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How I Built a Professional Maternity Wardrobe Without Breaking the Bank

In the first several weeks and months of my pregnancy, I was so anxious to know the baby was growing well, that any weight gain and hint of a baby belly was a welcome discovery. Sure, my clothes fit a little tighter and my key professional pieces got less comfortable every time I wore them, but that was exactly what was supposed to happen.

Now in my sixth month, there are only a few non-maternity articles still in rotation (including my suit I bought when I first became an attorney, and before I lost twenty pounds of “Bar Exam Weight”; it is 2017: what’s old is new again!). Every day, getting dressed is a new challenge; it is hardly even useful to lay out an outfit the night before, because if baby decides to flip overnight, it may not fit any more!

Desperately searching the great Internet Library for wardrobe ideas, I was disappointed that most maternity wardrobe advice fell into two categories: (1) Wear leggings, t-shirts,a and elastics on your jeans all the time; or (2) Spend all your money on a completely new wardrobe you will use for the next ten months!

We all want to look like Amal Clooney, but what is a young professional to do? I have to look grown-up and put together, but I am not interested in investing hundreds or even thousands into clothes I will only wear for the next six months! Couple my budget constraints with the fact that many clothing lines simply do not offer enough options for female attorneys in general, let alone specific maternity wear, I had to get creative. Although I still have a lot of growing to do, I have already learned a few tips and tricks you might find helpful when building your professional maternity wardrobe, while staying within a reasonable budget.

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You can be surprised by the versatility of some non-maternity items in your closet – or someone else’s! This open blazer looks sharp without putting pressure on your ever-growing torso by foregoing a button closure. Via Kohl’s.

1. Accept hand-me-downs with gratitude.

I have the joy and pleasure of having a close friend who’s pregnancy slightly overlapped with my own. She just had her baby girl two weeks ago, and has been graciously sharing her maternity clothes with me as she outgrows them or simply doesn’t have a use for them any more. She was especially helpful because she worked in an office during her first pregnancy, so she supplied my first pairs of dress pants and blouses for the office. Even though some pieces I may not find useful because of fit, style, or the particular season, many of her hand-me-downs have helped fill critical gaps in my wardrobe and saved the day when I was waiting for purchased clothes to arrive in the mail! I have been so blessed by her generosity and look forward to the day when I will get to pay it forward by sharing my clothes with someone else.

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2. Shop at home first, and then slowly.

In my experience it is a good idea to wait and see what you will need as you go along, rather than filling the online (or real) shopping cart as soon as the test turns blue. In fact, when I looked in my own closet first, I found at least a half-dozen shirts that will work well during every month of pregnancy, two skirts that will probably fit up until the end, and a couple of pairs of leggings that will be well-worn during this period. After I bought my first round of maternity clothes and wore them for a couple of months, I began to notice where there were gaps in my collection. In my first maternity haul, I focused on dresses, thinking they would be a versatile all-in-one outfits. However, after a few weeks of, “Getting dressed would be so much easier if I just had a pencil skirt,” I knew buying that one piece would go far! I realized that although my work dresses were helpful, I needed a few more bottoms so I could mix and match for even more outfits. If I bought too many dresses at first, I would have wasted money on things that did not turn out to be as useful as I thought.

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Stores like Target and Old Navy update their collections often with each season, so check back frequently for styles that go on sale. This slightly less summary top may not be what you want at a barbecue, but it is perfectly work appropriate in your air conditioned office! Via Target.

3. Sales Sales Sales – have I mentioned Sales?

I am not one to pay full price for anything, anyway, but that is especially true when shopping for what will turn out to be – let’s face it – a temporary wardrobe. I know I will continue to wear these after the baby comes for several months, but ultimately I will look funny in pleated shirts and ruched dresses. My go-to place has been Old Navy, but I have also gotten a few pieces from H&M. Old Navy has insane sales and you can practically steal clothes with the deals and discounts they always send to your inbox. I don’t usually like Old Navy for key articles because they are not known to endure for the long-haul, but that is perfect when I am only looking for clothes to last me six months or so! So far, I have spent about two hundred dollars in total on maternity clothes, which has gotten me:

  • two court-appropriate work dresses
  • three slightly less dressy but work-appropriate dresses
  • black dress pants
  • black pencil skirt
  • floral printed t-shirt
  • maternity tankini top
  • sleeveless plain top
  • sleeveless patterned top
  • wireless bra

Twelve items for two hundred dollars means each item cost an average of sixteen dollars. Am I a genius, or what?

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You cannot go wrong with a little black dress – especially this one, which has a button opening to assist in nursing. Via Old Navy.

4. Get the most wear out of every purchase. 

For professional women like me, our “around the house/running errands/weekend” clothes are the exception, not the rule. Maternity jeans, leggings, and flowy sweaters are not going to cut it in court, closings, and client meetings – as comfortable as they may be! It is a challenge, but I have to resist the comfy, casual maternity clothes that are so easy to find. Instead, when at home and on the weekend, I have opted to wear the things I already have (even though they might not fit the best), hand-me-downs, and the few articles I bought that work well for both the office and home.

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This is exactly the kind of dress that is casual enough for a throw-on and go Saturday, but I can also wear with the right accessories and cardigan at the office. Via Old Navy.

A couple of dresses I bought are casual enough that they can be worn to my sister’s birthday party, and then dressed up with accessories and a blazer for the office. It is worth it to me to spend money on the pieces I will wear from 9-5 every day, and then hack it for the rest of the time.

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The mandarin collar on this top is just enough to make it interesting, and the bright color exudes confidence and sophistication. Via H&M

5. Style is in the details: collar, color, and cut.

The most polished look one can wear is a tailored suit, but there is no way I am spending hundreds on a dry-clean only suit, which – if tailored properly – will not even last me through my pregnancy! I needed to switch to stretchier fabrics, but remain polished. How does one fake the tailored look? The details: collars, colors, and cut. A collar or bow on even the loosest-fitting shirt looks instantly more groomed. You will be surprised by the casual brands that still carry shirts with a mandarin collar, a lower-maintenance version of the traditional. If your tops don’t have a collar, add the structure with an open blazer (even a non-maternity one without buttons will provide the collar effect with comfort).

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A shirt like this will take you far, with it’s classic look and color, even without a blazer. This is all-cotton, although it is a denim weave, providing additional structure. Via Target.

As for colors, I like to stick with solid black on the bottom and a bold shirt. This not only makes the shirt more memorable (making it easier to re-wear the bottom even the next day), but the contrast adds a bold confidence. I like sophisticated patterns like stripes or large floral. Otherwise, I tend towards colors that are timeless and serious: maroon, white, and light blue are appropriate for every season.

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This bold print makes the outfit interesting, even without heavy jewelry. A solid pant or skirt and white or light blue cardigan complete the look. Via Old Navy.

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Just like your non-maternity wardrobe, you will need basics to mix and match. I prefer a boot-cut to the slim ankle, because my ankles already tended to be too large for them before pregnancy. Via Gap.

Finally, cut. It is shocking to me that anyone would design a short maternity dress. As if I want one more thing to worry about while navigating pregnancy, let’s add, “Don’t flash everyone!” to the mix. This is something to be particularly aware of when buying from budget brands: they tend to take short-cuts (literally) on length. I do not buy dresses that are described as hitting “above the knee.” I similarly do no buy maxi-style dresses online, because if they are not quite long enough, they look too juvenile.

As for body-con versus empire waist, it depends on how loose the particular dress or shirt is made. I cannot wear a spandex bandage to court, but a billowy sack would also not send the right message. My favorite professional look has been somewhere in-between: an empire waist, but a slightly more fitted skirt. It provides a nod to my pre-maternity favorite (pencil skirt), without being too stuffy or tight. The fabric is key here: a jersey cotton is not going to give you the structure that a polyester blend can.

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This is a fantastically bold color and the cut is perfect: just long enough. The detail at the waist makes it slightly more fitted, without being shockingly tight. Via Old Navy.

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5 Reasons Young Attorneys Are Better

I get it, I am young. I have reached the end of many meetings and consultations to be asked on the way out, “So, how old are you?” And when the room is full of people bonding over the challenges of calculating Medicare benefits, they do not always find my presence as obviously ridiculous as I do. They usually get snarky about my age.

But it is not all bad. This kid, the fresh meat that is advising You: a business owner three times her age, on tax and liability matters may not be your favorite experience, or one you ever imagined as the ideal. But I believe there are several distinct advantages to having a young attorney that I urge you should consider. I have made it easy for you and listed them below.

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Stock photos are going to make this post funnier, I promise. He looks scared, but you should not be scared of young attorneys.

1. We start everything from scratch.

You may be confused as to why it is better to start something from scratch, when a well-seasoned counselor can re-use her prior work for your case. Yes, it will take them less time and they will be less stressed about it. But here is the advantage of staring over: things change, procedures get updated, laws are removed and re-written, and forms are created. When a new lawyer gets a problem they have never seen, they start from the beginning: we check the latest statutes and cases, and then find out what, if there is, a form we need to use. When we start over from the beginning, we create the most up-to-date product and arguments. It takes more time, but it feels good to know something the older attorneys don’t. And the Court’s don’t care how much experience you have; they want accuracy and they want things done their way. I have gotten complimented by the Chief Clerk of the Middletown Superior Court that he had never seen anyone put as much careful effort into drafting a judgement file as I had!

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Look how fun we are! We get along with everybody!

2. We don’t have bad blood with anyone.

Although the Connecticut Bar is a professional, courteous institution, there are occasional tiffs that arise between colleagues. It is not uncommon for a new attorney to take the place that would typically be occupied by her superior because the attorney on the other side does not get along with said superior. We are still meeting everyone, so we have no reputation to precede us. When we introduce ourselves to a judge or work with another lawyer, their opinions are blank slates. Most often, that works in our favor. And you never have to worry about someone taking out a past beef on you and your case.

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See how we can creepily stare you down? It is one of our gifts. We are trying to hypnotize you.

3. We are careful as ever.

This goes along with the “starting from scratch,” but also includes the fact that we are not prone to taking big risks because of over confidence. We are cautious, and careful. We try to be courteous and considerate. It usually makes people like us more, which helps us get away with things a jerk might not. Judges tend to like us because we treat every case with extreme importance because every one is our “first [situation]”, and are usually over-prepared. While other attorneys can do “small stuff” in their sleep, we lose sleep over the most inconsequential details. It helps us make fewer mistakes and makes us the most alert person in the courtroom.

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Staring into the future – our future.

4. We are up to date on the latest trends.

We are the most recent graduates from law school, where we learned the latest trends and developments in all areas of the law. While the more experience members of the Bar have the history and the, “When I was starting out, it was like this…” (which are great and interesting stories, don’t get me wrong!), but we have the now, which is what matters to you now. We know what has been happening and where it is headed. Law doesn’t change overnight, developments usually start on one of the coasts, jump to the other, and then start popping up in places like Ohio and Texas, before trickling down to others. We learned and continue to read up about what is coming around the corner, and may even be able to use changes in other jurisdictions to your advantage. We are still the babies of the field, so we work hard to keep up.

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Yes, Chris, the words you are writing here can be typed directly into your laptop. And then you can change them without white-out. Isn’t that amazing?

5. We just get technology.

Look, it is not a universal truth that older people and”varsity” attorneys are technologically challenged. All I am saying is that young people see technology as a tool that is makes things easier and can adapt to new technology faster. It is intuitive for us. We are less scared of it, and understand the options out there. We have grown up with the stuff, so if there is someone who needs to know how to open an email attachment or submit paperwork online, it is more likely to be the freshly-minted attorney. Why is this better for you? Technology makes things faster and makes us more responsive and approachable. Time saved equals money saved. We also understand the real risks out there – including the ever-growing threats of cyber crime against law firms and you. We tend to better understand the tools, so we understand the holes.

-D. E. Barbi Bee

August: Ask an Attorney #4

Hi! Welcome to the August: Ask an Attorney Series! Be sure to check out my other posts in the series by clicking here.

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QUESTION FOUR: Why isn’t marijuana legal everywhere, like in Colorado? They are raising a ton of money from marijuana sales, and seem to be doing fine.

The legal issues around marijuana – medical and recreational – in the United States are abundant and complex. It is truly one of my favorite debates, and an extremely relevant one, since the federal government is kinda, sorta [but not really committing to] reclassifying marijuana in federal law as a schedule two drug. “What the what?!?” you say, “Schedule what now?”

Let’s start with some background information, like the concept of dual sovereignty. The phrase itself is fairly simple: “dual” = two; “sovereignty” = supreme power or authority/governing state. Duhaime.com defines the doctrine by saying, “A maxim of law which allows the double prosecution of a person by more than one state for the same crime, where both states have jurisdiction for the prosecution, and notwithstanding the double jeopardy rule.”

In short, dual sovereignty means in the United States, you have two governments to report to: your state government, and the federal government. They have different laws, and you have to obey both, and if you do something that breaks bothboth of them can prosecute you.

Another concept you should learn here is regarding conflicts of laws. There is a distinct hierarchy of power among the sovereigns, and even within them. So let’s say the Oklahoma governor signs a bill into law saying everyone in the state has to wear blue shirts on Wednesdays. But the same day, the United States Congress passes a law saying everyone has to wear red on Wednesdays. These laws are in direct conflict with each other: no one can obey both of them. So who wins?

For the most part, federal law beats state law. [There are intricacies of this rule, but they don’t matter here.]

The point of teaching you about dual sovereignty and conflicts of laws is because of the part of the question where it was implied that marijuana is legal in Colorado. That’s not true, because there are two laws in effect in Colorado (federal and state), and because federal law says marijuana is still illegal (and federal law trumps state). Got it? Good.

[Side note: if marijuana is so illegal in Colorado, why is everyone acting like it’s legal? Excellent question. See, a long time ago the United States Supreme Court was like, “Hey, we have all these states. You know what would be fun? Let them experiment and try stuff we couldn’t at a national level, just to see how it works out?” Thus, the concept of states as “laboratories of democracy” was born. What this means for our discussion is that the federal government is literally sitting back, chilling, and is like, “Okay Colorado, we won’t stop you now, but if things get out of hand we will be right here watching.” But Colorado’s marijuana dealers aren’t taking any chances; there is even a booming security industry in Colorado to keep an eye on all the dealer’s cash. Because you know who doesn’t want to hold money that the federal government could come in and take as illegal drug money at literally any time? Banks.]

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No matter what shade of blue each state is, marijuana is still illegal there.

Okay, so now that we know that marijuana is illegal in every single one of the United States, what’s this “schedule” business?

Back in the day, Congress passed a law saying (basically), “We want a way to group drugs into different categories to make it easier to figure out how much to punish people for abusing these. Let’s figure out which drugs have the most medical uses and lowest risk of abuse, and then figure out which ones have the least medical uses and highest risk of abuse, and put it all in a chart called a ‘schedule.'”

Now we have five schedules, and you can read more about them and what drugs are where by clicking here. As you saw on the link you clicked (totally, right?), marijuana is a “Schedule One” drug. Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. Sec. 812, a Schedule One drug has three characteristics: “(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse. (B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. (C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.”

[P.S. Take note that in the list of which drugs are in which schedule, alcohol and tobacco are not on the list. More on that later.]

This year, the DEA and Mr. President have been teasing everyone, saying, “We might just look into these medical uses, and put marijuana in the schedule two category.” (As you learned on that link you clicked, Schedule Two drugs still have a high risk of abuse, but has some legitimate medical purposes.) Most importantly, this would free up funding for legitimate medical uses of marijuana (as a Schedule One drug, this is tres difficult).

Some people got really excited, and even lied in this article about it, saying, “Guys, it’s totally going to happen; we have the inside scoop.”

Then August 1, 2016 came around and Mr. President was like, “Nah.”

To recap: marijuana is still illegal in all fifty states, and the President decided that marijuana still has no legitimate medical purpose in the United States.

Now that we understand the current situation, let’s address some of the common reasons why marijuana is still illegal in these United States. I’m not a doctor, or a scientist, or medical researcher, so I’m no expert. But I will reference as many of them as I can in my brief responses to some of the most common reasons given to legalize marijuana.

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1. Alcohol is legal, and it’s way deadlier than marijuana.

The conclusion of this argument (which is rarely said out loud) is: …”so marijuana should be legal, because alcohol is worse.” This is like when you get caught hitting your little sister, and your mom yells at you, and you say, “But she called me…” and your mom doesn’t want to hear it, because her bad thing doesn’t take away your bad thing. The implied conclusion is rarely said out loud because the rebuttal is too easy: “Then we should just make alcohol illegal, too!” The legality of one harmful drug does not prove that another harmful drug should also be legal. The two may be logically inconsistent, but more on why they are treated so differently in a minute.

Dr. Elizabeth Hartney said it best, “Although alcohol and tobacco are currently legal for adults, they are both highly addictive drugs and long-term use is associated with life-threatening health effects. However, the fact that alcohol and tobacco are harmful does not in any way reduce the harms of marijuana smoking.”

Recall earlier when I told you to take note that alcohol and tobacco were not on the list of scheduled drugs? That’s because historically, alcohol and tobacco have been treated in very different ways from marijuana and other drugs. For example, Congress tried to make alcohol illegal, but it didn’t help our nation’s alcohol problem. So then they threw up their hands and said, “Fine, you states deal with this yourselves!” But don’t worry, Congress still had a way to regulate alcohol. Today, the national drinking age is twenty-one because Congress passed a law and said, “Hey, you can make your drinking age whatever you want, but if it is lower than twenty-one, we are not giving you as much money to keep your highways smooth and pretty.” Yeah, literally.

In short, yes, alcohol is deadlier than marijuana. There is no way to dispute that. But comparing this nation’s treatment of marijuana and alcohol as parallel in policy or history is way misleading. You might as well compare federal regulation of marijuana with federal regulation of raising chickens.

2. Legalizing marijuana will make this country so much money because we can tax it! 

Probs. It is difficult to find an accurate number, but, yes, Colorado has probably made hundreds of millions of dollars in tax and related revenue since legalizing recreational marijuana.

But that’s not the whole story. First, the market responds to higher and higher taxes. Initial estimates for tax revenue from legalizing marijuana way over-hyped the actual figures in the first year. And many legitimately argue that a crazy tax (like 25%: I’m looking at you, D.C.), will push many buyers to black market dealers, who won’t impose the taxes, and may be more prominent once the product is decriminalized.

Second, even if our government makes a decent revenue from regulating marijuana, experts agree that there will be corresponding increases in costs necessary to treat a growing population of marijuana users and abusers. See this graphic from the Drug Free America Foundation, which lays out details regarding the likelihood of increased use and abuse, and national costs associated with those changes.

3. Anti-legal marijuana advocates “feared that more high school aged kids would be smoking weed.… No.”

The video this quote came from didn’t give any reason why they don’t believe legal marijuana would increase use among teenagers. But since he’s in denial, I’ll lay it out here.

First, why are we so worried about teens using marijuana? Because it’s super bad and does mega damage to a teenager’s developing brain. Marijuana can negatively effect everyone’s physical and mental health, but for teenagers the consequences are magnified and multiplied. Marijuana use among teenagers increases the risk he or she will become addicted to the drug, increases the risk he or she will “suffer from depression, anxiety, psychosis, or other mental illness,” can cause permanent loss of IQ points, and can decrease a student’s performance in school and work.

In one study, “‘We found that people who began using marijuana in their teenage years and then continued to use marijuana for many years lost about eight IQ points from childhood to adulthood,’ says study author Madeline Meier, now a professor at Arizona State University, ‘whereas those who never used marijuana did not lose any IQ points.'”

Second, legalizing marijuana can lead to increased use. As Time reported, “Pot advocates try to dismiss all that [negative health risks] by pointing out that marijuana is being legalized only for adults. But as with alcohol, wider availability filters down to kids. And with pot legal for adults, the black market will likely redirect its efforts to teens, where, as cited, the damage of marijuana use is greater and more irreversible.”

I’ll admit, the studies coming out of the laboratory called Colorado have shown that marijuana use among teenagers since legalization has not increased in that state, and have followed the national trend. “A large study found that rates of cannabis use among teenagers in states that legalized medical marijuana did not increase. And since Colorado fully legalized cannabis in 2013, the early reports show that rates of cannabis consumption among teens have continued to decline, which is part of a nation-wide trend,” writes Dr. J. Wesley Boyd in Physcology Today. Those two years of data coming out of one state, however, have not convinced me.

Furthermore, “States with medical and recreational marijuana laws do see higher rates of teen consumption – they’re 27 percent more like to regularly use cannabis than minors in no-access states.” Which begs the question: are states that legalize marijuana already so approving of the drug, that the legalization would not affect overall use?

A 2004 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse identified risk factors associated with drug use among children and adolescents, writing, “Other factors—such as drug availability, drug trafficking patterns, and beliefs that drug abuse is generally tolerated—are also risks that can influence young people to start to abuse drugs.”

The bottom line is this: if drugs are available, perceived as acceptable, and part of the social norm, teenagers are more likely to use. Given how harmful marijuana can be to teenagers, I am strongly in favor of trying to cut those risk factors by keeping marijuana illegal. And that, by the way, is the federal government’s interest as well.

Many people, including attorneys I have spoken to on this issue, believe it is none of the government’s business and people should be able to do what they want. I disagree. One of the main functions of government is to protect the public health, and this is a serious public health concern; one in which only the government can take the action necessary to protect its citizens.

-D. B. Barbi Bee

 

August: Ask an Attorney #3

If you are new to the Ask an Attorney Series – welcome! Check out what this is, as well as the answer to my first question by clicking here. Check out my answer to the second question by clicking here. Don’t forget to leave your questions in the comment box; they may be featured in my next post!

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This is my face just minutes after finding out I passed the Bar Exam! Look at that smile: I had not idea….

THIRD QUESTION: Why are attorneys so doom and gloom? They are always looking at the worst in a situation.

Oh, boy! If only I could turn off the “risk-o-meter” constantly spinning in my head. This weekend, I was walking into a local grocery store to pick up items for my mother’s birthday. Just before entering, my husband pointed out to me a small vegetable patch just outside the door: a few tomato plants and what could be zucchini or pumpkin greens. My immediate thought was, “How cute. I wonder if they sell those to the public?” One split-second later, my thought was, “Oh no, do they have a license to sell those?? What about the liability!?”

Like insurance agents, attorneys are trained in the depressing art of risk management. They make no guarantees or promises, and in many cases, you never even know if what they do for you was necessary. Attorneys work to prevent and reduce harm to your interests. Their success depends on you following instructions, others doing their part, and a little bit of luck.

Take, for example, the fairly uncomplicated act of writing a will. If you are married in Connecticut, your spouse is not the sole heir of your estate. That means that if you are married and die without a will, your spouse doesn’t automatically get everything. In case it wasn’t obvious, writing a will can be a justifiably gloomy exercise. You have to walk through tons of scenarios that all involve you dying, and some involve just about everyone in your family dying, too. (“Okay, so in case you and your husband die, your sister is dead, and your children are still under the age of 25, who would you like to file the paperwork with the court? And what about if your brother and sister-in-law get divorced?” Yeah, it’s rough.)

But, as noted above, if your don’t have a will, your family could be in a far more complicated circumstance than the awkwardness of determining inheritance if your family endures the worst bus accident in human history. The lesson? When you leave your attorney’s office feeling very depressed, lighten your load by knowing that what you just did was well worth the effort.

Or was it?

See, the truth is, most people don’t die with their spouse. And most people don’t die young. And most people don’t lose two or three of their closest relatives at the same time as their own life is lost. When writing your will, your attorney is trying to protect you and your family against the 0.0000003%* chance that everything in the world goes horribly wrong at once. You will probably never need that kind of protection. But you just might.

In this way, some of what attorneys do is provide insurance. And like insurance, it may not ever be required. But you don’t buy homeowner’s insurance because you think your house will catch on fire. You buy it to protect your interests just in case. A lot of what attorneys do can be characterized the same way, just in case.

Insurance-type work is the bulk of what transactional attorneys to. These are the ones who write and negotiate contracts, agreements, and that pile of paperwork. These are the ones responsible for all that fine print that comes in the box with the electric drill you bought. These are the ones that “drag everything out just to make more money,” and “haggle over ridiculous wording. Who cares?!” (Might have heard these sometime… difficult to recall….)

The truth is, we wish we didn’t have to care. The truth is, we don’t like having to explain why the last draft actually isn’t the final draft – yet again – and why – yet again – the transaction is being delayed and we have to go back to the table. What we are doing is trying to get the deal closed and get you the best possible insurance for the future. And even if none of the scenarios we are imagining ever come to be true, we have to make sure you are protected just in case. [Believe me, we don’t like this dragging out any more than you do.]

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I’ll close with these final thoughts. While much of what attorneys do is try to protect your interests just in case, we can never, ever protect you against everything (especially from yourself). My two least favorite questions to be asked by a client are:

  1. Do I have to do that?
  2. Can they sue me if I do this?

The answers are very simple. 1. You don’t have to do anything, but there will be consequences if you do or do not do something. 2. Nothing we do can ever protect you from being sued. Anyone can sue anyone. Whether or not they win (or even how far they get) is another question.

Attorneys tend to see the world like a chess game, or a flow chart: the outcomes depend on how parties respond to many factors (most outside of our control), as well as the insurance we provided for you up front. Our risk-o-meters are only part of the equation, but an extremely critical one at that.

So instead of bad-mouthing all those long-winded attorneys who “drag things out” and are so pessimistic, recall that we are involved for one purpose and one purpose only: to protect your interests now and down the road from things you can’t even imagine. We ponder the depressing stuff so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

*not an actual number. Just an illustration.

-D. E. Barbi Bee

Do you have any questions for this attorney? Leave a question in the comment box!

 

August: Ask an Attorney #2

If you are new to the Ask an Attorney Series – welcome! Check out why the heck this is happening, as well as the answer to my first question by clicking here. Don’t forget to leave your questions in the comment box; they may be featured in my next post!

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SECOND QUESTION: Can we please just repeal Citizens United already? What a disaster!!

One comment last week suggested I write about my favorite landmark decisions. Which got me thinking about the number of Supreme Court cases that the vast majority of people – no matter how intelligent or educated – straight-up don’t understand.

The biggest case getting thrown around alongside all kinds of misinformation these days is called CITIZENS UNITED v . FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION. You have probably heard about it from Bernie Sanders or some of his ardent supporters. His website even lays out his misunderstanding of the case, where he says, “The Citizens United decision hinges on the absurd notion that money is speech, corporations are people, and giving huge piles of undisclosed cash to politicians in exchange for access and influence does not constitute corruption.” Later, on the same page, he promises that as President, he would nominate judges who would overturn Citizens United. (Ironically, the case was brought by a corporation that wanted to advertise and air an anti-Hillary Clinton film during primary season.)

Senator Sanders does an excellent job here of summarizing the public’s misunderstanding of this case. So we’ll break down what he says to cover our bases. Claim #1: It is an absurd notion that money is speech. Talking is speech. Writing is speech. Photos are speech. Paintings are speech. Movies are speech. Commercials are speech. Money is speech.

It costs money to get your speech to the listeners. Printing newspapers, publishing ads in magazines, supporting your website, manufacturing signs and t-shirts: it all costs money. The right to free speech cannot be exercised without the companion right to fund said speech. 

If you would like a concrete example of how we know money is speech, consider the amount of money candidates – including Senator Sanders – must and do raise to fund their campaigns. To make a speech in a high school auditorium is one thing, but to pay cameramen and interns to film it and publish it on Facebook is far more effective – and costs money.

In conclusion: yes, money is speech. Or more accurately, money makes speech possible. It would be hypocritical of anyone concerned with the amount of money corporations spend on political speech to suggest otherwise.

Claim #2: It is an absurd notion that corporations are people. Some vocabulary: People vs. Person. You thought they were the same? They are not. 

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Both of these signs are correct, and neither one is inconsistent with Citizens United.

Let’s go back to that Bill of Rights we discussed last week. If you take a chance to read through the first ten amendments, you will notice a few things: (1) If you wrote them in tenth grade, your English teacher would have gone full red-pen on you. They were not written in a clear way. (2) Sometimes the Bill of Rights reserves right to people, sometimes persons, and sometimes it is not clear at all.

People: are human beings, and sometimes more specifically citizens (either of the United States or individual states therein).

Persons: are sometimes people, and sometimes corporations, partnerships, or other entities.

“So far as legal theory is concerned, a person is any being whom the law regards as capable of rights and duties. Any being that is so capable is a person, whether a human being or not, and no being that is not so capable is a person, even though he be a man. Persons are the substances of which rights and duties are the attributes.” John Salmond, Jurisprudence 318.

*Important side note: what I love about what John Salmond is saying here is that those who receive the rights of persons also have the duties of persons (like being held accountable for damages they cause; i.e. being sued). There is a trade-off. Not everyone sees it this way, but I see it as a significant benefit that when one is harmed by the actions of a corporation, he or she can pursue all the assets (and insurance policies) of the entire corporation, not just the suits behind the veil.*

Now zoom in on the first amendment, which is one of those ambiguous ones. It states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Did you notice that the only time one of our key words was mentioned was in stating that Congress shall make no law abridging “the right of the people to peaceably assemble.” The remaining protected rights in the first amendment – like freedom of speech – are not so clear. Do they belong to people? Persons? Who knows? That is one thing the Citizens United Court had to figure out.

David Silver, Esq., stated it so well in this comment feed, I’ll just repeat it here: “Corporations Are People:  The Court never makes this claim.  Corporations are legal persons, and have been in the law for some time (Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 1819).  Justice Scalia added in his concurrence: ‘The Amendment is written in terms of “speech,” not speakers…We are therefore simply left with the question whether the speech at issue in this case is “speech” covered by the First Amendment . No one says otherwise. A documentary film critical of a potential Presidential candidate is core political speech, and its nature as such does not change simply because it was funded by a corporation. Nor does the character of that funding produce any reduction whatever in the “inherent worth of the speech.”‘”

To conclude: you are correct, Senator Sanders, corporations are not people. But the point you are trying to make (that, unlike people, corporations do not have Constitutional rights) is incorrect. As persons, corporations can sue and be sued, enter into contracts, and have the right to due process of law and to free speech (and to fund said speech).

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Now you can see all the inaccuracies in this poster, can’t you?

Claim #3: It is absurd that giving huge piles of undisclosed cash to politicians in exchange for access and influence does not constitute corruption. There are some big inaccuracies in this statement, but I understand the sentiment. One falsehood is the claim that corporations can now give huge piles of cash to politicians. Citizens United did not change the federal ban on direct corporate contributions to political campaigns. Let’s not forget that this whole case was about airing an anti-Hillary Clinton film. The other falsehood is this whole “undisclosed” business. Did you ever notice those disclaimers at the end of a political commercial that says, “Paid for by…..” Those are not included voluntarily.

But if you look closely at the Senator’s words, he doesn’t even claim that corporations give huge piles of undisclosed cash; he is complaining about any donation of “huge piles of cash.” Senator Sanders, are you even concerned with individuals donating money to campaigns? Surely, Americans can donate money to your campaign as much as they want, right? If Senator Sander would rather muzzle all political speech except from a single, tax-payer funded treasury, then no person would have the freedom of speech – corporations of otherwise.

I do not claim our system is perfect by any means, but the underlying value is for democracy: that all persons should have the freedom to voice their political opinions. And, true, some persons have greater ability to exercise said speech; but the Constitution does not promise that all have the same influence.

I greatly appreciated the Los Angeles Times editorial by John O. McGinniss, where he made this distinction so clear, “But the 1st Amendment guarantees freedom, not equality. Rights are exercised to radically unequal degrees, and the right to speech is no exception. Some people are wealthy and can push their views with their money. Others work for the media or academia and can advance their opinions disproportionately in those settings. Still others command extra attention through celebrity. Most citizens have none of these advantages, but sometimes they join together to amplify their influence. In a free society, what law could succeed in purging elections of the unequal influences of the celebrated, the well-connected or the wealthy? Restricting one group would just magnify the influence of others.”

In conclusion: what you call, in your opinion, corruption, the United States Constitution calls freedom. And since we have already established that money is speech and corporations are persons, any attempt to limit the free speech of corporations – to pass Constitutional muster – would also have to limit the free speech of other persons, like your own campaign contributors.

 

Do you have questions you always wanted to ask an attorney? Leave them in the comments below and you might just get an answer!

-D. E. Barbi Bee

 

 

 

 

August: Ask an Attorney #1

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This September, I will have been at my job for almost a full year! This year has been a rocket ship ride full of challenges/learning experiences, excitement, and many conversations that started with, “So how do you like being a lawyer?”

Answer: I love it. It’s the most difficult, frustrating, stressful job but I truly absolutely love it. I feel like I was designed for this. [Even though I often wish it was more like these jokes.] I can’t imagine myself doing anything else and as small as I sometimes feel, every day I am becoming a better and better attorney and I’m obsessed.

To celebrate my upcoming anniversary, every Monday of August I will sharing my answers to some of the most common questions posed about my job.

FIRST UP: How can you defend someone you know is guilty?

First of all, this question is based on the assumption that a lawyer’s job is to help the accused walk away. *Buzzer sound* Wrong. On a practical level – walking away is not always the goal, and it’s rarely even possible. On a theoretical level – a lawyer’s role in the system as a whole is not letting criminals walk free – it’s about balance.

The American judicial system is built on a few fundamentals, which we happen to love: the presumption of innocence, the power of people against their government, and rights of the accused. You’ve heard of the presumption of innocence: it means that (generally speaking) when the government accuses you of breaking the law, they have to prove it to an impartial third party (judge or jury). Lawyers have to defend the innocent along with the guilty because otherwise this presumption would not exist.

The power of the people is fundamental because our entire government (and, as a function of government, the judicial system) is designed to attempt to combat the basic presumption that everyone in society is hungry for power, and if not properly checked, they will steal too much power and take over. The three branches of government are intended to check each other’s power grabs, the state and federal governments check each other’s power grabs, and the people and government as a whole check each other, too.

When the government (through a police officer and then prosecutor [i.e. government’s attorney]) accuses a person of a crime, the person needs a lawyer on his side to keep the government’s power in check. If the government is not challenged in every case, even when the accused is truly guilty, their power will be unstoppable.

(Side note: I know to some, the system already looks pretty rigged and justice is not being done. All these justifications are in an ideal world, and if our system works perfectly. And even the failure of our system does not mean that attorneys should not represent the guilty – it means more needs to be done, not less.)

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Finally, you know about the Constitution, right? That’s the document that the old guys back in the day wrote to set up the federal government. When they were done, some of those guys were like, “Um, what about the people, though? What do they get?” Good point, Ben, let’s make sure it’s super clear what rights the people have: enter, the Bill of Rights. (Super solid, cool stuff is in there, like not having to testify against yourself, and keeping the cops from snooping around in your house outwith a warrant.) These rights apply to everyone (even “bad guys”), and you should be really pumped about that because if the government can arbitrarily take rights away from someone because they are like 99%  sure they did a bad thing, then they can do it to anyone – even you!

So defense lawyers make sure that the government is on its best behavior all the time, so whether they are dealing with a bad guy or not, so everyone’s rights are preserved. This, by the way, is why people get away sometimes because of “technicalities”: the police didn’t follow this rule or that rule, so the evidence is hidden from the jury, and the defendant walks free. Does it stink sometimes? Yup. But, again, in an ideal world, the police would follow all the rules, and then good guys will walk free and bad guys go to jail.

All this may sound totally absurd, but it’s super, majorly important. Someone asked me once if a lawyer who knew their client was guilty could just do a bad job, and make sure the person went to jail. NO! Big time no! Why? One of those important rights we discussed is that everyone has a right to a competent attorney – if you do a bad job, and the bad guy goes to jail, he can appeal by saying he had a bad attorney, and he can end up walking free!

The entire American system is designed so that if everyone does their job perfectly, and everyone follows the rules, justice will be done. Obviously, Making a Murderer fans and Black Lives Matter alike will shake their heads at that theory – but that’s the plan. As lawyers, we have a very important role to play in this system. Even when it fails, I can say that my role in the system – despite its flaws – was honored.

Thanks for joining me for week one of Ask an Attorney! Come back next Monday for the next answer. Do you have a question you always wanted to ask? Here’s your chance!