Non-Traditional Lawyer, at your service
Opening my own law firm has really made me grateful for the time and effort I put into my education and my career over the years. I have had the luck of finding amazing mentors and friends along the way. So, while I have no intention of stealing the thunder from the Nevada Bar’s Transitioning Into Practice Program, this was my Transition Into Practice and it was quite a journey.
What the heck is a nontraditional lawyer? You know the “traditional” lawyer – graduated high school, went to four-ish years of college, then maybe didn’t know what else to do with their life so they went to law school, clerked for law firms or judges, then landed the best job they could out of law school, starting out as an associate putting in 60+ hour weeks just to try to figure out what the hell they’re doing? Or, there’s also the my dad was a lawyer, and his dad was a lawyer, and his dad’s dad’s dad’s dad was a lawyer as well kind of lawyer. There’s nothing wrong with either, these are the traditional ways of my people. But the nontraditional lawyer is one of the many unsung heroes of the legal community, in my humble opinion. I may be biased, of course.
I come from a long line of nontraditional women.
My great grandmother played cards with the boys, drinking and smoking, and was divorced multiple times before it was ever socially acceptable. My grandmother was one of the first women card dealers on the amazing Las Vegas Strip (now downtown). My mother became the highest ranking female in the North Las Vegas Detention Center (well before North Las Vegas took the nose dive it has in the last decade or so). Why should my path to become a lawyer be any different?
Not to mention, while law enforcement is an amazingly respectable job, it never has paid as well as it should. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for college and law school and I wasn’t willing to put them or myself into a heapload of debt (my Gram taught me that) for it. So I knew from a young age that I was going to have to work hard to become a lawyer.
I have worked and gone to school in varying degrees of part- and full-time since I can remember.
I started in retail in high school like a lot of kids do, and then moved over to office work before I graduated (CheyTown!) and started school at CSN. I worked for a large format scanning and graphics design company for a while, did data entry for a company that imported hair accessories, and then my mom helped me get my first law office job.
I worked for a solo practitioner who was nothing short of amazing. He and his office manager extraordinaire treated me like family from the very beginning. He was appointed to a vacant Judgeship at the District Court almost a year later, and he wasn’t able to take me with him. I helped him close up shop, though, and we have remained in touch to this day. When I passed the Bar, he swore me in as an officer of the Court. It was a special moment for me, and for him, I think.
There were several law offices along the way while I went to school to get my Mathematics degree (#lawyernerd alert) from UNLV. It’s an arts degree, so don’t worry, I’m not a complete nerd. Anyway. During my time working in law offices, I really learned about the business from the bottom up. I was a runner, a receptionist, a legal secretary, and a legal assistant during college (don’t ask me what the difference between the last two are, I still don’t know).
Working around the law was fuel for the fire that started when I was 8 – I wanted to know more about the law and really tried to start understanding the processes, what it all meant, and how it connected together. I dove head first into every job, giving it everything I could in order to learn.
The summer before I started law school, I also started working at a small local office – 3 partners, 2 associates, and a handful of staff, myself included – as a legal assistant. I initially turned down the job, because it sounded too secretarial. I knew I was going into law school and I did not want to keep pushing papers around. I had spent the last 4 or so years doing that as I learned my way around a law office. I told the office manager that and declined the job offer. Well, a few days later, I had an epic blow out with my boss at the time and so I called the office manager back and asked if the position was still open. Thank goodness it was.
Then my real legal education started. The partner I worked under was a brilliant, meticulous, perfectionist, with a big heart and a hot temper. It was a rollercoaster sometimes, but man did I learn a lot from him. He really challenged me to do my best and to pay attention to the details (more than I already was) and I respect him for it. Our relationship went a bit sideways as I continued through law school and I started dealing with my personal problems, unfortunately. But that’s a story for another time. His partner has a laugh that is unparalleled and is another guy with a huge heart. And the third, God rest his soul, was the crotchety old grandpa. It was a great place to work.
These guys saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself at the time and I can’t thank them enough for that. About six months into law school (ish), they promoted me to law clerk. I remember wanting to be a law clerk when I was just barely a legal secretary and I was so excited to get the chance.
My childhood dream was becoming reality!
Of course, now I know that they probably gave me the title so soon just because they were making plans to go into big law at the time, and I had become a piece of a the package deal. Either way, I was amazingly appreciative of the opportunity.
Then came the move into big law, which is a blog in and of itself – trust me. Although I still wasn’t a licensed lawyer, I was doing just about everything a new associate would do. I was learning the law at night and applying the law during the day, learning how to write an artful legal brief, whatever the hell that meant. Getting the license quickly became a matter of formalities. I really only needed it so I could start signing pleadings, doing depositions, and going to Court when the partners didn’t want to.
Although it was insane juggling the pressures of four years of law school four nights a week, without any summer or winter breaks off, it was worth it in the end. It really helped me become the lawyer/business owner I am today.