You’ve heard of separation of church and state. But have you ever considered the separation of work and play? I hadn’t until recently.
I’ve always wanted to end up in a field that’s meaningful–not in the generic sense, but rather meaningful to me. To succeed, I need a compelling reason to give my best efforts throughout the work week. If you love what you’re doing, it’ll never feel like work– at least most of the time. At Dade Legal Aid, I’ve found that motivation. But while it does provide a sense of purpose, having a personal connection to your work can be emotionally challenging.
The first day, Elaine and I worked with Wendy Robbins, a probate and guardianship attorney. Guardianship is granted when a ward is deemed “incapacitated”, which occurs most often in the case of a disabled person. At court that morning, we saw an older woman become the official guardian for her autistic 18-year-old son; this legal action required a comprehensive compilation of documents from teachers, doctors, insurance companies, and more. For the remainder of their lives, she’ll be required to fill out an annual report for the state detailing her continued care for her adult son, or risk losing guardianship.
Seeing as my autistic brother is only 9-years-old, you can see why his adulthood hasn’t yet crossed my mind. It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to make financial or medical decisions for himself, but I’ve never considered the impact that might have on him. Although caring for my brother is a responsibility I’d take on in a heartbeat, I’d never thought about the legal aspect of doing so. It’s not difficult, per se, to gain and retain guardianship, but it does add onto the already lengthy to-do list associated with providing and caring for a loved one. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn more about this process– if only for my own personal gain in the future.
The next day, Elaine and I accompanied future judge Steven Paulson to court. In addition to being in two bands, regularly running obstacle races, and obtaining his pilot’s license, Mr. Paulson is a former bar association president and practicing domestic violence lawyer (#lifegoals). He was generous enough to share his past experiences with us, highlighting both the difficulty of dealing with these cases but also the satisfaction that comes from helping those most in need. During the hearing, we watched Mr. Paulson help his client obtain a permanent restraining order against her ex-husband, who had stalked her relentlessly and sent her several detailed death threats which were read aloud in court. Without the respondent in court, it was an “easy win”–so to speak–but by no means was it easy for the woman to recount her testimony and provide evidence of her abuse.
Prior to his hearing, we watched another woman drop the case against her husband, who had abused both her and their child but had also “promised under oath” never to come near them again. Although it’s difficult to hear any instance of domestic violence, this was not my first exposure to an unspoken or untried case. For several years, my grandmother and father were victims of domestic violence and child abuse (which often go hand in hand). Encouraging battered women to come forward is another challenge in and of itself, but providing prompt assistance to those who come forward– regardless of ability to pay– is essential to ensuring their safety and well-being.
Having these relatable experiences can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to practicing law. On one hand, I’m better able to sympathize with clients and help them navigate their circumstances. On the other, I constantly draw parallels to my own life that may or may not apply to the situation. It’s a balancing act that I clearly haven’t perfected yet, but could prove invaluable to my career path. Should I choose to pursue law, I’ve decided that while you can’t take each case too personally, you can certainly channel personal experiences into your work.