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Fourteen Years

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photo (69)Exactly fourteen years ago tonight, at 11 p.m. on the eve of the birth of my second daughter (a planned induction since I was overdue), I waddled from my house to the just-opened all-night CVS four blocks away to buy a disposable camera for the big day. Back then, smartphones with reasonable photo capability hadn’t yet arrived on the scene – but CVS could develop the photos in an hour and put them on disk. Of course, in 1999, we didn’t have Facebook, Tumblr or blogs either – but over the weekend, I’d hand-coded this website to announce the birth, with instructions to my husband on how to upload the photos to take the site live.

In addition to the preparations for the birth, I’d also averted a work crisis earlier that day. Because I’d originally thought I’d be induced later in the week, I’d thought that I would have enough time to file the docketing materials in a pending case at the D.C. Circuit before heading to the hospital. Today, I can churn these out and e-file them in two hours and probably could have whisked them out that same night that I trekked to CVS. But back then, completing a docketing filing required me to complete a form by hand, generate four other documents, print out and append two large agency orders and make six copies of the 70 page packet, arrange for a messenger to deliver them to the court and return the stamped copy and then serve the parties by mail. It’s a task that could consume a half day – and I wasn’t sure I’d be up for it right after giving birth. So rather than risk a late filing, I’d filed an extension with the court. To my relief, the clerk had left a voice mail on my machine earlier that day letting me know that the motion had been shepherded up to the motions office and duly granted – and conveying the office’s congratulations on the upcoming birth (which had been my “good cause” for an extension).

Of course, what’s funny is that in spite of all of these preparations (which exhaust me just to write about), at the time that my second daughter was born, I felt so very cool and cutting edge.  Instead of the hard copy cards I’d created for my older daughter, now, I’d announce my daughter’s birth online  — never mind that it would require photos on disk, knowledge of HTML and FTP protocols and a proxy – my husband – to take the site live while I spent the night at the hospital.  Although I’d had to get an extension for my filing, because it was just a two-page submission, I could gin it up on my desktop and fax it over to my messenger (who could make photocopies for small size jobs) and send it in. And the fact that the clerk’s office — of the DC Circuit! — had been so diligent in helping me out and leaving a personal confirmation (today, I’d just get an ECF notice) made me feel like a court house insider.

Now looking back, I still can’t fathom how so very much has changed in fourteen years.  It’s not just my sweet Mira who’s evolved from a baby into a teenager (who like most other teens, has more functionality in her cell-phone than I had in my clunky five-pound, $1400 laptop), but a whole world that’s changed as well. If I were having a baby now, I wouldn’t have been out at CVS buying a camera the night before leaving for the hospital –  I’d have been Facebooking pictures of my stomach. I wouldn’t have been instructing my husband on how to insert photos into an HTML-coded site – I’d be charging my iphone so that I could tweet the birth and a picture  seconds later. I wouldn’t have had to ask for that extension because I would have zapped the 70-paged document over to the court via e-filing and been done with it. And with today’s technology and amenities – from virtual assistants and cloud-based tools and social media , I’m not sure that my practice would have skipped the beats that it did.

I’ve been on the side of my career with young children and while I loved those heady days more than anything I’d ever known, for those of you doing it now, I know how hard it can be  when you’re in the middle of running practice while raising a family, constantly figuring out how to meet client demands and still spending time with your kids and getting dinner on the table and laundry done all while keeping your personal life to yourself. But at the same time, when I look back and then flash-foward, it is so utterly clear to me that women lawyers (and men!) have more opportunities than ever to achieve success that doesn’t necessarily depend upon the kindness of others through powerful and cheap tools and platforms that not only let part-timers or career off-rampers tread water and stay in the same place but actually push their career in different directions. Whether it’s starting a blog (which I didn’t do until my younger daughter turned three, and then it took another year before people actually started reading blogs) or using social media to create meet-up group of parents who practice or publishing an ebook or serving clients with online portals so that you can work at odd hours, today’s young lawyers are truly limited only by their imagination and energy.

As for me, I did as much as I could with what I could with what was known to me at the time. My website 1.0 (pretty much an online brochure) was up and running when I was pregnant with my first daughter and with more extensive use of email with my second daughter along with a somewhat more advanced, but still primitive website here . I relied largely on email to work as of counsel to a small energy firm while serving my own clients – but I pretty much lost contact with colleagues because it just took too much planning and juggling to get downtown for lunches or happy hours with limited childcare and a working spouse. True, I could – and did – still wrote – and even though the Washington Legal Times published much a few of my early pieces, I couldn’t write and publish nearly as much as I could on a blog. So when I see the kind of technology that’s available now, my regret — as well as my solace — is that those tools simply didn’t exist (at least in the user-friendly, accessible way it does now) back in the day when my girls were small. But they do today.

So those of you who aren’t using the power of technology to keep your practice on track while you raise a family (if that’s what you want to do) or to transition to a new field or start a practice if you’re not happy with what you do now — whether it’s because you don’t know how, or you’re afraid that others will tell you that real lawyers have brick and mortar offices and don’t use social media — hear this. If I feel a tinge of regret over tools that weren’t available to me, trust me — you cannot imagine the regrets that you will have fourteen years from now when you look back on opportunities staring you right in the face that you let slip through your fingers. No matter where you stand in your career, don’t let this moment get away from you.

  • Paula Marie Young

    Nice story to illustrate what we take for granted these days.

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