Ask An Ace: Lawyer Edition

Is there anything a lawyer likes doing more than answering questions? Well, yes. Answering questions for money. But I’m thrilled to be answering your thoughtful inquiries as part of HelloGiggles’ new Ask An Ace series, billable or not. Court is now in session.

“My husband will be graduating law school in May (YAY!) and taking the Bar in July. We’ve been warned it will be hellish while he is preparing to take it. What advice do you have for a partner who wants to be as supportive and helpful as possible while he’s going through such a stressful process? Thanks for your help!” ~ Melissa

Yay, indeed. Congratulations to your husband, and to you, Melissa. You should win some sort of award, too, for the sweetness of your question. I’m not going to sugarcoat things: the Bar is hellish. I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, and I’m including birthing my two children in that estimation. The factors that make it so tough include: (a) the dozens of subjects you are tested on; (b) the weeks and weeks you spend studying; (c) the fact that everyone knows you are studying for the Bar, so failing risks both a personal disappointment and a public embarrassment; and (d) your future employment probably depends on passing. I think the biggest thing a significant other can do is recognize, and accept, the very real and unique stress that the Bar triggers, and the time commitment it demands. Try not to take your husband’s moodiness, nervousness, or aloofness personally; he’s probably panicking because he can’t remember the acronym for the 9 different ways to perfect title to real property. Give him space, reassure him everything will be fine, and don’t expect him to remember your name. Then, when the test is over, take him to do something that has absolutely nothing to do with books, words, his brain, or multiple choices.

“If you fail the bar exam, can you retake it?” ~ Ellie

Ellie, are you related to Melissa or Melissa’s husband? Yes, if you fail the Bar exam, you can retake it. You won’t want too, though. A week or two into studying for the Bar the first time around, you realize it’s an experience you will never, ever want to repeat. That’s another reason why it’s such a terrifying experience: it’s impossible to convince yourself that the stakes are anything but high.

“If you don’t have much money but feel like you should seek legal counsel for something, what are some good resources? What’s the first step in the process?” ~ Jackie

As bizarre as it may sound, Jackie, my first suggestion would be to Google the gist of your question. Much like hopping on when you want to get some general sense of a medical issue you’re dealing with, the Internet can give you big-picture direction on legal questions as well. Search results can generate substantive responses (like the legal terminology for what you’re wondering about, the laws that might apply, and references to cases or academic articles on the issue) AND they can turn up referrals to organizations that deal with “your” issue. And that’s the next step: there are plenty of non-profits that provide low-cost legal counseling and even representation. Find one in your area, visit their website, and/or schedule a visit. Also, you should always keep in mind that your first visit with any lawyer – even one in private practice – is “free.” You should not be charged for a lawyer’s time, or the advice dispensed in that time, until you formally retain the lawyer to represent you. So, you can meet with a lawyer to explain your situation and get her feedback on whether you have a claim, how she would handle your case, and what her fees are. Be up front about all your concerns, including payment terms, from the get-go.

“How many hours a week do you typically work?” ~ Danni

Danni, the answer to this question is a lawyer’s favorite answer: it depends. What does it depend on? Where, geographically, you are working, who you are working for, what kind of law you practice, and when you tend to fall asleep sitting up. Using myself as an example, when I worked in New York City and then Washington, D.C. as a litigator for a large law firm, I worked a lot. I would say I averaged 12-hour days during the week, and probably worked at least 5-10 hours most weekends. It was a crushing pace. Now, I work for a software company in Maine, and negotiated a reduced schedule for myself. I’m lucky enough to work a pretty standard 40-hour workweek. There are legal jobs with hours requirements everywhere in between my two extremes.

“What do ‘billable hours’ mean?” ~ Kelly

Well, Kelly, aren’t you wonderful?!? I actually wrote a post on this over on my blog: go check it out!

“What is the funniest thing you’ve witnessed in a court of law but still had to portray a level of professionalism and hold your laughter?” ~ Mary Lynn

I’m going to take a slightly different approach to this question, Mary Lynn (because the “funniest” thing I witnessed in court had something to do with an expert witness who was an astronaut and it’s one of those “you have to be a loser-type lawyer” to think it’s actually funny). My most relatable story here would be when I was a young associate doing document review for a big tax fraud case. That meant I had to pore over thousands – literally, tens of thousands – of pages of documents to find the ones that were good for our case and bad for our case. I had some other attorneys working “for” me on the project. Late one evening, one of them came into my office as white as a ghost. She had been reviewing some of our client’s desk files and came across a large stack of porn magazines. (Our client was a middle-aged, married man who sweat a lot and devised complicated tax “minimizing” strategies for a living.) She was so horrified, and basically I was too. I also, for some reason, thought it was hysterical. I was hyper-conscious about dealing with the porn problem professionally, though, and reassured her that I’d raise it with the partners on the case, all while biting the inside corners of my cheeks. The next day, I had to tell the (male) partners about the porn discovery. That called on my minimal professional aptitudes as well, because in that context, I was mortified that I was uttering the words across the same desk where my annual review had been given only weeks before.

Perhaps not surprisingly, during another document review assignment, I had to look through the entire hard drive of our client’s desktop computer. I discovered little about the case, but did stumble upon the affair he was having with a buxom blonde, much younger than the wife who regularly emailed pictures of their kids.

Thanks for all the great questions. In a couple weeks, I’m going to do a post on whether law school is for you, so keep an eye out!

Featured image via Shutterstock