or cars); Acts of Service (doing the things your partner needs and wants help doing like chores or child care); and Physical Touch (physical intimacy, hand holding, touching).
The kicker is realizing that your partner may not speak the same love language you do. For me, I appreciate all 5, but the two I need most to "fill me empty tank," as Chapman refers to it, according to his quiz are first Physical Touch followed by Words of Affirmation, and those make sense.
Intimacy is an important part of any relationship, certainly. Holding hands has more intimate meaning for me than sex. When someone wraps me in their arms and I can feel, touch and smell them, there is a magical feeling I get, like electricity. Not with anyone, obviously, but without wandering into TMI territory, when Benjamin holds me, everything that was ever wrong with me, with him or with us, is just right. Just watching TV with his hand on my knee brings me a peace that I don't believe I have ever experienced before. It's special, it's real, it's safe, and it feels like home. It's a reassurance of his love. No words, just a feeling.
Words of Affirmation also makes perfect sense for me. My greatest complaint in any relationship I have had is not feeling appreciated and feeling I was being taken for granted. Saying thank you for something someone is doing or has done for us should not be so difficult and yet, some people just can't get to a point where they can say, "Hey, that thing you did for me that you didn't have to do, thank you."
As I was reading this portion of the book, I started reflecting on all the times I had been disappointed in a relationship because I would do, do, do and receive no acknowledgement whatsoever. It led to resentment and the breakdown of the relationship. I felt invisible, like an employee or a roommate. And for whatever reason, reaching for someone's hand and having them not take mine is as hurtful as telling me they don't love me.
So what if you do all those things, hold hands, have intimate moments, tell each other "thank you" for all the things we appreciate and the other person still isn't happy? Chapman says it's because we're not speaking the same love language. What one of us needs to fill the empty tank may be different than what someone else needs and we need to discover that other language to revive the love that began at the outset of the relationship.
Chapman reminds us that the first year of a relationship is about "falling in love" and it's fleeting. It's not what real love is. We are so busy trying to get to know the other person and letting them "check all of our love boxes" that we just fall into them. It's exciting - we do everything we can to impress them and we create a chemistry through activities that bond us to one another. But once life and reality begins to set in, those falling in love feelings dissipate, which is the natural course. And that's when relationships worth keeping reveal themselves, but they take work - hard work.
Part of this hard work is recognizing and respecting the other person's language of love and then learning to speak it. What every person needs is different and saying "we're too different, I can't give you what you need" is too easy if a relationship is worth holding on to and growing. But we have to want to open communication with the other person.
Sadly, some people are just too selfish or even narcissistic to ever truly want to or try to give themselves to another person and give that person what they need too. But thinking about the people who recommended this book to me, many of whom were facing divorce, affairs and general misery in their marriages, I realize that the insights in this book are worth considering. Figuring out your own love language and letting your partner know what it is apparently repaired at least three relationships of which I am aware. They're better than ever, in fact.
When we meet someone and start dating them, we don't always fall head over heels in love. Even me! Shocking, I know. But when we do, there is something special there and something worth saving. Communicating how we feel seems to be one of the greatest tools we have to keep the love flower alive and blooming.
For Gary Champman's quiz on Discovering Your Love Language, visit here: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/couples/.
I was lucky this year. My favorite Disney story was released in the movie theaters the weekend of my birthday. The live-action Beauty and the Beast (plus popcorn, Twizzlers and dinner) was an awesome gift. And the fact that Benjamin would take me, made it an even better treat.
It's a powerful story of true love - going beyond the surface and loving someone for who they really are. From the very beginning of the story, when the question "how could anyone ever love a beast?" is asked and we find him to be an unbearable, angry and cold creature, I think we subconsciously hope that he pulls it together to become prince charming. This is Disney, after all.
We find both Belle and the Beast to be incredibly stubborn. Naturally, she's kind of peeved to be the prisoner and he's just, well a beast. And we see it again when they argue about whose fault it is that he was attacked by wolves. "It wouldn't have happened if you didn't try to escape" and "I wouldn't have had to try to escape if..." But we also see that there is more to both of them - Belle could have run off once the Beast beat up the wolves, but she didn't and he didn't have to go looking for her, but knowing it was unsafe outside his castle walls, he did. And then she stayed to tend to his wounds. Kindness goes a long way in opening a person's eyes and heart.
And then we watch their friendship develop. He gives her his library. "Do you like it? Then it's yours?" They realize they share a love of books - adventures and romance (she catches him reading about Lancelot and Guenevere, probably one of the most classically tragic and romantic stories ever). Suddenly, this prison in which Belle is trapped offers her the freedom to be herself, to read and dream and share this passion with someone else.
Belle sees the depth of his soul, the hidden romance and passion and the kindness. She finds her soul mate in a creature who could not even love himself let alone anyone else. But she tames the beast inside of him, bringing out his best qualities. And he accepts the "peculiar girl." Of course in true Disney fashion, she saves him with "true love's kiss," breaks the curse and they live happily ever after.
Seeing through someone's beast-like qualities, which I'm sure we all possess at some level, to their heart and soul is the essence of true love. Accepting someone, all of someone - their flaws and demons, the little annoying things they do and quirks they have, the times they have hurt us and we chose to forgive them - is real love. Looking past those things allow us to see all of the good in a person - the small acts of kindness they perform without regard for acknowledgment, the way their eyes sparkle when they speak of the things for which they have a passion, the way they sing when they think no one is listening or talk to their pet,
Getting to know a person, to truly understand what makes them tick, and loving them for all of their good and bad takes time. When she saw her father was in danger and needed her, the Beast let Belle go, and he let her go because he loved her. It is then, even after the famous ballroom scene and song, that he is at his most vulnerable. It was when he let her go that he knew he loved her. And she returned and brought him back to life. That's a gut-wrenching, tear-jerking scene in the movie. Gets me every time.
When it's real, love never really leaves.
As successful lady bosses, we are so good at planning...everything. We take control of stressful situations in our business lives with the grace of Duchess Kate and the ferocity of a honey badger ( I actually just had a funny vision of a honey badger with a tiara..funny and adorable...anyway...). And our lives tend to be full of activities and events and eating and meeting because that is how we plan them to be. By 10 am Tuesday, I am already confirming my weekend plans and looking at my calendar for next week to see if I can squeeze in a trim on the old bangs at the salon. (I can't. Shocking!)
Like many of us modern mamas, I deal with anxiety. I do. I never liked to admit it, but I do. Lucky for me, my anxiety is not usually debilitating, it just keeps me up at 3 am as I second-guess the conversation I had the day before with an adversary and also wonder if chickens have knees (Spoiler alert: they do.). Unlike many who struggle with disorders like anxiety, rather than being caught in the trap of inaction and indecision, I act and decide. Because what I worry most about is "how does this go and how does this end?"
Rather than focusing on "what is," I am overthinking about "what could be."
Overthinking may be the root of a lot of the confusion, frustration and gut-wrenching heartache that a lot of us experience in a relationship when it hits that tipping point - is this a forever thing? Or is it just a for now thing?
Commitment can be scary. When you have a person in your life with whom your soul connects on a deep level, with whom you share interests and goals, with whom you feel your most authentic, at home and at peace, often a future becomes that frightening but exciting possibility. However, it becomes a will 'o the wisps that can dissipate into the air when we start to overthink. What if I hurt him? What if I give everything and end up with nothing...again?
More terrifying to me than venomous snakes, F5 tornadoes, nuclear holocaust and even loneliness (avoiding that is probably at the root of many of my impulsive decisions) is regret. Overthinking for me, and maybe a lot of people almost always leads to regret. I've missed opportunities in life and love because I thought too hard about all the reasons something was wrong and couldn't work, rather than all the reasons it could and would be the best thing for me. For all of my anxiety-ridden, negative "what if it doesn't work out?" questions, there is always a more pressing one: "what if it does and it's amazing?"
I love fiercely. That's the best way to describe how I love. I'm a passionate person about the things that matter and love really matters in my life. I don't ever expect anyone else to match my intensity - no one ever has (who didn't turn out to be a complete psychopath in the end...begs the question about me, huh? Yoda has confirmed, I'm not a psychopath, so we're good folks. No worries. I'm a lot of other things, just not a psychopath. Phew!)
Matched passion and intensity is not exactly a deal maker or deal breaker. Obviously affection and some passion (ear muffs, moms) is a necessary requirement, but I'm most certainly not looking for over the top public expressions of love. (That's the stuff a lot of psychopaths do...just sayin', Tom Cruise...)
Everyone loves in a different way and expresses that love differently. I say "I love you" a lot. Probably too much, but I never want anyone to doubt or wonder. And I do things, for people, maybe too many things to try to show how much I care. I "over-do" and "over-give." Another good way to describe how I love is louder, perhaps. It's not more or less than someone else, necessarily, I just wear my heart on my sleeve and express my feelings more readily in what I say and do.
How you love someone isn't a contest about who does it more or better. It's being a partner - a true friend, a cheerleader, a counselor, a playmate all wrapped into one super taco. It's more than just initial attraction - falling for someone is an amazing thing, but it's a fleeting feeling.
What sustains a relationship is acceptance of all the weirdness that surfaces after the initial fireworks, butterflies and wooing, when maybe we don't always have our best face forward, when real life begins to bubble into the fantasy of kissing and hand holding under a clear, star filled sky (maybe that's just one of my fantasies).
Overthinking love allows not only the" inside our head demons" of insecurity to infiltrate the relationship, but also those outside forces I call the "saboteurs," those so called friends who offer advice because "I just want to see you happy." They say things like, "I can't believe he did that, you deserve so much better." Being mistreated by someone is no joke, most of the time the implication is "you deserve what I can give you - dump the chump." But they don't ever come out and say that. Or they tell you, "come on, don't you see how much fun we're having going out and meeting people. That's what you need. Forget him! He's not worth it."
When we overthink, we let those saboteurs, climb into our brains, and suddenly what they say makes a whole lot of sense. They justify our insecurities - "you think so too?" But we become the true relationship saboteurs - eventually we can ruin a really great thing if we are always questioning it and second guessing. We create issues and problems that aren't even there by overthinking - it's a special form of fear. Shockingly, so many other people are happy to see a relationship fail, which I find disgusting. Not because they want to be with us themselves or even can, just because misery loves company.
How you love or what makes you love is completely personal. Certainly, we can't make another person have feelings they don't have (that damn Bonnie Raitt song is right, by the way). But when we second guess ourselves because we overthink - maybe I love him? is this really what love is? I don't think this is love...? - we miss out on tremendous possibilities. What messes us up most in life and creates this second-guessing is the picture in our head of how we think it's all supposed to be rather than just rejoicing in "what is" and what we have.
Closing out the constant thoughts of "what if this is wrong for me?" and exchanging them with thoughts of "there are so many reasons this is right for me" has helped me not just in relationships but even in making professional/career decisions. Sure there are always cons to most everything we do, but by starting with the pros, the negative stuff really isn't so bad. There will always be a downside, but focusing on only that eliminates any possibility of seeing what may be an amazing up-side. Opportunities missed, love lost.
Ultimately, we have to get out of our own heads and out of our own way to understand what we want and need. There's clarity there. It has taken me a long time to get there, and there is still some gray clouding my vision. Letting go of the "what if this is bad?" and taking a chance on something being good hasn't always worked out in my favor, especially when I'm willing to take a chance and the other person isn't. That has been everything from just disappointing to earth shattering and life-altering.
Regardless of the ups and downs that exist in every relationship and even the starts and stops, how I love isn't going to change. But I am working on staying in the moment with "what is."
It's been a few months and although a lot has happened - good, bad, ugly and wonderful - I found myself without the words or the energy to talk or write about any of it. Unrelenting stress will do that to a person. I find it strips me of any desire to do anything. But that is not to say I've been stressed out for the entire time I have been absent from the blogosphere, because I certainly have not. I enjoyed some very wonderful experiences with some very wonderful people this summer and those memories will always be treasures to me.
The last few months have been particularly difficult. After emotional and basically awful negotiations, it seems my divorce agreement is complete. The road to get there was long and filled with swear words that I may or may not have invented to appropriately express my feelings, rather heated exchanges, a lot of tears, pointing fingers and bad math. But we're there. The court will have me a legally single girl in a matter of weeks (hopefully). And in an effort to move on and start a new life, I gave up a heck of a lot, which may prove to be an enormous mistake in the end, but my sanity (what little is left) needed to be done. Let's just say, it's a good thing I enjoy mac n cheese from a box.
I realized so much more than I wanted to in this process - about myself, friendship and love. Ever the optimist, I desperately clung to the notion that there is a silver lining and definitely a happy ending just around the corner. Turns out, I needed new glasses. Also turns out, that I am full of it. The happy ending I once saw disappeared before my eyes. Devastated isn't even a strong enough word for how I feel having lost relationships over all of this.
I do apologize for my negativity, but I think I have earned the right to some venting and this is my blog so I can write what I please. Let's just be grateful there hasn't been any cursing...yet. There are so many Pinterest quotes and memes that have instructed me that I deserve people who can appreciate all of me - all of my assets, my flaws, my weirdness, my craziness - and I shouldn't have to beg to be loved by a man or a friend. Even Yoda reminds me of these things. But none of that empowering knowledge prevents the emptiness I feel. Loneliness is the worst feeling in the world and it's my current home address. Family and friends have all abandoned me through the process of seeking my legal freedom. It's awful.
And this is why I have cats, by the way. All I need to do is feed them and scratch their heads and the love is unconditional. Cats don't care how insecure I am or how much I need to be loved. And what's great is they can sense my emotions. When I am overwhelmed by the sadness brought on by my reality, they offer me their support. I can't even begin to count how often I have melted into my couch in a puddle of sad and they have rallied around me, rubbing and purring and snuggling. They get me. I can't even get a text from my (now former) best friends.
I have no game plan other than closing down shop for now. Closed for renovations. And I'd like to think that the love I so desperately seek will find me just as soon as I stop pushing so hard for it, because that's what some of those other inspirational Pinterest quotes inform me. But I know I overdo things, which clearly has the opposite affect of what I intend, and so I'm just going to stop doing so much and start simply being.
I've never been great at letting go or moving on. I always remember the beginning - when everything was fireworks and butterflies and coming up roses. There's a song by Feist called Let it Die and these lyrics ring true: "The saddest part of a broken heart isn't the ending so much as the start."
Perhaps the saddest part is that I can't even muster the emotional soldiers to be angry or resentful. Instead, I am just disappointed in myself that I missed the train barreling down on me. I could have avoided the misery. Instead, I am second guessing my judgment and my heart. The saddest part is that someone like me, with so much love to give and who gives it out freely and unconditionally is once again left holding the bag. Lucky for the cats, I suppose.
Until morale improves, I'll be on my couch, drinking wine, eating olives and string cheese while binge watching something apropos - probably something with Sarah Jessica Parker in it - and rubbing cat heads. I dare someone to come up with a more pathetic visual.
I believe I am starting to figure out this whole living life to the fullest thing. No, seriously. I'm starting to get it, finally. Perhaps my late night surfing of Pinterest, searching for the right quote to express my happy/sad/disappointed/romantic/fired-up emotions over this year has finally started to take its proper effect. I credit the inspirational quotes only somewhat facetiously (I am a complete romantic mush-head as many of you know all too well) because in fact, some of those lines of inspiration have stuck in my mush-head brain, specifically, the ones about surrounding myself with people who make me a better version of myself.
I have had the fortune of meeting some amazing professionals in my line of work, especially recently. With my career status change from "middle management worker bee" to full on "lady boss" I have had the privilege of meeting and befriending trial attorneys from all over the country who are excited for my new adventure and have pledged their support. From Texas to Michigan to Tennessee and Illinois, I know if I have a question about anything these men and women will be on the other end of the phone line helping. And the best part is, they are super amazing humans in addition to being skilled trial attorneys.
Like me, they believe that we all rise together, have a responsibility to stand up to injustice, and that our main objective is to help our clients recover from and cope with their serious injuries. I've found some lawyer kindred spirits who inspire me to have the courage to do what my partner and I are doing. It's a brave new world and it's nice to know there are people out there cheering us on.
I'm especially honored and proud to be friends with other lady boss lawyers who have been paving the way for me for years. I'm late to the party, but I brought more booze ladies! I'm grateful for these professional cheerleaders who have unending, wise advice that I am happy to accept. (Especially the advice about the office wine-fridge; noted!)
Certainly, my lady boss partners, both in my new law firm, Fraser Cerra, and my consulting firm, Full Court, are kindred spirits, and I know they have made me a stronger person this year. At the very least, they have suffered through what probably seemed like endless venting sessions to remind me at the end that "better times are ahead" and to get my head back in the game. Yes and yes! I'm re-focused and ready to roll.
Then there are my emotional kindred spirits - those people who I know I can lean on when I'm watching my life get flushed down the toilet. The kind of friends who hold your hair back even though they're the ones puking. Because of them, I aspire to be a better friend when I'm called into action. They talk you off the ledge because they have been there too. They just get me and they're candid and real. These are priceless life partners who maybe I don't thank enough for their love, advice and text-message check-ins when they know I may be having a rough time of it. It's amazing how much better I feel from just seeing a "how are you doing?" text from one of these ladies.
Also, in this group are the ladies with whom I share dance. We don't dance because we think we are ready for Radio City or think we will be cast in the next Bruno Mars music video. We dance because it gives us a chance to be vulnerable with ourselves and one another. Dance gives us a chance to not only bond as women and friends, but as creative artists. Each of us has a chance to interpret and express our lyrical number calling upon our personal experiences - whether it's joy or love or heartache - and offer it up on the stage. Every Tuesday, I'm able to "shake it off" when something is bothering me (which had been all too often this year) or just listen and offer my encouragement.
This year, our lyrical dance was choreographed to the song "You've Got Friend" - a famous and beautiful song written by Carole King and made famous by a number of artists including James Taylor. "You just call out my name and you know wherever I am, I'll come running to see you again..." Could a song be more apropos for our group of women? Each of us shares our triumphs and struggles on Tuesday nights. The phrase "Listen to this," prefaces both good news and our "airing of grievances." We all love each other and support each other.
So thank you Pinterest motivational quotes! I've done what you've asked; I've surrounded myself with energy giving, kind and compassionate people who swoop in behind me and refuse to let me fall. Living my life to its fullest potential requires these loving relationships. While I may not need other people to make me happy (according to Pinterest again), the people who have entered my life, especially this year, are doing just that. Every so often, I hit a mental and emotional rut and I believe the world is ending. Shocker - it hasn't. And it's a combination of the support of all of the wonderful friends in my life who help me realize that.
To my lady boss friends, my Red Hot Mama dance friends, my attorney friends, my new adopted family, my running friends, thanks for the love. And when you need it, I'll be there too.
"Winter, spring, summer or fall. All you have to do is call and I'll be there. You've got a friend."
Where the heck have I been? Two months since my last post and life has taken some amazing turns. As if the Universe directed fortune directly at me, all great things have happened, furthering my belief that the energy you put out into the Universe will be returned. (Positive vibes, people!) So here is what you've missed, friends:
1. I'm engaged...ok, not like you think. I'm engaged to be a partner in a new professional endeavor. And the "marriage" will officially take place on June 1st and Fraser Cerra, LLC, Attorneys at Law will be opening the doors of its office on July 3rd. I am partnering with one of my most brilliant colleagues, Janine, to offer legal representation to the permanently injured and those facing serious criminal charges in our community.
2. My dream trial lawyer consulting firm, Full Court, is also open for business! Here I've teamed up with another amazingly talented lady boss, Kathleen, and we have Full Court Trial Strategies and Full Court Marketing Consulting. I'm the Trial Strategies guy! I will continue to travel all over the country to meet with personal injury attorneys to help them develop trial strategies to maximize recoveries for their permanently injured clients. Also, I'll be speaking at events for the professional organizations to which I belong, and I will be launching a digital video training series on our website. Similarly, Kathy will continue to offer consulting and training for law offices on cost-effective content media marketing strategies, and she will also be developing a video training series.
3. I'm doing a show!! Finally!! Since my dream of playing Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde: The Musical" has been put on hold (indefinitely), I took matters into my own hands by partnering with the Mohawk House and another talented lady, Rozanne. We will be producing an original Prohibition-era murder mystery dinner theater musical! I wrote the script and with the help of an amazing cast and the Mohawk House, the curtain goes up in October. Even better, we are supporting one of my favorite organizations with this production, the 200 Club, a group that provides financial support for the families of fallen police officers and first responders.
4. Benjamin and I are doing great. He's still my favorite human next to my daughter. And although we talk about towels more than any dating couple probably should, we aren't picking out any from Bed Bath and Beyond quite yet. Nevertheless, I am having a wonderful time getting to know him. The Universe definitely heard and responded to my pleas when it sent this guy my way. (*sigh)
5. The Salt Shaker Trail Running Club season has started. I'm not ready, but I'm trying. Mostly, I'm trying not to die or injure myself before my June 3rd dance recital. But Tuesday night runs just give me another opportunity to see my Benjamin and a lot of other really cool people before I have to run off to dance class. My first planned 5K race isn't until mid-June so I do have some time to get my act together in the next few weeks.
6. My daughter kicked butt at her dance competition! I was most proud of how serious she took her rehearsals leading up to the competition and of the fact that she did everything I asked her to do. Adorable and coachable? Whose kid is this?
So, it's been an eventful and exciting few months for me. I finally feel like I am on the right path with the right people doing the right things. I spoke at a lawyer conference out in Las Vegas in early April and met some amazing trial attorneys who have been so kind, generous and supportive of me once they heard of my plans for Fraser Cerra and everything else I'm attempting. Surrounding myself with positive people and energy has certainly paid off.
This is only one of the reasons I absolutely adore my Benjamin, by the way - for the last 9+ months, he has been one of the most encouraging and supportive people to ever come into my life. I tell him that for every 5 bad or ill-conceived ideas I have, there's always one really good one, so if he just lets me vet the bad ones, he can help me find the good one. He's such a good sounding board and he is tolerant of both my baby goat obsession and my morning chattiness, which is a very good thing. He also cooks chicken perfectly on the grill. Definitely a keeper.
Let's hope the next two months are equally as wonderful as the last two! I've missed sharing with you - and I'll be back soon enough with more updates.
The voice mail at my office went down last week for a few days. I tend to ask that calls not be placed into my voice mail anyway, mostly because I never know where the little paper with instructions on how to access the voice mail from out of the office is at any given time. So rather than have messages from my poor clients and colleagues trapped in the little voice box on my office desk, I recommend email messages.
Some of the legal assistants were exceptionally annoyed at the technology failure that prevented them from communicating with clients, adversaries and the courts. Of course, the whole idea of the voice mail is people leave a message for you when you are unavailable. But I suppose the panic resulted from waiting for a call and not knowing if during that seven minute trip to the lunch room to scope out whatever delicious dessert item was brought in to share and to grab a cup of coffee, that one important call snuck past the receptionist and was lost to the abyss since Judge Smails' clerk was unable to leave a message. And I totally get it because Mary's chocolate chip brownies are pretty much the most wonderful experience a mouth can get in an office setting.
A common complaint clients of lawyers tend to share is that we don't call them back or call them in the first place, leaving them in the dark about the status of their case. I've never understood how as attorneys we can allow that complaint to top the list of grievances when the fix is so easy. My six year old "mini boss" (this is how our babysitter and I have come to refer to my small person. She's a 3'6" dictator with a shockingly mature sense of diplomacy) has actually made a very wise point about communication that translates to our client relationships.
My dad (bless his heart - and you know when I pull up that phrase, something weird will follow) likes to call me on my cell phone at the most inconvenient times. And when he calls, I don't know what the conversation is about to entail. Topics can range from, "I need to borrow $200.00 until Thursday," (a loose term that actually means "I've run out of money and you just need to give me $20 because I went to Walmart and bought a new rod and reel forgetting that I don't get my check until next week and now I can't eat and you wouldn't want me to starve for the next six days, would you? But $20 will do."); "I'm in the hospital and I'm going to need you to re-write my will over here;" "Are you aware of the spawning process of the Alaskan Salmon?;" "I just wanted to call to wish you a happy birthday;" (Me: Dad, it's not my birthday until the 18th and today is only the 6th. Dad: Well, this way when I forget, I'm already covered.) "Did I tell you that I gave myself food poisoning? There's a reason you shouldn't leave raw chicken out. I always thought that was just to prevent the dog from stealing it from the counter;" "Hi, just wanted to see what you're doing;" and so on...
As a consequence of this conversational game of Russian Roulette, I often see that my dad is calling and I don't answer right away. He calls a lot.
We were in the car the other day and my dad called, which interrupted the mini-boss' performance of "Bad Romance."
Her: Mom, quick answer it. Who is it?
Me: It's grandpa, I'll call him back later.
Her: You should answer it now.
Me: Yeah, I don't know what he wants so I'm going to wait and talk to him later.
Her: If you answer the phone, you can find out what he wants and then tell him you have to call him back because maybe it's not that important or maybe he fell and got hurt and needs help.
Her point was not lost on me so I answered the phone only to discover that my dad just wanted to know what time his granddaughter's kid party was starting on Sunday - not that he was coming, he just wanted to know. I think it was a 1 minute conversation, if that, and it required no follow up phone call, which may have entailed other topics like "I think you should hire me at your office as a consultant" or "Did I ever tell you about that time in 1957 when I met Jerome Robbins' mother?"
In the grander scheme of my profession, her point was also well taken. How many times has our assistant buzzed in to report that Mrs. Smith is on the phone only to hear us groan and say, "Can you find out what she wants and tell her I'll call her later?" or "Ugh, not again, I'll call her later." And it's not necessarily because Mrs. Smith is such a burden, it's just that stopping whatever letter or brief we are writing seems like a terrible idea. Then it gets a little worse because we finish whatever we are working on and put off the return call to Mrs. Smith, forcing her to call back again and you know she is adding to her list of grievances "my lawyer never calls me back."
In dating, when a guy doesn't call us or return a call or a text, many of us single ladies shrug our shoulders, sigh and decide "he's just not that into me." Our self esteem and confidence takes a hit and our feelings are hurt. Well, how do you think our clients feel when they come to learn that they just aren't that important to us? Of course they are important - without our clients, we would have no work. But when we don't answer that call or return it in a timely manner, our clients feel as though they are not important which makes us look like arrogant jerks, perpetuating the horrible lawyer stereotypes out there. I don't know about other lawyers, but my clients are my friends, family, neighbors and members of my community. I care about their problems and my job is to help solve them, and not create more issues by failing to communicate.
So here's the advice derived from the mini-boss: answer the call. Take the time to find out what your client needs before you prioritize your work load. A client may have a simple question like "what floor is my mediation on tomorrow?" Or he has a more complicated issue that just may end up being "the reason you went to law school." Would you want to find out that a case went to a lawyer down the street just because you decided not to take the call? No. No, you would not.
Hopefully, you have developed enough of a relationship with your clients that they understand that you are there for them when they need help, but that you also have other obligations. There are many clients who abuse our time just like those certain family members. It usually requires three rounds of "Ok dad, I have to go," before he will agree to end a conversation. And sometimes our clients need to understand that an hour phone conversation where they are re-enumerating all the reasons why they are getting a divorce from that b*#ch is a) not generally appreciated, and b) going to cost them between $300-$500, depending upon billable rates. Legal talk is not cheap.
By and large, showing appreciation and respect for our clients can be done in a number of ways and one of the easiest is to answer their calls. Simple. Often, voice mail cannot be avoided, but when a client comes to expect that they will hear your voice shortly after leaving a message, they will develop the respect for you and confidence in you that will develop into a long term relationship. Alternatively, if returning calls is difficult for you, and it can be when you are out of the office a lot, then be sure that your assistant can get to your messages and return them on your behalf, even if just to determine the needs of your client. Most of the time, my assistant can answer a client's question better than I can anyway.
So with my clients, adversaries and colleagues, I do my very best to answer the call on the first shot and a lot of the time, I have to call them back anyway once I find the answer to their question. But taking the time to ascertain their needs when they call goes a long way in creating strong working relationships. At the end of the day, we all want to be heard and understood and we want to know that the person we have entrusted to help solve a problem is there for us. So be there. Being there is a great habit to start and maintain.
We are guided by successful leaders, entrepreneurs and entertainers to follow our dreams and pursue those particular things that light a fire within us. In my mid 20's, I resented those overly enthusiastic and positive millionaires who were quoted in articles saying things like "every accomplishment starts with the decision to try" and "believe in what you want so much that is has no choice but to materialize." I would mutter "screw you guys; you don't have law school loans to pay off the rest of your life." It was very difficult to look past the present and see what was awaiting me in the future when I was concerned about whether I was going to overdraw my checking account...again.
As I settled into my law career in my 30's, I began working on cases that were challenging and meaningful. I was helping people - not only random people, members of my community. I was working on cases for men and women with whom I went to grammar school and high school, their parents, my teachers, their friends. I saw the importance of the work I was doing and with a strong sense of purpose, I worked hard to succeed on their behalf. I advocated, I continued to learn and improve the ways I presented my cases. As a result of this elevated sense of purpose, I helped build a law firm, a practice group and a brand.
It wasn't until about 5 or 6 years ago that the fire that was driving me to succeed in this area of law began to die when I realized that it wasn't enough for me. Certainly, I appreciated the opportunity to develop and hone my trial skills, the chance to be recognized throughout the state of New Jersey and even nationally for my accomplishments and I was aware that had I worked anywhere else, I would probably never have been provided the resources and platform to become the trial attorney I had become at such young age.
When my daughter was born in 2011, I finally had to take a break. And I did for about 4 weeks, but while my baby napped, I was working. Part time hours at first, but then I recognized I was putting in more time. She napped a lot in those early months and I never stopped.
Of course, I wanted to be with my baby and soak in as much time with her as possible. But I was getting the impression that my absence from the office was being felt far more than I imagined it would - cases and clients needed my attention, the office needed my positive energy. And I was made aware that after 7 successful and hard working years, obtaining partnership status, the goal of most any lawyer in a law firm, required my return to full time status. So I came back early. Despite the impression that I would be rewarded for my unending dedication and loyalty to my clients and my firm, partnership did not come for another 13 months.
In those 13 months, I watched my daughter develop her personality through cell phone pictures sent to me by our amazing nanny. (Ouch!) I longed to be home with her more during the day, but luckily, the flexibility that comes with success did allow me to make time to spend with her, which was always appreciated. However, that time away from the office and the files created another problem - I had lost a step. Suddenly, my confidence wavered as I argued a motion before a judge or presented an opening statement before a jury. I was out of practice and rusty, which created an enormous amount of anxiety I never possessed. Afraid of failing, I began to pass opportunities for trial work over to a younger associate, which allowed me to spend more time with my daughter, but also pushed me further away from the court room where just 2 years before, I had set another record for another successful verdict.
And as I watched other members of my team succeed and gain the recognition and spotlight I had just stepped out from, I began to feel unneeded and unwanted and most unfortunately, unfulfilled. All the "uns" I felt began to lead me further into the world of resentment.
It was in this time that I wrote and published Trinity so I had the luck of a very good distraction as I traveled around from bookstore to bookstore and school to school selling my story and meeting "fans" (and not all of them are related to me, by the way.) I tried to reinvent myself at the law firm, taking on more management-like responsibilities and immersing myself in the area of marketing, a creative role I enjoyed Really, I was not and never was a true business partner of the firm, I was just a better paid W-2 employee with management responsibilities. And my complaints about that status were disregarded in what I can only describe as a case of reverse-nepotism. Enter more resentment.
It was also during this time that I began the Women's Entrepreneurial Network (WEN) because for the very first time, I identified with the unique challenges and needs of women in business and thought maybe I could help provide some support and resources to other women in business in my community. I needed inspiration and hoped I could provide some too. Balancing motherhood and professional fulfillment became a goal of mine and as far as everyone could see, I was doing it - well. Only I knew how I struggled.
In April of 2014 it was clear to me, through a tearful conversation with my best friend over a glass of wine after a successful all-day retreat for WEN that I was incredibly unhappy. Unhappy in my marriage, even though I pretended otherwise, unhappy at work and generally unfulfilled in my life. I was being pulled from one obligation to another, I was tired, out of shape and miserable.
On the positive side, I was back to meeting the challenges of a trial lawyer and litigator when I was given an opportunity to work on a really high stakes commercial litigation case outside of my comfort zone. The partner with whom I was working helped restore my confidence and love of new challenges. I believed I was starting to make my professional comeback.
But there were nagging questions running through my mind all the time. What was I working for? Fancy car payments? Status? What energized me when I first started my career? Where did my passion go? Why did I suck so badly? Why was I so insecure?
It dawned on me a few months later what the problem was - but the solution was going to be painful and complicated. I needed to rediscover the things that made me excited to wake up in the morning. I recognized that I needed to be creating. Being imaginative and coming up with my "ridiculously good ideas" was what lit my passion fire - whether it was developing different ways to present evidence at trial, or troubleshooting important issues effecting the legal profession, or writing a story, or developing a cutting edge marketing plan - I needed creative challenges.
I've been traveling this uncertain road, looking for a way out of the woods, for some time. Almost three years later, I'm still untangling the tentacles of my old life from the promise of my new one. The challenge of leaving behind a sense of comfort is greater than I imagined, but with the help of some really amazing people in my life, many of whom I met through WEN, I'm doing it. My daughter will be better for it and so will I.
Now, I wake up every morning with new ideas for helping lawyers obtain success for their clients, with new ideas for books I want to write, new concepts for marketing law firms. I'm confident because I know I am good at what I do. I have a proven track record of success and have been fortunate enough to have been recognized for my success time and again. So I know it's time to forge out on my own and make my way.
I am told by countless Pinterest quotes penned by successful people that believing in myself and what I can do will ultimately lead me to a new level of success. Visualizing myself in this new capacity is the first step so I daydream about it all the time. I now have a map so I know the roads I need to take and I have chosen my travel partners this time.
Finally, I am in a position to own my destiny. I even have a coffee mug that says "Lady Boss," which probably says it all. I still have work to do, but I'm closer than ever to my greatest comeback yet. Stay tuned, y'all.
I am one of those people who get a little sad when a book I am reading is near the end. Chances are, I've spent a number of days and hours becoming acquainted with the characters and their plights, the time period and setting, and maybe I don't want the story to end. But it does. And then I move on to the next book. That's how reading works, right?
What I find interesting about this analogy is that despite feeling a little disappointed when a story ends, I find some joy and hope knowing I'm now ready to start a new book, perhaps an even more exciting story. And yet this morning, this literary hopefulness is not translating.
There is an obvious fear of the unknown that we all carry with us. We become comfortable in our stories, even when they are sad or perhaps toxic because there is a level of comfort in our own chaos. We know how to handle at least some of the characters there. Perhaps we are a little unsure of the twists and turns of the plot, but we at least understand part of the pattern of the story. We may even convince ourselves that we are happy and safe because leaving the current pages of our own books is so incredibly daunting.
I need to turn the page. There is no other way to make it to the end of this current book I am holding and start a new story. I've known this for months, but it wasn't until late last night that this analogy hit home. Avoiding the inevitable just prolongs agony.
Once again, Pinterest came through for me and offered me this quote: "When you find no solution to a problem, it's probably not a problem to be solved, but rather a truth to be accepted."
I've spent nearly three years spinning my wheels trying to creatively solve a massive conundrum. I've exhausted myself, cried myself to sleep, cried my way to afternoon school dismissal, cried my way through Gilmore Girls re-runs and i-Tunes playlists. I've written about it and talked about it endlessly. I've done everything short of driving myself crazy (and I've probably done that too) to try and solve this puzzle when there is no solution other than to turn the page.
The truth that needs to be accepted is that I deserve more - from other people, from myself. And not to turn this into an Oprah style self esteem rant, but maybe we all forget who we are. I know I have. Every so often a glimmer of the fire that kept my cold coal engine running flares back up and I remember a layer of confidence - and not the fake smiling stuff I put out now to hide my insecurities- I mean the voice inside of me that used to drive me to take on challenges and to walk away from people who stood in the way of my success and happiness.
I know I have given more of myself to people who have no intention or perhaps no ability to give back to me. Emotionally, that is a lonely place to sit expecting or at least hoping for a little something in return and it never really comes. There is no question that I wear my heart on my sleeve and I admit to feeling more than the average person feels, but there is also no excuse anymore when people take advantage of me. If you can't give back to me at some level of intensity near to mine, then I have to get to the next page, and turn.
As painful as that is, the truth that has to be accepted is that turning the page is the only way to advance my story and maybe some characters are not in the next chapter. Or maybe, they come back at the end, just in the nick of time (I really have to remind myself to look up why we say "in the nick of time." Who is Nick?). Either way, until the page turns, we can never know.
That's my sobering and sad reality today. It's been my sad reality for some time, but one that I was not ready to face. I don't give up on anything - love, family, Eli Manning and his offense, or friends. The last thing I wanted to do this year was walk away from the world I have known for so long, but it is clear there is no other way.
The positive take away here is that I'm closer to settling down with a new story - new characters, a new setting and a new plot. I'm terrified, if I am being truly honest. And so, I'm going to read slowly, take my time. Now that I have committed to beginning a new book, I can fully immerse myself in the story. And maybe, just maybe, I will enjoy it more and the last book, as powerful as it was, will be a nice memory.
The thing about books - whether they travel with us in paper or on our tech devices - is that we can always re-open them and start them again. For now, my old book will be on a shelf in between Sense & Sensibility and Rabbit, Run. A good spot for a good story I once didn't want to end.
Last week, I decided a 5-day juice cleanse was exactly what I needed to drop a few extra pounds and lose those crazy sugar cravings I have. I almost made it, but Saturday we had double birthday parties and cake is just so...cakey.
But after following a friend's juice cleanse week through Instagram posts and seeing her results, I thought how bad could this be - it's juice? So I went on line and ordered my Jus by Julie 5-day cleanse kit. However, what I didn't plan well was that I would be attempting this cleanse over a weekend with birthday parties and playoff football. I resigned to do "my" best (translated: I'll go as long as I can without touching the cake). Had I done what I was supposed to do and stayed away from the cake (and the wine...) I have no doubt my results would have been spectacular. My results are still very good and this cleanse works.
The juices are delicious non-GMO products except for one, maybe 2 (the lemonade with the cayenne pepper was a little rough and the PB & Jus was not good but I don't even like a shake or smoothie with peanut butter, so that's probably just me.). I was not starving during the day, shockingly and I wasn't craving anything (until cake was shoved under my nose on Saturday night). There are 6 juices a day that you can easily space out every few hours, all numbered 1-6 so you know which one comes next. And even the gross looking green ones taste great.
Not only did my cravings for junk - I have a salty, then sweet, then salty snack problem - subside, but my desire to drink wine (even though I had "a day" on Friday that probably required wine) or beer went away. And with the lack of yucky food and alcohol in me, I realized I had more energy and more focus. Yes, I was a little hungrier than usual when I went to bed, but I also managed to shed almost 3 pounds - and that was with the cake.
My creative juices started flowing again too. Last Wednesday, I had a great opportunity to speak to a room of about 25 men, women and teenagers about writing, and their energy, interest and enthusiasm was inspiring. They all wanted to know what I was working on now. I talked about Rose of the Field and I started talking about my new project, Out for A Walk. The first book is the third and final installment of my Trinity of Kirana series. The latter title is a very adult, dark legal drama. Very different for me, but probably what I need to be writing at this stage of the game.
So with juices in hand, I've been focusing my spare time - which is few and far between with the uptick in my consulting work - on writing my great American novel and finishing a really good story. Jumping back and forth from different genres and very different characters is not as difficult as I thought it might be. The group to which I spoke was very interested in my "creative process." I explained that my stories were very character and dialogue driven and my process (if I even have a method) is to listen for them to speak to me. They do. All my characters tell me what they want to say and what they want to do.
I hear voices (not dead people, calm down, weirdos) in my head and that is how my stories unfold. I don't know if I can directly attribute the recent clarity of the voices to my juice cleanse. It sounds like a stretch, but there is something to feeding your body what it needs, clearing out the toxins and avoiding the stuff your body doesn't need. In any case, while the juice cleanse didn't locate my abs for me, as it did for my very fit and much younger friend, it did lift a little of the brain fog I've had from three months of travel eating and holiday gluttony.
I love when my brain starts producing ideas. Not just writing ideas, but work ideas, decorating ideas, fun parenting ideas - it's almost as if I dripped a little WD40 onto my overworked brain cogs and they started working more efficiently again. Problem is, there is only so much time to address these ideas. I write them in my notebook of "Ridiculously Good Ideas" and save them for later.
But the good news, at least for my amazing Trinity fans is that I've tapped into a new way to focus my brain to get all those good ideas on paper bringing Rose of the Field closer to publication.
A big thanks to Julie and her juice. I'm looking forward to another round in a few weeks in case my creativity needs a boost and I am overcome by cravings for Fruit Loops and Entemann's cookies again.
And now back to Avery, Timber and Marena...
One of the adventures I have embarked upon in this "new age" of Lauren is trial consulting. And hand in hand with helping attorneys navigate their cases and strategize for trial is another role I play and that is as a legal marketing strategic planner. I have to say, these are two challenging but rewarding areas of the business of practicing law.
As a trial consultant, my job entails teaching other lawyers to do what I do the way I do it. Over the course of my career, the team with which I work has developed a successful method for trying personal injury cases in front of juries in just about any jurisdiction in the country. Just as a product of our own geography, we tend to face juries in more conservative places. The challenge there is overcoming the notion of "tort reform" that the combined efforts of the insurance industry and politicians who accept donations from the insurance industry have spread to our more right-thinking neighbors. Persuading our juries to recognize that they are the gatekeepers of community safety and helping our permanently injured clients lends itself to this task, has been our approach and job for the past 12 years.
We don't persuade them with a lot of lawyering and words. Rather, we persuade them with the truth, facts and medicine. Teaching other lawyers, who may have been trying their hand at personal injury cases for many years, that they are the least significant part of their case can be challenging. Convincing them that what they say does not matter very much at all when a jury is deciding a case and can in fact hurt their chances of success can also be a challenge.
One of the core components of our trial presentation is "taking the lawyer out of the story." Sounds simple enough, right? What I mean is, framing the case around what the witnesses and experts say about the injured person. The lawyer's job is more like the host of an interview style talk show. Ask the questions you need to ask to provide the jury with enough information to make a decision in your client's favor.
I've had a lawyer ask "you want me to act like Oprah and ask dumbed down questions?" Not exactly. But this is the trouble with lawyers - they can be arrogant and act like the smartest guys in the room. Often, they are, but no one likes a smart guy/know-it-all, especially our juries. In fact, our juries typically dislike lawyers, whether they admit it or not. Lawyers are seen as sleazy, tricky, money-hungry liars. Lovely. Accepting that most of the people who have to make a decision to help your client hate you, should make "taking the lawyer out of lawyering" a little easier to digest.
And knowing this, it is not the lawyer's job to try to make the jury like them. They may in the end, but this isn't about the lawyer. It's about the permanently injured person that lawyer agreed to try to help.
So in taking ourselves away from center-stage in a trial, one of the things that is crucial is to leave the big words to the doctors and experts. No one is impressed that a lawyer knows big words that normal people don't know (except lawyers and maybe their moms.). Speaking "English" is important. In an opening statement, telling a jury that the injured person has "herniations at 2 levels causing radiculopathy" may sound impressive. But likely, the jury has no idea what you are saying and will turn off their brain and start worrying about more important things like what to make for dinner, work emails or whether the Giants will focus on an offensive line this year in the draft (like they should, poor Eli).
But if the lawyer lets the jury know that their client has suffered a "permanent spinal injury causing their right leg to go numb," he might get somewhere.
Another aspect of taking the lawyer out of lawyering is creating credibility for not just you as the lawyer, but the client. As much as people hate lawyers, they also tend to dislike people who bring lawsuits to get money. Of course, this is the only system we have - the law requires that a permanently injured person be compensated for their harms and losses - but the "tort reformers" have decided that this system, which dates back to ancient times, is the reason why our insurance costs are so high. (No, couldn't be the 8-9 figure salaries of insurance executives). The fact that the insurance industry rarely treats its customers with any level of fairness or respect when asked to do the thing people pay the insurance companies to do, pay claims, is a direct cause of why people are forced to file lawsuits. If insurance companies played fair, we wouldn't have to go to court and a lot of us lawyers would probably have to find another line of work.
The reason the insurance companies can get away with not playing fair and then blaming people who bring lawsuits for the cost of insurance premiums is 1) they have spent millions of dollars on brainwashing advertising that suggests that no one really gets hurt in car accidents and most people file fraudulent claims; 2) jury verdicts are "out of control" and lawyers are getting rich off of them; 3) in NJ and many other states, the rules do not permit any mention of insurance so juries may falsely believe that the poor old man who ran over the guy on his motorcycle has to pay a verdict out of his retirement fund. Not true. 4) they tend to win their jury cases (thanks to a lot of 1-3).
90% of the injury cases that go before a jury are losses for the injured person. The insurance lawyers have a good track record and the insurance companies know it. So they don't settle with lawyers who don't have a good handle of what they are doing and they don't settle with lawyers representing clients in certain conservative areas. However, success at trial forces the insurance companies to pay attention.
With all of this stacked against the lawyer and injured person, credibility goes a long way. In fact, without it, the case goes to the defense/insurance lawyer. The best way we have found to demonstrate that what the injured client is saying about their injury and its effects is true is through the experts and other witnesses. As lawyers at trial, statements like "We will prove Sally is injured and will never be able to play golf again" go no where because lawyers have no credibility. But when Sally's board certified near-radiologist shows the jury where the injury is in her spine and her board certified orthopedic surgeon explains why it's so bad, the jury listens. The jury realizes, this case is not like the cases on those TV commercials and they have an important job to do. And they want to do the best job they can.
Breaking what I would consider bad habits at trial takes practice. Accepting that there are effective trial presentation methods out there to learn takes some humility. But asking for help in honing lawyering skills is imperative in this very important area of the law. There are so many of us happy to help whether through consulting or sharing our methods at legal seminars or workshops. Taking yourself as the lawyer out of the case and focusing on what the jury really needs to know in terms everyone can digest is a difficult but good first step in creating an effective presentation at trial.
I've only been running somewhat consistently since about April of 2014. My initial goals had been fairly simple: 1) don't die (probably a good goal to have in any activity, really); 2) run a 5K (and don't die while doing it).
But since becoming a runner, and meeting and surpassing those initial goals, I've had to develop new ones so that I remain engaged in the sport. So I would set new personal record goals for myself and work toward taking time off of my 5K race time. I still haven't met the goal I set 2 years ago, to finish a 5K under 26 minutes, but I've been close and I'm sure I'll get there. I set a goal to not throw up after a race anymore, and that I have met thanks to Benjamin. So I've got that going for me, which is really a good thing for anyone within a close distance of me at the finish line.
Now I've moved on from quicker race times - and by the way, I'm not trying to win anything. Occasionally, 4 times to be exact, I earn a medal in my age group, but I'm really just trying to improve my time from year to year for each race. I've moved to trying to increase my distance. Up until this summer, the farthest distance I had run was probably 3 1/2 miles. That was until I joined the Salt Shakers.
I had been invited to join the Salt Shakers for years by my good friend, Dina. But I was intimidated. These guys are hard core. They run up the sides of mountains - 5, 6, 10 miles. A lot of them (including my brother in law and Benjamin) ran the NYC Marathon. They do Spartan races and Ragnar races. Like I said, hard core. I didn't think trail running was something within my wheelhouse, having limited myself to 5Ks on fairly even ground or at best the flat and straight "rail-trails". There's always the asthma too.
It took meeting Benjamin and creating an excuse to see him late this summer to get me to attempt my first trail run with this group. At first, I took it easy and did just over 3 miles with a few of the "injured" members of the group. But the next run, I figured I would at least attempt the full 5 miles and maybe walk if I had to. One of the nice things about trail running is that you have to slow down at times so that your run becomes more of a hike anyway. Needless to say, I completed the full 5 miles and now I was hooked.
The runs are challenging for me as a newbie, but equally as wonderful as an evening trail run, is the group itself. Some of the most supportive and generous people on the planet. They cheer you on, they wait for you if you are falling behind the pack, and are always finding ways to give back to community groups. And they are so much fun. To congratulate ourselves for a job well done after the run, we head to the bar for a beer (or 2). What's better than that?
The Salt Shakers are a large and diverse group - men, women, younger, older, runners, walkers - and besides a love for the outdoors and fitness, the other thing they all seem to have in common is a desire to help others. Whether it's through raising money for non-profit groups that offer free breast cancer screenings or volunteering as coaches for the Girls on the Run program or taking a day to clean up the trails, these guys give back.
I've always found that true athletes have a different mind-set than your average dude at the gym. True athletes know they didn't get where they are without the help of a lot of other people and so many of them have a natural instinct to help not only their fellow athlete, but their fellow human. Maybe some of the professional guys have public relations as motivation, but they still do it and they still do good things.
But I am also finding that these trail runners just do it a little better. Perhaps it's because everyone knows running is the worst. It sucks in so many ways. It's hard on your body, first of all (talk to my right knee and shins; they'll tell you.) and it's hard on your mind. There is a constant battle between the you who is saying "Ok, this sucks, I hurt, I'm done" and the you saying "Come on, you can do this." Runners all know that, so when they cheer for you and encourage you, they also feel your pain.
I'm lucky because I have a sister (who also happens to be an elite athlete) who runs with this group. Since she's coming back from a really bad injury, she has to work a little harder to get to where she once was, physically. Mentally, she knows that she can "do it."
And she was my inspiration this Sunday as we joined a group of cold-weather Salt Shakers for the Highland Challenge. Now, my sister and I only attempted about half of the 9+ mile, up a mountain, full course, but it was still more running than either of us had done in months. (And we ended up adding at least .5 miles to our run because we missed a turn on the trail and had to go back). My sister knew she could tackle this run and I figured, if she can do it coming off a broken ankle and very little exercise because of it, then so could I. And if I couldn't, at least she was there to carry me off the snowy and freezing trail since Benjamin was running the whole course and would probably be traversing the side of the mountain, while I was complaining.
Well, I ran the entire 5+ miles and stayed close to my sister the whole way. When we weren't running together, I took deep breaths and took in the beautiful snowy trail, the fresh air, the flowing water of the Morris Canal. A few of us were running close together (because we all missed that first turn off the road) and so we would wait for one another to make sure no one got lost. I loved every moment of it.
Upon returning to the home base (the bar), we all greeted one another with "how was it?" "how did you do?" and "great job today." And there was great beer on tap.
I'm grateful that I finally took my friend's advice and showed up this summer and that Benjamin also encouraged me to try. I'm grateful that my sister and brother in law are there to motivate me. And I'm grateful that this group is so welcoming, giving and wonderful. I'm looking forward to longer days, more sun and the trail this summer with this group.
Ps. Although I did feel it necessary to carry my inhaler because of the below freezing temperature we were running in, I didn't need it! So, there's that too!
As a hopeful romantic, I have had very high expectations about New Year's Eve ever since I was a hopelessly romantic teenager. And by and large, I have had very disappointing New Year's Eves. Certainly, I've had my share of fun, but I have always believed there is something magical about the clock striking midnight, ushering in a brand new year; as if all the bad ideas and choices and bad things that happened in the prior year evaporate into oblivion with the falling, crystal Times Square ball.
Really, the unrealistic expectations began when I was a collge freshman. That NYE, 1994, might have been my most disappointing still. I remember braiding my hair and crying while sitting in my dad's reclining chair watching movies with my mom in the living room. My boyfriend, who was still a senior in high school, ditched me to go to a party with his friends. My daydream about a romantic kiss at midnight was shattered when he told me only a day before that he planned to spend the night with his wrestling buddies and that if I was there, he wouldn't have fun because he would be worried about me the whole night. I was devastated because I made no alternative plans. My college friends had invited me to their parties, but it was too late to make new plans and my mom didn't want me to drive to Essex County.
So I was stuck in my dad's recliner. Even my younger sister had a party to go to. (And just for the record, this was a wonderful boyfriend. He was just trying to break up with me but couldn't figure out the best way to do it so he went from amazing to douche-nozzle over my winter break. I was just too stupid to see what was happening. Needless to say, I went back to Rutgers with a broken heart and a very bad hair cut. (The leading cause of all bad hair decisions is love, after all.)
In any case, that might have been the worst NYE. Second worst was when my college/post-college boyfriend had broken up with me so I went to a party with my housemates to "let loose," meet someone new and get my romantic midnight kiss. That someone new put a roofy in my cocktail and after a few sips, I threw up, passed out and then stumbled my way back to my ex-boyfriend's fraternity house and passed out again. All before 9 pm. Never let a good looking stranger make you a drink out of your site line, was the lesson learned there.
Again, high expectations. Low bar.
My Yoda asked me what sort of ritual do I think I should perform to sort of symbolically move into 2017 (or something like that. Truth is, I was only half listening because my left knee started to throb. I nailed it into the corner of my couch yesterday. It really hurts, is totally swollen and bruised. In any case, this is the gist of the conversation.) I wasn't quite sure how to answer the question (partly because I never thought about that before and partly because of the whole not really listening thing.). Certainly, my ideal NYE involves being with someone I love and promising more love in the future and to do amazing, fun, healthy, loving things in the next year together...sappy, sap, sap, sap...And kissing. Really good kissing. But I wasn't going to tell Yoda that! Gross.
So after some pretending to think, some actual thinking, and some rubbing my knee, I came up with my 2016-2017 ritual: The Purge. Ok, it's not original, but it's what came to me. I only have 50 minutes and I had to reserve at least some time to bitch about my family.
In the next few days, I will be purging. Not food, weirdos, (and gross, by the way) but stuff. The ultimate question is what is holding me back from becoming who and what I want to be in 2017? The answer is: the things that do not lift my spirits. That includes people.
I'm cleaning out my closet, first of all. So anyone interested in hand me downs, let me know (mostly XS and size 0 stuff - sorry, I'm a Hobbit). I have too much stuff. No one needs this much stuff. Purses, accessories and jewelry will be next. Then it's on to social media. I know, how can an oversharer like myself purge social media from her life? Well, I can't entirely. Welcome to the 21st Century. But I can avoid getting so caught up and distracted in the virtual reality for a while. It dawned on me that I have begun to care far too much about what my Facebook world looks like to everyone else when my real world isn't quite so rosy. Time to play in the real world a while. So I'm checking out for a while. I know, I know you're all going to go through #annabanana withdrawal. You'll be all right.
Then, there is the tough decision of the people purge. Not literally, relax. I recognize that there are people in my life who most certainly do not lift my spirits. So it is time for a bit of distance from those folks. Perhaps at some point in the future, they will redeem themselves in my eyes, but for now, I think it's best that I bid them adieu (not really, because then they'd really know how I feel and that would be so awkward) and focus myself and precious time on the people in my life who believe in me, support me, accept me and love me. It's a small group, which is a good thing because I am also looking for more time to binge watch Westworld, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. Maybe Sons of Anarchy if there's time...
My Yoda always reminds me of a line from the movie "City Slickers" where Curly, the old cowboy shares the secret of life with the guys. He tells them it's "one." Pick one thing and do that. If you remember the movie the guys are out there trying to find meaning and purpose in their middle-aged lives. One of them is an architect and he wants to be a writer and this one wants to do that. Curly's point is that he's a cowboy. He's good at it and he has put his whole self into doing that which he loves. Find that thing and do that one thing.
I find myself coming up with ridiculously good ideas - businesses and new careers - but the point is, if I focus on one of these things instead of killing myself trying to do everything, then perhaps life will simplify and I'll be able to slow down. I'm going to try it. My one thing is broad and allows for a few branches - writing, blogging, speaking engagements - stuff I enjoy. As new opportunities present themselves to me, it will be imperative to keep this "one" thing in mind and also have the willpower to say "no" to those things presented that will not lift my spirit.
I read and shared an article the other day that basically told us that if your life sucks, it's your own damned fault. Truer words are rarely spoken. Of course, we are in charge of our path and decisions. The article remided us that the world owes us nothing. If we want something - happiness, love, a fulfilling career - then the onnus is on us to go get it. Work. This wasn't an overly insightful article, but it said all the words many of us need to hear. Stop whining, start working toward finding and developing the life we want. Message received.
And while I am still hoping for that romantic kiss and promise at midnight, I am ready to greet the new year with a simpler to do list, simpler desires, and simpler everything. In case you were wondering, I'm looking to simplify life because at the end of the day, the most important things to me are my loved ones and just finding peace. Frankly, I find it everytime I pull into Benjamin's driveway, but let's not tell him that. We don't want to make him cocky.
Still, there is something very comfortable and peaceful about breathing in the fresh air and seeing the stars at night at his house. That's the simple joy I am seeking this year. The basics.
So from the girl who makes a wish every time the digital clock says 11:11 - my personal 2017 wish is for peace of mind. Once I have that, the rest will most certainly come naturally. It must.
I wish you all a happy and peaceful New Year.